Best Tax Software Solutions 2019

by Bobby Chernev

As Benjamin Franklin famously put it all the way back in 1789, “in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” It should come as no surprise that this maxim still holds true over two centuries later. 

Now:

We all know filing tax is a tedious task, especially for small businesses and freelancers. It is so tedious, in fact, that over one-third of freelancers admit to not paying taxes altogether.

Shocking, isn’t it? Maybe you’re one of them?

That’s why I’ve decided to help you out by testing and reviewing the best tax software solutions for 2019. 

Here’s the gist:

Tax Software

Key Feature

Ranking

Link

turbotax best tax software techjury review

Best free tax software product (no fee for filing State tax).

4.5/5

Visit Website

h r block best tax software techjury review

Best if you need to itemize instead of claiming the standard deduction.

4.5/5

Visit Website

freetaxusa best tax online tool techjury review

Good low-price competitor with a limited product range.

3/5

Visit Website

liberty tax online tax software techjury review

Solid overall product range.

N/A*

Visit Website

taxact best tax software techjury review

Widest product range.

N/A*

Visit Website

*Could not register an account and/or go through with the interview process.

And here’s how I did it:

Methodology

First, I created a fictitious person – a 33-year-old single elementary school teacher Lauren Purple from Long Island, New York, who earns $35,000 a year and pays rent and student loan interest. Poor Lauren is clearly overworked and underpaid, which sounds familiar to many of us.

Second, I tried to select the best online product for Lauren each company has to offer, based (if available) on their own recommendations.

Third, I completed the interview process all the way until the forms were ready to file.

I assessed each software for the following factors:

Products and Prices 

What is the company’s range of products? What is each product’s target audience? What are their tax software prices, and how do they stack up against those of the competition? Is there a free tax software version available? Do you have to pay extra to file State tax?

Interview and Guidance 

How is the interview process organized? Is it intuitive and easy to navigate, or is it clunky and cumbersome? Can you tell how far along the process are you? Is there an indication of what the next steps are?

Language

Is the language clear and accessible? Is there a lot of impenetrable legal jargon? Are important terms explained well?

Service and Support

Is customer service available for all products, or do you have to pay extra with some? What types of support are there – live chat, email, phone, etc?

But first:

Major Changes in the Tax Code

Here’s what you need to know about the most recent legislative developments:

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TJCA), which the President signed into law on December 22, 2017, applied to the 2018 calendar year. It made many changes in the tax code and issued several new forms. The 1040A and 1040EZ were replaced with a new, much abbreviated 1040-for-all form.

Yay, less paperwork!

I won’t bore you with all the details; the juridically inclined among you can read the whole act here.

This is the key takeaway:

Many people who used to itemize may find it more beneficial to take the standard deduction. Click To Tweet

This is huge! So, are you excited to get cracking? I hope you are.

But before we move on to the actual tax software reviews, let’s look at the most important:

Online Tax Preparation

Make sure you have the following essential information ready:

Personal Information – the Social Security numbers for yourself, your spouse (if applicable), and all dependents (again, if applicable). Keep in mind that, in addition to children, dependents can include elderly parents and others.

Last Year’s Taxes – both Federal and State returns.

The Following Forms:

  • Form W-2, if you have a job.
  • Various forms 1099 to report income. These include but are not limited to 1099-C (cancellation of debt), 1099-D (dividends), 1099-INT (interest), 1099-MISC (nonemployee compensation paid to independent contractors). 
  • Various forms 1098 reporting mortgage interest.
  • Form W-2Gs for certain gambling winnings (if applicable).

You can also check out the IRS’s own recommendations to make sure you’re well on the road to your best online tax filing in 2019.

Once you have all this information handy, you’re all set to go.

So, without further ado, let’s dive right in.

TurboTax

turbotax software techjury review

TurboTax is easily one of the most well-known tax software solutions thanks to an extensive advertising campaign. I used it myself for several years when I was living in the US and was satisfied with the results. What’s more, plenty of my American friends still swear by it. In fact, it’s rated 4.4 out of 5 by customers, based on 201,538 reviews as of June 17, 2019.

So, what’s all the fuss about?

Let’s have a look at what the company has to offer in 2019. 

Products and Prices

TurboTax offers both online and CD/download products. Since the former category is far more popular, I’ll focus on that.  

Free allows you to complete and file your Federal and State taxes absolutely free. It’s best for a simple tax return and covers W-2 forms income, limited income and interest on 1099-INT or 1099-DIV forms, standard deduction, Earned Income Tax Credit (EIC), and child tax credits. It does not cover itemized deductions. That’s not as bad as it sounds, though. As already mentioned, with the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, the IRS suggests many people who you used to itemize would now be better off going for the standard deduction. 

Deluxe, the company’s most popular tax software product, is priced at $59.99, although that does not include State taxes – they’ll set you back a further $44.99. Deluxe is great for maximizing your deductions, as it’ll meticulously check over 350 deductions and credits to make sure you get the maximum refund. It’s perfect for homeowners in particular.

Premier is priced at $79.99 (State tax additional). Its main selling point is a focus on investments and rental property. So, if you’re active on the stock market or a professional landlord, this is the option for you.

Self-Employed is the most expensive product on offer, priced at $119.99 (State tax additional). It searches for industry-specific deductions others might miss across industries as diverse as rideshare, tech consulting, online sales, and more.

You might be wondering:

“How do I know which product is right for me?”

Luckily, TurboTax is there to help. The company’s website will recommend a product based on the combination of categories you select from a list of 12. This makes it even easier for their target audiences to select the right option.

Here are a couple of scenarios I ran: 

If you had a job (received W2 Form), you paid rent, and you were paying off student loans, you’ll be advised to go with Deluxe.

If you owned a small business and a home and you sold stock or owned rental property, you’ll be advised to go with Self-Employed.

What’s more:

You don’t have to pay a red cent until you’ve successfully filed – though that’s generally the case pretty much across the board when it comes to tax software companies. You can also upgrade to a different product at any point during the process. Again, this is standard procedure. 

Interview and Guidance

The best tax preparation software programs come with a straightforward and easy interview process, and TurboTax is no exception. Most tend to favor the one question at a time approach so as not to intimidate customers with a ton of information. Here, it’s paired with a nice, sleek interface. Once you’ve entered your salary and taxes, you’ll be able to keep an eye on your Federal tax refund up to that point. The figure is constantly updated as the software guides you through various deductions. The same goes for your State tax refund once you get to that point.   

The software also constantly checks for mistakes or irregularities in the information you’ve entered.

Here’s how that works in practice:

Lauren Purple absentmindedly forgot to enter any State or Local tax. TurboTax Deluxe immediately spotted that and prompted her to check the relevant boxes on her W-2 form. 

And that’s not all:

Lauren also entered higher Social Security Tax than she was supposed to have paid based on her annual income. At this point, the software explained how she could get a refund from her employer. Ms. Purple was also delighted to find out that, as an elementary school teacher, she qualified for an Educator (Teacher) Expenses Deduction.

Language

As you’d expect from one of the best tax preparation software solutions, the language was clear and accessible throughout the interview, including the odd reassurance (“You’re doing great so far, Lauren!” “Why, thank you, TurboTax, how very kind of you.”) and reminder of what’s coming up (“Next, we’ll check for deductions.”)  

To make things even easier, the software avoided unnecessarily complicated jargon. It’s easy to get bogged down in phrases like – “Did your non-returnable outgoings for the first half of the year exceed your deductions for quarterly VAT returns?” – but luckily, there was none of that! Bernard Black, the cantankerous protagonist in the cult sitcom Black Books, would have been delighted to hear that.

Service and Support

TurboTax offers round-the-year support, also available in Spanish. Most screens have a “Learn more” link, which takes you to a popup explaining certain less common situations (i.e., Why would I need to file a nonresident state return?). You can also use this link to search for specific questions, keywords, or topics. 

Most screens include helpful examples, such as what counts as making money in another state. 

Finally, the software transfers all your data from Federal to State return to save you time. Once you’ve completed your State return, it asks you how you’d like to receive your federal refund – via direct deposit or in a TurboTax Prepaid Visa Card. If you’ve used a paid TurboTax product, you can pay with your federal refund or by credit card, which is a nice touch.

You can add live advice from CPAs or EAs right on your screen for an additional $60 at any point during the process. The software also recommends adding MAX benefits. For an additional $49.99, you get audit defense, full identity restoration, identity theft monitoring, priority care, and a brand new feature – identity loss insurance. It’s good to see TurboTax continues to add helpful features, even if most are of the paid variety. 

H&R Block

h&r block techjury review

H&R Block is right up there with the top tax software solutions, in part thanks to extensive advertising. But is it the best one?

Let’s try to find out.

Products and Prices

H&R Block offers you a choice between online and software solutions, so it’s no different from TurboTax in that respect. In terms of software, the options are pretty similar:

Free online allows you to file your Federal tax for free, but you have to pay $29.99 per each State filed. This may not seem like a lot at first glance, but if you’ve lived half the year in Maryland and half the year in Virginia and you’ve earned a substantial income in the District of Columbia, this can add up quickly. It’s the best option if you have a W-2, EIC, childcare expenses, student loan interest, retirement plan income, and SS income. It claims to offer more forms for free than TurboTax. In addition, it offers tech support by chat. Free online is the highest rated of all H&R products, with 4.5 out of 5 stars based on 80,413 customer reviews as of June 20, 2019. It’s definitely one of your best free tax software options. 

Deluxe online is priced at $49.99 plus $39.99 per State filed. It’s best for homeowners and covers donations and Health Savings Account, real estate taxes, and mortgage interest. Its features include 6-year access to tax returns (the IRS suggests that you keep your records for the previous 5-years in case of audit), DeductionPro to optimize donations, and tech support by chat or phone. Deluxe online was very well reviewed and awarded PC Magazine Editors’ Choice for 2019.

Premium Online is priced at $69.99 plus $39.99 per State filed. It’s best for freelancers, contractors, and investors. It covers freelance/contractor income with expenses of less than $5,000, stock sales income, and rental property income. Premium online offers all Deluxe features plus cost basis calculation and importing expenses from popular apps like Stride.

Self-employed online is priced at $104.99 plus $39.99 per State filed. It’s best if you’re self-employed or a small business owner and covers small business expenses (including home office), depreciation, and vehicle expenses. In addition to all premium features, it includes Business Booster to help you write off your startup costs.

For those unsure of which product to go for, H&R Block has a similar recommendations system to that of TurboTax, as one of the best tax software programs in 2019 should. The only difference is that it has 8 rather than 12 categories, which means there are fewer possible combinations and hence less customization. 

So, I couldn’t test Lauren Purple’s case (W-2 form, rent, student loans), but I decided to go with Free online, which was the obvious choice.

Interview and Guidance

The overall interview process is very similar to that offered by TurboTax. The interface design is minimalist, favoring green and white (the company logo colors). You can import information from last year’s tax return, even if you filed with another company, which is a nice touch (all you need is your IRS Form 1040, 1040A, 1040EZ, or your 2017 return file). It also makes it extremely easy to switch to H&R Block from one of its competitors. 

Here’s how things went down:

Following a series of yes/no question, the software proposes your filing status and explains why. In the case of Lauren Purple, this was Single, “since you’re not married and don’t have dependents.” However, there’s an option to check if you qualify for a different status.

Now:

You can skip certain interview steps and come back to them later, which is quite convenient. In terms of specific suggestions, Free online recognized Lauren could claim educator expenses and offered standard deduction instead of itemized deductions, very much as the IRS recommends. At the end of the process, you can pay with your Federal return or credit card.

Language

H&R Block uses even more conversational language than TurboTax, which makes it an incredibly user-friendly tax filer. Sentences like “Nice to meet you Lauren! What’s your SSN? We don’t normally get this personal so soon, but it helps us calculate your refund” add a nice touch of humor and try to transform an otherwise dreary ordeal into a friendly conversation in your local bar. Sadly, they stop short of buying you a pint, but you can’t have everything in life.

Service and Support

H&R Block offers year-round support.

What’s more:

All H&R Block online products come with technical support by chat and self-help via help center. In contrast, TurboTax products only offer the latter as standard. So, if your circumstances are somewhat peculiar and you’re not sure how to proceed in certain situations, H&R Block would be the better option for you.

With any H&R online product, you can add live chat with an expert for $39.99.

At the end of the interview process, the software will recommend adding Tx Identity Shield for $14.99, Worry-Free Audit Support for $19.99, or both for $24.99.

FreeTaxUSA

freetaxusa software techjury review

Any company which has “free” as a part of its name has to offer free services all the way, right?

Well, not quite, as it turns out, but FreeTaxUSA comes fairly close. How does it compare to the other best tax software options?

Products and Prices

Free is the company’s flagship product. It costs nothing to file your Federal tax, but you’ll have to fork out $14.99 to do your State tax. It promises help with investments and rental income, rental property income, and home ownership – all things typically offered by premium products.

Deluxe is priced at $6.99 (plus $14.99 for State tax). It provides priority support with live chat, unlimited Amended Returns, and audit assist. It’s definitely one of the cheapest tax software deals of its kind.

Interview and Guidance

The interface is pretty basic. A bit more worryingly, yellow and red alerts flash when you’ve missed something. This doesn’t really help when you’re dealing with the stressful situation that is tax return. 

You have to navigate pretty long screens, as the process isn’t broken down as well as it is with some other companies. In fact, it’s a lot like filling out an actual form. Headings like “Miscellaneous Forms and Topics” don’t inspire much trust, either. 

You’ll have to decide your filing status yourself since there are no yes or no questions to guide you through this part.

You’ll also have to figure out whether to go with standard or itemized deductions. While the new IRS guidelines make this easier than it used to be, it might get a bit tricky depending on your circumstances, especially if your income happens to be close to certain brackets. The software won’t catch anything other than the most obvious errors, so sadly Lauren Purple didn’t get her educator’s deduction. While it should rightly rank among the best tax programs, there’s more to be desired. 

Language

There’s none of the friendly chit-chat you get with some of the other companies’ products. The language is quite dry, and there’s a fair bit of legal jargon.

Service and Support

Year-round support is available, and the help center is generally on point.

Overall, FreeTaxUSA is not a bad option, as long as you have a fairly straightforward W-2 income, don’t need to itemize, and know your way around. 

Liberty Tax

liberty tax tool review techjury

You can’t access Liberty Tax’s website from outside the US unless you have VPN. So, if you happen to be overseas on April 14 and suddenly remember you’ve not done your taxes, you’ll have to go with one of the other options, especially if you’re after free tax software.

What’s more: 

The company seems to be unaware of the fact – when I contacted customer service on Facebook, I got a message saying “from our side, it looks like the site is up and running.” This was four hours later, too, so they’re not exactly speedy. That being said, this was in June, so presumably they’ll get back to you faster if you get in touch during tax season. 

Products and Prices

Liberty Tax offers the following online tax filing solutions. There’s no free option, which is important to note in any thorough tax software comparison.

Simple is, as its name suggest, best for simple returns. It’s priced at $34.95 for Federal tax. There’s a discrepancy when it comes to how much you need to pay to file State – one page says it’s $29.95, and another says it’s $35.95! This doesn’t inspire much confidence – after all, money is of the essence here! Let’s hope Liberty Tax won’t fool around with your refund as they do with their price tags! In any event, this brings it close to the price range of H&R Block’s Deluxe online products. For that money, you get the standard W-2 import, competitor import, EIC, credit maximizer, and free chat and email support.  

Basic, which is aimed at families, is priced at $44.95 (plus $39.95 for each State filed – no discrepancy here, although that number is oddly different from both of those quoted for Simple). You get itemized deductions, Health Savings Accounts, interest and ordinary income, self-employment income, and business expenses.

Deluxe, priced at $64.95 (plus $39.95 for each State filed), is best for investors. In addition to all Basic features, you get depreciation, sole proprietor income, and home office deductions.

Premium is priced at $89.95 (plus $39.95 for each State filed) and aimed at small business owners. You get all of the above features, plus income from rental or real estate, gains, profits and losses from Schedule D, and sale of home.

Can’t decide which product to choose? Too bad – you’re on your own here. There’s no helpful algorithm to help you make up your mind, which is rather unusual when it comes to the best tax preparation software solutions.

Interview and Guidance

I couldn’t actually register a new account, possibly due to the fact that I had to use VPN to access their website in the first place. After struggling with their CAPTCHA for about 15 minutes, I got a message saying “Try again later.” I did try again, with the exact same outcome. Let’s just say I wasn’t exactly thrilled.

TaxtAct

taxact review techjury

TaxAct is another company you can’t use if you happen to be located outside the US and don’t have VPN. Unlike with Liberty Tax, though, you can create an account without any hassle. It’s one of the most popular tax programs, with 9 out of 10 customers willing to recommend it.

Products and Prices

With 5 products, TaxAct has the widest range of offers among the companies reviewed. All products include 7 years of access to your return, which is 2 years more than the recommended minimum by the IRS.

I ❤️Free costs nothing to file your Federal return, and it will only set you back $19.95 to do your State return, which makes it one of the better tax software deals on the market. It offers fast, free filing for simple returns, including retirement income. It also offers prior-year import and/or transfer of data from TurboTax and H&R Block, whom TaxAct clearly sees as its main competitors.

Basic, priced at $14.95 (plus $19.95 for State), is aimed at filers with dependents, college expenses and more. It’s for maximizing your deductions and allows you to search for the fastest answers in the Answer Center and get unlimited technical support via phone, or email at any time.

Deluxe+ is priced at $47.95 (plus $39.95 for State) and aimed at homeowners, covering deductions and credits. It offers itemized returns with donations and adjustments. A neat feature tracks your charitable donations and provides audit-backed values to eliminate guesswork and maximize your tax deduction.

Premier+, priced at $57.95 (plus $39.95), is recommended for investments, rental property, and prioritized support.

Self-Employed+, priced at $77.95, is one of the less expensive types of tax services in this range. It’s aimed at independent contractors such as writers, actors, musicians, and handymen. It features a Deduction Maximizer tool, which helps freelancers uncover common deductions specific to their field of work, like rental costs for studio and rehearsal space, agent and management fees, supplies, professional membership dues, and so on.

There’s a recommendation system to help you choose the right product, but it has only 5 fairly broad categories – job, children or dependents, own a home, investment or rental property, self-employed or freelancer. So, if you have any unusual circumstances, it’s pretty much up to you to figure it out.  

Interview and Guidance

With Lauren, I decided to go with Basic+, since it lists “college expenses” as one of its highlights. I clicked on “Start Free,” aaaand that’s when the issues started. I was stuck with a screen saying “Opening Your Return” for several minutes. I tried again, and this time I got through to a page saying “There was an unexpected problem opening your return. Please try again in a little while.” As far as the best tax software editions go, this wasn’t a very encouraging start. 

In fact, that was the end of it. As Gandalf the Grey put it in Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring: “YOU SHALL NOT PAAAASS!” And just as in J.R.R. Tolkien’s book and the film trilogy, there’s actually more than one Gandalf when it comes to tax software solutions. Keep reading to find out which ones.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: When should I file taxes?

A: The standard deadline for filing taxes for the previous calendar year is April 15. If you’re unable to file by then, you can request an extension by filing Form 4868, “Application for Automatic Extension of Time To File U.S. Individual Income Tax Return.”

Q: What is the best tax software?

A: That’s the $64,000 question (or perhaps even more, if you’re lucky), isn’t it? Unfortunately, there’s no straightforward answer. It all depends on your personal circumstances. Overall, I found TurboTax and H&R block to offer the best range of solutions across the board. Other companies have solid offers as well, but I needed VPN to access Liberty’s and TaxAct’s websites when outside the US. And even then, I couldn’t go through with the interview process or even register an account. That’s also the case with Credit Karma Tax and Tax Slayer, which is why I didn’t include them in this post. So, if you’re lying on the beach in Cancun working on your tan on April 14 and you suddenly remember you’ve forgotten to do your taxes, you’re left with limited options.

Q: What is the best free tax software?

A: I’ll have to go with TurboTax Free purely because of the price. Unlike with H&R Block Free Online, it costs you nothing to file your State tax. This is particularly handy if you need to file more than one. You’ll have to do this if you’ve resided in two or more states and/or have substantial income from two or more states. On the other hand, H&R Block Free claims to offer access to more forms, which might be useful if you have some slightly unusual circumstances.

Q: Do you need a tax software?

A: Absolutely not – you’re perfectly free to do your taxes by yourself. The question is – who needs the hassle. In fact, according to a PC Mag Survey from 2019, only 10% of Americans do their taxes manually, and only half of those people send their taxes in via snail mail; the rest e-file with the IRS directly. The IRS itself will tell you that “using tax preparation software is the best and simplest way to file a complete and accurate tax return. The software guides you through the process and does all the math.” The IRS actually works with some of the companies to ensure the best customer experience.

So, if the IRS itself recommends it, there’s no reason for you not to use tax software. If you’ve made it this far, you know what the best tax software solutions are. And now that you’re aware of all the features of a good tax software, the best way to file taxes online, and the best place to file all taxes, it’s up to you to pick the right one for your needs.  I hope you get a big fat refund and celebrate in style. Best of luck!

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