Tax season 2018: Which tax prep solution is right for you?

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Tax season 2018: Which tax prep solution is right for you?
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It’s that time of year again when Americans scramble to get their taxes done before the April deadline.

We know that many of you will choose to use DIY tax software programs rather than go to a physical location to get your taxes done this year.

But with the marketplace so crowded with online options, it’s hard to know which one is right for you!

RELATED: Here’s your 2018 estimated tax refund schedule

So many choices: TurboTax, H&R Block, TaxAct, Tax Slayer, Jackson Hewitt

Before we dive in to help you figure out the best tax prep solution for you, let’s step back a moment and address a question that needs to be answered first:

How do you know when you need more than just a software package to get your taxes done? In other words, what kinds of situations warrant you actually paying more money for the services of a tax professional?

In general, if you’re divorced, own a small business or have big-time investment assets, you’re probably going to be better off with the human touch of an accountant, CPA or tax advisor.

But if your situation is relatively simple — you have a standard W-2, maybe some interest and dividend income, a mortgage deduction, etc. — you may want to consider a DIY tax software program.

TurboTax, H&R Block, TaxAct, Tax Slayer, and Jackson Hewitt are among the most popular of these offerings. Here’s a look at what each one brings to the table:

TurboTax

One of the most popular programs out there, TurboTax is known for walking you through every potential income, expense, deduction and credit option on a very granular level.

Name Price Support available Federal/state e-file
 TurboTax Deluxe  $39.99  Live on-screen support Federal included; $36.99 for state return

The TurboTax Deluxe package offers the following:

  • Streamlined tax process starts with you uploading a picture of your W-2 form. From there, TurboTax will auto-fill the info in for you
  • Live on-screen support available 24/7 — you can even screen share with a TurboTax rep as you work through your return
  • TurboTax offers complimentary audit-risk identification by going through your return for possible IRS red flags
  • In the event of an audit, TurboTax’s free audit support helps you find out why you were contacted and what you need to do next

Though TurboTax Deluxe is the company’s most popular package, right now there’s a free edition called Absolute Zero that offers free prep and filing of your federal (1040EZ/1040A) and state taxes for a limited-time only.

We should note the free edition won’t let you itemize your deductions.

H&R Block

Not to be outdone by its competitors, H&R Block has its own free file version called More Zero.

The More Zero option offers free federal and state preparation and filing of the following forms: 1040EZ, 1040A and 1040 with Schedule A (for itemized deductions).

By including the ability to do a Schedule A, H&R Block really differentiates its free offering from the rest of the pack!

Meanwhile, the Deluxe Online Tax Filing option is one of H&R Block’s most popular.

Name Price Support available Federal/state e-file
H&R Block Deluxe Online Tax Filing $34.99 Live chat Federal included; $36.99 for state return

The Deluxe Online Tax Filing package offers the following:

  • Snap a pic to import your W-2
  • With H&R Block’s Maximum Refund Guarantee, the company’s got your back if you run your numbers through a competitor’s program and the competitor’s calculations give you a bigger refund. H&R Block will return the money you paid them and then amend your return for free so you get the bigger refund
  • Free in-person audit support is available if you purchase and use their software
  • Store all your tax documents and returns in MyBlock for six years
  • Optimize tax savings from charitable donations with H&R Block’s DeductionPro
  • Technical support also available by phone

Finally, we should note that H&R Block has teamed up with Amazon for a unique refund bonus structure. Purchase your H&R Block software package through the e-commerce site and you’ll get a 5% bonus if you elect to receive that refund as an Amazon gift card.

So, for example, if you get a $3,000 refund, you’ll get another $150 on top of that in Amazon credit! Read the fine print of this offer here.

TaxAct

TaxAct offers some of the cheapest price points for paid software, which is nice. Yet its free offering has limitations.

The TaxAct Free product, which offers free prep and filing of your federal and state returns, only supports Forms 1040EZ and 1040A.

Meanwhile, the TaxAct Plus package is the company’s most popular offering.

Name Price Support available Federal/state e-file
TaxAct Plus $29.95 Online help Federal included; $37 for state return

The TaxAct Plus package offers the following:

  • Easily import your W-2 for faster filing
  • Price Lock Guarantee means you’ll pay the advertised price at the time you create your return — even if you file later and prices have gone up by then
  • With the $100k Accuracy Guarantee, TaxAct will reimburse you up to $100,000 if their calculations cause you to get a smaller refund or if the IRS assesses any penalties or interest on you because of an error in the company’s softwarehttps://www.taxact.com/company/accuracy-guarantee

Tax Slayer

Here’s another budget offering when it comes to the paid software portion, but Tax Slayer’s free software offer is very limited.

Tax Slayer’s Simply Free software gives you free prep and filing of your federal and state returns. Yet it only works in one tax situation — for people who file federal form 1040EZ.

Meanwhile, the company’s most popular offering is the Classic edition.

Name Price Support available Federal/state e-file
Tax Slayer Classic $17 Phone, live chat and email Federal included; $22 for state return

The Tax Slayer Classic package offers the following:

  • Easily import your W-2 for faster filing
  • With the Maximum Refund Guarantee, Tax Slayer promises to refund the cost you paid for its software if you get a larger refund from another provider. However, unlike H&R Block, it won’t make a free adjustment to your return to get you that extra money
  • The federal return portion of Tax Slayer Classic is free for active military. Additional charges apply for the state return at a discounted rate of $15 per state

Jackson Hewitt

Jackson Hewitt distinguishes itself from competitors by offering a hybrid online/in-person tax-filing business model.

So, you can fillout your return online from the comfort of your own home using their software. But should you run into any problems, you can always swing by your local Jackson Hewitt office and talk with someone in person.

The company has more than 6,000 locations — with 3,000 of them located inside Walmarts — so it’s easy to get your preparation issue solved quickly!

Jackson Hewitt has a free filing option for both state and federal returns for 1040EZ customers.

But its unnamed basic entry-level package is currently available for 50% off the list price of $69.95.

Name Price Support available Federal/state e-file
Jackson Hewitt $34.95 Live chat Federal included; $36.95 for state return
  • Easy step-by-step tax preparation to file
  • Secure Storage and access to your returns
  • Unlimited online support
  • Auto-completion of state returns

Check out these other free tax prep options

As noted above, you don’t have to pay anything to get your taxes done. These options listed below are also free.

IRS FreeFile

The IRS Free File program offers free preparation and e-filing of federal and state tax returns in partnership with a number of providers. The only requirement is that your adjust gross income be below $66,000.

CreditKarma

Make more than $66,000 in adjusted gross income? No worries, there’s a free filing option for you, too! CreditKarma.com offers free prep software available to all regardless of income.

Just note that if your credit is frozen, you won’t be able to sign up for a new CreditKarma account to take advantage of their free tax filing offer.

RELATED: Top 5 tax refund myths debunked

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Theo Thimou About the author:
Theo has co-written several books with Clark Howard, including the #1 New York Times bestseller "Living Large in Lean Times."
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