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- Gone are the days when you had to go to a tax preparer to ensure that you filed your taxes correctly.
- Now, you can do your taxes at home with tax software online.
- Of all the tax preparing services we’ve tried, TurboTax Deluxe is the best with its easy-to-use software and helpful explanations.
The old saying goes: Nothing is certain except for death and taxes. These days, you can add one more to the list. It’s certain that you’re going to be bombarded with advertisements for tax preparation software and services from New Year’s Day through April 15, 2019 when the deadline to file 2018 taxes hits.
Tax prep software is a big business, and you may hesitate to pay for help with something you could do yourself for free with pencil and paper. But for a process that most people approach with all of the excitement of a root canal, having the ability to calculate your taxes easily without worrying about math errors is well worth the fee you’ll pay to use the software. You can even file for free with TurboTax, H&R Block, and other software if your taxes are simple.
How to file taxes online
You can get tax preparation software as a CD-ROM that you stick into your computer (if your computer still has a disk drive, that is) or as a downloadable app for your Mac or PC. Alternatively, you can simply file your taxes online or in a mobile app. That may sound scary, but reputable tax software companies like TurboTax, H&R Block, and TaxAct take your security very seriously, so you can count on these services to protect your information.
You can file your taxes electronically after using tax prep software, which is a far easier process than making printouts and mailing your forms to the IRS. You may have to pay a fee to electronically file, depending on the software you’re using.
The software will make all of the calculations for you, ensuring that your poor second-grade math skills aren’t exposed for all the world to see … and for the IRS to penalize.
Most tax prep software makes use of an interview style process, where the software asks you questions about your income and expenses. The software then figures out which forms are pertinent to your situation and fills them out, based on the data you enter.
Tax software often can pull data from your past returns, while also downloading your current W-2 forms. This saves time and reduces data entry errors.
TurboTax, H&R Block, and TaxAct all offer several different versions of tax software to suit different people’s needs. As a general rule, the more complex your tax situation is, the more you’ll have to pay for tax preparation software. However, most people will likely be okay with basic software.
Once you start filling out your tax forms, you may hit a snag and have to upgrade to a higher priced tier of software. The upgrade is easy to do, so you won’t have to start over entering your data, but you’ll have to pay more to finish your tax return.
In our guide, we’ve chosen the best tax software for three different types of people: your average person, homeowners, investors and rental owners, independent contractors, and small business owners. No matter your needs, you’ll find an option for you in our guide.
Here is the best tax software you can use to file online:
- Best tax software overall: TurboTax Deluxe Tax Software
- Best tax software for homeowners: H&R Block Deluxe Tax Software
- Best tax software for investors: TurboTax Premier Tax Software
- Best tax software for independent contractors: TaxAct Online Freelancer Edition
- Best tax software for small business owners: H&R Block Tax Software Premium & Business
Updated on 01/17/2019 by Malarie Gokey: Updated prices and formatting. Added the deadline for filing 2018 taxes.
Read on in the slides below to check out our top picks.
Which tax software is best for my needs?
- Free Edition ($0): The most basic software for those with no deductions.
- Deluxe ($39.99 + $36.99): The best for homeowners who itemize because it offers 350+ deductions and one-on-one help.
- Premier ($59.99 + $36.99): The best for people with stocks and rental property because it covers stocks, bonds, ESPPs, and other investment income.
- Self-Employed ($89.99 + $36.99): The best for freelancers with customized help and one-on-one assistance to deduct work expenses.
- TurboTax Live ($49.99 + $36.99): This new service is for people who need a check from a TurboTax CPA or EA.
- Basic ($29.95 + State Return): The basic software is for those with no deductions.
- Deluxe ($54.95): The best for homeowners who itemize because it offers 350+ deductions and one-on-one help.
- Premium ($74.95): The best for people with stocks and rental property because it covers stocks, bonds, ESPPs, and other investment income. Also best for freelancers.
- Premium & Business ($89.95): The best for small business owners with S corporations, partnerships, LLCs, or non-profits.
- Free ($0): The basic software is for those with no deductions. You can pay $15 for tax support and prior year import.
- Basic+ ($9.95+ $19.95): The best for filers with independents, college expenses, etc.
- Deluxe+ ($29.95 + $39.95): The best for homeowners and deductions.
- Premier+ ($34.95 + $39.95): The best for people with investments and rental property.
- Self-Employed+ ($49.95 + $39.95): The best of freelancers and other self-employed people.
The best tax software for most people
Why you’ll love it: TurboTax Deluxe is super easy to use, helps you find more deductions, and maximizes mortgage and property tax deductions.
TurboTax Deluxe has been one of the most popular tax software options for years, and it shows no signs of slowing down. TurboTax guides you through your taxes with a simple interview-style process. As you answer questions, TurboTax fills in the forms to help you maximize your savings.
You can search through more than 350 tax deductions and credits, plus, TurboTax helps homeowners maker mortgage and property tax deductions without any fuss. Charitable deductions are also welcome with this software, so if you were giving this year, you’ll get something back for your efforts.
If you don’t own a home, you don’t need to deduct much of anything, you don’t need the Deluxe version and you should try the free tier. Multiple members of the Insider Picks team, including guides editor Malarie Gokey have used the free version of TurboTax for years without any issues.
TurboTax seems to pick up many loyal customers, and user reviews on its site are incredibly positive. many say that they will never use another tax software. Expert reviews are also very positive from Nerd Wallet, Dough Roller, and The College Investor.
However, a few Amazon customers say the CD version of TurboTax Deluxe will not work on Windows 10 without a workaround, which is a hassle. We recommend you file on TurboTax’s website or mobile app instead.
Pros: Easy to use, available on CD, available online or in mobile app, deductions for homeowners
Cons: More expensive than some other options, CD version suffers some errors on Windows 10 computers
Start your taxes online with TurboTax (Federal Return starts at $39.99 and State Return starts at $36.99)
The best tax software for homeowners
- H&R Block
Why you’ll love it: If you’re looking to itemize deductions as a homeowner, the H&R Block Deluxe software will guide you through the process
The H&R Block Deluxe Tax Software will give those of you who itemize deductions an inexpensive means of completing your tax forms. The Deluxe version offers step-by-step guidance for more than 350 different deductions, which is a helpful feature for those who itemize.
H&R Block guides you through the entire process and helps you find out which deductions you can make for your mortgage, property taxes, and charitable giving. The software is specifically designed to help homeowners make the most of their deductions, so if you own a home, this is the software you need.
In its review, the Dough Roller says the DeductionPro tool in the Deluxe version does a good job of ensuring you receive all of the deductions to which you’re entitled. Additionally, you’ll have the option of chatting online with tax professionals as you do your taxes, according to the Nerd Wallet review. It’s a very helpful feature for anyone who gets confused by all the questions, and one Amazon buyer says the online help has improved from previous years.
Consumer Reports also points out that having data automatically transferred is easier with H&R Block versus competitors, because you can use PDF files of last year’s tax forms, imported W-2s, or a photograph of a W-2 shot on a mobile phone. However, you may experience some problems downloading previous tax forms that were completed with other software packages.
We recommend downloading the software, but if you do buy the CD version of the software, be forewarned: One Amazon reviewer says the software charges extra for a state return, so the low price of the software is misleading.
Pros: Allows for itemized deductions, trusted brand name for tax software, easy to use, live chat with tax experts is free
Cons: State version of tax software costs extra, problems importing previous year tax return from other software
Start your taxes online with H&R Block Deluxe (Federal Return for $29.99 and State Return for $36.99)
Buy the H&R Block Deluxe Tax Software on Amazon for $17.99 (State Return NOT included) (originally $34.99)
The best tax software for investors and rental owners
Why you’ll love it: Even if your tax situation is complex because of rental properties and/or investments, TurboTax Premier makes completing your tax returns simple.
TurboTax Premier Tax Software is for people who have complex returns, including those who own rental property, who received a trust or an estate during the tax year, or who have gains and losses on investments.
Although calculating your taxes when you have a complex situation can be frustrating, TurboTax Premier does an excellent job of simplifying the process, using the interview style to help you fill out forms and make calculations correctly.
The Premier version is great for people who own rental properties, according to the Tough Nickel review, as it helps you calculate expenses and refinancing costs. It also works well for those who have employee stock plans or other investments for calculating gains and losses.
Consumer Reports says TurboTax’s offer of immediate expert help and advice related to each topic gives it a leg up against competitors.
Although TurboTax Premier has a high price point, The Simple Dollar says this software remains extremely easy to use, thanks to its interface. An Amazon reviewer agreed, saying this software has been great for many years, and the latest version works well, too.
However, many Amazon reviewers say they experienced problems with downloading the software into a Windows 10 computer. As always, we recommend you use the online version or mobile app instead.
Pros: Handles complex tax returns, interview style format, offers help with forms related to rental properties and investments, provides expert help
Cons: Higher price, some issues with Windows 10 installations
Start your taxes online with TurboTax Premier (Federal Return starts at $59.99 and State Return starts at $36.99)
The best tax software for independent contractors
Why you’ll love it: If you are self-employed or an independent contractor, the TaxAct Online Freelancer Edition is an affordable option.
The TaxAct Online Freelancer Edition may be a new option in the TaxAct family of software, but it stacks up well against similar software from TurboTax and H&R Block.
The tools in TaxAct Freelancer focus on the deductions and forms that are pertinent to those who have a home office or who have unique work-related expenses. If you are a freelancer, this is the software for you.
TurboTax and H&R Block offer similar software for freelancers, but the costs are much higher. With either of those companies, you’ll end up paying $100 or more to file taxes. TaxAct’s prices are much more reasonable, with the Federal Return costing $39 and State Returns costing $37 each.
Go Banking Rates also highlights the unlimited access to support you get with this Freelancer Edition as a great bonus. It’s also easy to import data into TaxAct from past tax returns you’ve filed, even if you used other tax software previously.
Pros: Affordable, easy to use, free support, easy to use
Cons: Doesn’t offer an interview format as easy to use as others, online only
Start your tax return online with TaxAct Online Freelancer Edition (Federal Returns cost $49.99 and State Returns cost $39.95)
The best tax software for small business owners
- H&R Block
Why you’ll love it: Small business owners have complicated taxes, but the H&R Block Premium & Business software simplifies the process.
Calculating taxes can be difficult for someone who owns his or her own business. Not only do you have to figure out your personal tax situation, but you have all kinds of complex data to enter for your small business.
The H&R Block Premium & Business Tax Software will simplify the process, walking you through all of the forms you need in an interview style process. This software works for those with S corporations, partnerships, LLCs, or even non-profits.
One Amazon reviewer likes the price tag of the Premium & Business version compared to some competitors, as well as the speed with which you can complete your taxes using this software.
Those who run a small business will appreciate the detail they can enter into the H&R Block Premium version, ensuring they receive all deductions to which they’re entitled, according to the Nerd Wallet review.
The Startup Savant likes the fact that you can go to an H&R Block brick and mortar store and receive in-person help if you’re ever confused by the software. However, you will have to pay extra for these in-person visits.
As you work through the interview process to fill out the tax forms in the Premium & Business version, each page ends with a summary of the data you entered to help you catch any mistakes.
However, one Amazon buyer says this version of the H&R Block software may be a bit too confusing for those who are new to preparing their own taxes. Entering certain types of data can be difficult as well. You can chat with a tax expert live during the process, though, if you file online, so they should be able to help.
Pros: Interview style software helps walk you through filling out complicated tax forms, multiple options for obtaining help, price tag is lower versus other small business tax software versions
Cons: Process may be too difficult for tax preparation novices, must pay extra to gain in-person help at an H&R Block store