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Tax time is here and so are your W-2s or 1099s since most employers sent them out to arrive by the end of January. In fact, business taxes are due in many states in mid-March. So, it’s time to get started and get rolling, especially if you are due a refund check.
Please note that this article has been updated with the 2020 products from each company for the 2019 tax season.
2020 Tax Filing Extension
Due to COVID-19, the deadline for filing 2019 federal taxes has been extended from April 15, 2020 to July 15, 2020. That means there will be no penalties for filing both business and individual taxes after April 15, 2020 as long as your taxes are submitted before July 15, 2020.
State filing deadlines vary by state. Check with your local office of tax and revenue.
Not all tax product offerings are the same, but there are some features that you should always look out for when picking the right tax product for you.
Direct Deposit Refund
Direct deposit may not seem like such a big deal, but it is a much faster way of receiving a tax refund and most tax companies these days prefer it (some even offer discounts for using it). Direct deposit may not be a must-have feature on your list, but if you are looking for a reputable tax company to go with, the chances are that they offer it as an option.
In the age of technology, utilizing electronic filing is the same as utilizing direct deposit refund services. Most big tax service providers offer the opportunity to file your taxes electronically.
Error checks are an important part of tax filing for any software user. To file your taxes is one thing, but to file taxes and catch any potential errors or mistakes is another.
Often we spend so much time working on our taxes that we can neglect to notice even the most obvious mistakes, so it is important to have a second line of defense to minimize the risk of an IRS audit (learn more about the IRS audit process). Most reputable tax products these days offer error check services.
There should be no question that a tax service provides the opportunity to file federal returns.
Pay Only When You File
Where filing taxes used to mean purchasing software before filing, today tax products can often be downloaded online and you can e-file. This usually means not having to pay until you file your taxes.
The ability to complete your taxes using a service before paying for it shows that the company has confidence enough in its product to let you try it out before paying its fee and provides you hands-on evidence as to why you should have faith in it as well.
Not all filing software provides the opportunity to file state returns in addition to federal returns but these days so many do offer this feature there really is no excuse for not having it. A state return feature makes filing your taxes a much easier and more streamlined process and allows you to get everything taken care of in a single session with less hassle.
Tax Return Status Check
Filing taxes is a stressful process, and it can be particularly frustrating not knowing the status of your tax return. Most reputable tax software provide the opportunity to check the status of your tax return online, this makes the whole tax filing process much easier by giving you peace of mind. It also allows you to better budget when any refund money is coming into your bank account.
Best Online Tax Options
Below are the top 3 online tax options for 2020 (2019 taxes). We chose our winners based on cost, ease of use, professional tax prep assistance, features and customer support.
Don’t let the big brand name scare you off, this is a solid tax program and is our number one choice with a price tag that is hard to beat. H&R Block tax software supports all entities looking to file taxes, but it also offers top of the line support services including FAQs.
H&R Block is less expensive than TurboTax and has the same features except for help forums. H&R Block released More Zero, which lets you import a tax return from any competitor, upload tax documents and prepare and file on any device.
Filing Taxes Online
Need an extra “push” to file your taxes online? It’s not as scary as it sounds. Watch the short 60-second video below for the encouragement you need.
Saving lots of money on taxes is worth the few dollars more spent today on this software vs the competition. TurboTax is our #2 pick, with up to 5 e-filings per purchase you can file taxes for the whole family. Plus 1040EZ filings are free. The program seamlessly integrates with your specific state’s tax filing systems.
Top that with great customer support, a professional audit and tax consultant service and you’ll find TurboTax is hard to beat. This is why it is our second choice for best tax company, and it’s only second to H&R Block because it is slightly more expensive.
This is another popular program you can buy at a competitive price. If you are not looking for help forums, live chat or a tax consultant, this program has a lot to offer at a good price. A newer feature is comprehensive assistance to help you calculate your tax credit and penalty amounts due to the Affordable Care Act.
If a tax filer discovers someone else has already filed a return using their information, TaxAct will assist them via Identity Recovery powered by InfoArmor, a service that will navigate the resolution process on the customer’s behalf. TaxAct falls just above the middle of the road due to its extreme affordability and the ability to file taxes no matter what entity you are filing as, making it our #3 pick.
If you need help with any of the terms we use in the table below, you can see them defined at the bottom of this article in our terminology section. All of the companies in the table below offer 1040 & Itemized Returns, 1040EZ & Simple Returns, Direct Deposit Refund, Electronic Filing, Email Assistance, Final Tax Review, IRS Acknowledgment in 48 Hours, Pay Only When You File, Self Employed and Sole Proprietor, Small Business, State Returns and Tax Return Status Check.
|1st: H&R Block||2nd: TurboTax||3rd: TaxAct||E-file||eSmart Tax & Liberty Tax||ExpressTaxRefund||FreeTaxUSA||TaxSlayer|
|Audit Defense||Additional Fee||Additional Fee||Premium Users Only|
|Error Checks or Alerts|
|Federal Filing and Program Use Cost||$29.95 and up||$39.99 and up||$26.95 and up||$24.95 and up||$44.95 and up||$29.95 (plus add-ons)||Free||$17.00 and up|
|Free 1040EZ Federal Tax Filing|
|1099-B Import||Only CSV File|
|Investment or Rental Property||Investment Only (Not Rental Property)|
|IRS Publication Library|
|National Average Comparisons|
|State Returns Cost||$36.99 and up||$40.00||$39.95 and up||$28.95||$36.95 and up||$25.00||$12.95||$29.00|
|Tax Consultant Available|
(For higher tier packages)
|Tax Data Importation Feature|
|1st: H&R Block||2nd: TurboTax||3rd: TaxAct||E-file||eSmart Tax & Liberty Tax||ExpressTaxRefund||FreeTaxUSA||TaxSlayer|
E-file is missing some key features we’ve come to expect from our tax software companies. E-file doesn’t offer a big business option, 1099 import, help forums, IRS publication library, live chat and more.
Its site is not very detailed which makes it difficult to review. Perhaps some of these features are covered, but from what we see on the website, it looks like it is missing some big elements. If you have experience with E-file, please share with us, so we can keep this review current.
Liberty Tax Services owns eSmart Tax, and both companies offer nearly identical products. The only difference is the cost. We recommend choosing eSmart over Liberty because its price can be $10 to $25 lower than Liberty’s.
Either way, both companies are on the less expensive side of the spectrum when compared to other tax products and services. All filing options are online, and there is no downloadable software.
Both eSmart and Liberty’s websites are designed quite similar and easy to use. If you have a larger business, you’ll have to look elsewhere, but for those of you with simple returns, have families, own a smaller business or are investors, one of these two companies may be a good fit for you.
Of all of the tax products compared in this article, ExpressTaxRefund offers the least amount of services for one of the highest fees. ExpressTaxRefund is not the service for you if you are a big business, a rental property owner or looking for consultation from a tax professional before filing your taxes.
FreeTaxUSA stands out due to its 100% free federal tax filing. This service also provides an automatic refund calculator.
Overall, it has the basics for those of you needing to file a simple return, but we don’t feel comfortable ranking FreeTaxUSA in our top three because there are larger companies with more prominent reputations. Check out the pros and cons below and decide how this free tax provider compares with the paid alternatives.
TaxSlayer may have the prices that you are looking for when it comes to filing your taxes, but there are a few areas where this service falls short. TaxSlayer offers features at the premium level that competitors offer as the basic level, which is why this service isn’t in our rankings. If you aren’t concerned with audit defense, TaxSlayer could be a good option for you… unless you are a big business.
- 1040 & Itemized Returns: For those who have 1040 forms to file or who are using itemized returns this year.
- 1040EZ & Simple Returns: For those who have 1040EZ forms to file or who have simple tax returns this year.
- Audit Defense: A service provided by a tax software company that assists you in the case that IRS audits you after using their product for the year’s tax return.
- Big Business: Software for a corporation or LLC.
- Direct Deposit Refund: Option to receive your tax refund directly into your bank account through a direct deposit.
- Electronic Filing: Allows you to file your tax return online through electronic transmission. This is generally an instant process but may require the faxing or mailing of a signature form.
- Email Assistance: The software offers direct assistance to users via email contact.
- Error Checks or Alerts: Provides error checks and/or prompts you with alerts to let you know that there is something in your tax return that does not “add up” or that may flag you for an audit with the IRS.
- Federal Filing and Program Use Cost: Cost for using the program and filing your federal tax return using this product.
- Final Tax Review: Provides a final review of your tax filing to check for issues before transmitting your return.
- Free 1040EZ Federal Filing: Gives you the option to free file if you are filing a 1040EZ.
- Help Forums: Offers help forums where users can ask for help in regards to using the software, as well as general tax related questions and issues.
- Investment or Rental Property: Provides the ability to claim investment or rental property income or loss.
- IRS Acknowledgment in 48 Hours: Lets you know within 48 hours that your return has been accepted or rejected by the IRS.
- IRS Publication Library: Provides access to the IRS publication library which includes helpful tax publications that have been written in plain language format by the IRS to help taxpayers like you have a better understanding of specific tax concerns.
- Live Chat: Offers a live chat service to get answers to your questions instantly. Some software companies charge an additional fee for this service.
- National Average Comparisons: Provides comparisons to help you compare your overall tax year to others in the nation.
- Pay Only When You File: Software does not charge you until you are ready to final file your tax documents.
- Refund Meter: A visual meter to keep track of your refund or amount owed for the tax year as you go through the tax preparation process.
- Self Employed and Sole Proprietor: Can be used if you are self-employed or a sole proprietor.
- Small Business: Can be used to file a tax return for a small business. Learn more about small business tax deductions.
- State Filing Cost: The cost of filing a state tax return with this software. The amount for state filing will vary by state for most software.
- State Returns: Gives you the ability to file your state tax returns.
- Tax Consultant Availability: Has a real, live tax consultant on hand to go over your return with you before you file. This option is generally an additional fee.
- Tax Data Importation Feature: Allows you to import tax data from a previous year in to the software.
- Tax Return Status Check: Provides the opportunity to check the status of your tax return after it has been e-filed to find out when you might get any refund back that is due to you.
- Telephone Assistance: Provides the opportunity to receive help from a real, live tax professional over the phone. Sometimes this is an additional fee.
- Tutorials: Provides tutorials to help ensure that you know how to use the software and all of its components correctly.
The key to finding the right service for you is identifying the one that suits your most significant needs and you are comfortable using.
- One of the first things to look at is whether or not you understand the interface that the service uses. Many software options now offer tutorials and walk through’s to ensure that you do not face any difficulty in using their service.
- Once you find a software you are comfortable with using, you will need to ensure that it allows for filing as your specific entity. There is no use being proficient at a software if you are filing as a big business and the software does not allow for big business filing.
- The next thing you will need to consider is the cost of the software you are looking at. There are a wide variety of options to select from and you should be able to find one that suits your budget.
After these minimal requirements have been met, choosing the right software for you is just a matter of which features you are looking for when filing your annual tax return.
This is a fear we all have, but do you really know what happens if you get audited by the IRS? We’ve got an entire article dedicated to teaching you about what to expect if you get audited by the IRS.
Which tax software do you use and why?
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