A few years back, Dr. Pat Bass decided to pick up some consulting gigs to boost his income. Unfortunately, he didn’t know that he had to pay taxes on what he made through his “side hustle.”
All year he had a bit of extra money to invest, travel, and just have some extra fun. That fun ended when his accountant told him he had a $7,500 tax bill and a series of fines waiting for him.
Forbes collected this and other tax horror stories that show how important it is that you do your taxes right.
We don’t all have accountants to help us with our taxes, but there are a lot of tax software options to get us through this tax season without breaking the law. So what is the best free tax software, and which paid options would work best for your situation: TurboTax, H&R Block, or TaxAct?
TurboTax Reviews 2018
TurboTax is a very popular option for tax filing online. It’s incredibly easy and is a very safe option. There are certainly a lot of pros, but there are also some cons. Here’s a list of some of those.
TurboTax is probably the easiest tax software out there. The step-by-step process is very straightforward, and everything is clearly explained in common terms. The other tax software systems we’re going to review here do a pretty good job of making it easy to file your taxes, but TurboTax brings simplicity to the next level.
If you include TurboTax’s paid platforms, it is probably the most robust of the three platforms. It’s rich with features that make it very easy to import documents, update existing information, and get the most out of your deductions. You have to pay for the Deluxe, Premiere, or Self-Employed editions, but they are great products.
In short, if you qualify for the free edition, that’s awesome. Filing your taxes is extremely simple through TurboTax. If you need features only covered by the higher packages, they’re great options, but you have to pay more for them.
TurboTax provides a lot of benefits, but there are some drawbacks. The first isn’t really a big deal, but it’s worth mentioning.
Throughout the filing process, TurboTax tries to get you to buy the more expensive packages by placing advertisements for them in the step-by-step process. it’s easy to hit the “next” button and just keep going, but nobody likes to be badgered like that.
TurboTax provides a free version of their product, but it’s extremely limited. If you have college expenses or have given to charity, you’ll have to upgrade. This is particularly annoying because so many people are only disqualified from the free version because of these simple things that other free products cover.
The last downside to TurboTax is that its plans are a bit more expensive than the other platforms we’re reviewing here. Each plan is only about $10 more than its H&R Block counterpart, but it’s still something to keep in mind as you’re weighing your options.
H&R Block Reviews 2018
H&R Block is another popular online tax filing option. Like TurboTax, it’s very easy to file taxes and you get a pretty similar service; however, there are some significant differences that might change which platform you’d prefer.
First off, H&R Block probably has the most robust free interface of any online tax filing software. You’ll still have to pay for your tax filing if, for example, you have an HSA account or you’re a business owner. But unlike TurboTax, H&R Block lets you file for free if you have educational expenses or have given to charity.
As we mentioned earlier, if you don’t qualify to file for free, H&R Block is about $10 cheaper than TurboTax across all plans.
Another benefit of H&R Block is that if you decide you’re not comfortable doing your own taxes, you can take your information to one of their brick-and-mortar locations, and they’ll do your taxes for you. There’s no free option if you choose to do this, but if you prefer working with people over technology, it’s a good option.
This first drawback isn’t specific to H&R Block. TurboTax has the same issue. The free account doesn’t automatically input your information from last year’s tax filing. It’s not a huge deal. Inputting all that information just takes a few minutes, but some other tax software systems do it for free, so it would be nice to see that here as well.
H&R Block is pretty easy to use, but the interface isn’t quite as clean as TurboTax’s. Again, this may not be a deal breaker, but it could be improved.
TaxAct Reviews 2018
TaxAct may be a bit less popular than the other systems we’re reviewing, but it’s definitely worth looking at because there are a couple things that may make it a better option for your tax filing this year.
First and foremost, TaxAct is cheaper than H&R Block and TurboTax. Their most expensive plan costs $39.95 as opposed to TurboTax’s $89.99 and H&R Block’s $49.99.
Not only is TaxAct’s most expensive plan cheaper than its counterparts, but so is its basic plan. Instead of jumping to a $30 or $40 plan, TaxAct has a plan that costs just $9.95 that might be just what the typical college student needs. It’s just nice to have that step between the free and more robust filing plans.
A benefit particular to TaxAct is that it keeps your past year’s tax information for free. There’s no need to pay for that extra bit of convenience.
TaxAct is cheaper, but that price tag comes at a bit of a cost. The ease of use is not quite up to par with the other competitors we’ve mentioned. It’s not complicated to use, but it’s definitely not as straightforward as TurboTax or H&R Block.
Tech companies need to innovate in order to thrive, and TaxAct is innovating much more slowly than its competitors. They add features each year, but they come much more slowly and aren’t as impressive. They’ve fallen just a bit behind the times.
Finally, the free plan is pretty limited. Just having dependents and college expenses disqualifies you from being able to file for free. It is nice that they have the basic plan for so cheap, but it’s similar to what you get for free at H&R Block.
Which Service is Best for You?
Now that we’ve gone over the pros and cons of each platform, which is the best option for you?
TurboTax: This is a great option if you qualify to file for free. The other options are probably cheaper if you can’t file for free, but TurboTax’s free plan is hard to beat.
H&R Block: Use this service if you don’t quite qualify to file for free with TurboTax. H&R Block’s free filing plan is much more robust and it’s still very easy to use.
TaxAct: This is a good choice if you filed with them last year and you still qualify for free. The other options may be easier to use, but it’s nice that your info from last year copies over for free.