The Best Online Tax Software

Doing your taxes can feel like going to the dentist — a necessary, painful evil — but the best online tax software makes paying your dues to Uncle Sam (almost) stress-free. We looked at 21 of the most widely available providers, then narrowed it down to the three with the most intuitive interfaces and widest breadth of features.

The 3 Best Online Tax Software Programs

Best Range of Tools
TurboTax
TurboTax
Step-by-step instructions and a user-oriented design take the guesswork out of doing your taxes.
Pros
Online and mobile apps
Beginner-friendly
Helpful explanations
Live support
Cons
Expensive premium plans

Why we chose it

Online and mobile apps

TurboTax’s online app is incredibly intuitive, with large buttons and friendly, conversational text. You can upload your W-2 simply by taking a picture of it, and if your employer’s payroll provider is a TurboTax partner, you can import it directly with a few clicks. Its tablet and mobile apps are just as navigable, and you can transition seamlessly from one device to another. TurboTax has managed to make doing your taxes feel like a simple game, a breezy slideshow that ends with a fat refund check and no audit.

Beginner-friendly

During our testing, we loved that TurboTax didn’t push its high-priced options when we didn’t need them. Right from the start, TurboTax helps you choose the software that is best for you depending on your needs, even if it’s the free version. On its recommendation screen, we entered that we had a job, dependents, and rent payments, and it still pointed us right to the free federal 1040EZ option.

Plan-Selection-TurboTax-for-Online-Tax-Software

From there, filing with TurboTax was like having a pleasant grade-school teacher direct us through our taxes. The software is incredibly instinctive, and our testers never felt lost, thanks to ever-present help functions and guides. When providing our health insurance information, for instance, TurboTax offered detailed but straightforward explanations to help our tester figure out what type of coverage they had.

Helpful explanations

We also like that TurboTax checks in to make sure you understand why your taxes are being filed in a particular way. If you aren’t 100% confident, TurboTax keeps you moving but promises to go over the information again later. TurboTax also rewards you for successes; after the completion of almost any task, even an incredibly tiny one, TurboTax is quick to give a pat on the back with an entire screen dedicated to a big thumbs up: “Great job so far!” When we’re in the throes of tax season, we’ll take any clarification and encouragement we can get (even if it’s from software).

Live support

This year marked the debut of the TurboTax Live service, which connects you via one-way video to a certified public accountant (CPA) or enrolled agent (EA). After connecting with a tax expert, you can get professional advice on maximizing your returns, and your assigned CPA or EA will even review your entire return to get as many dollars back as possible. The one downside: At $150, TurboTax Live is the most expensive software packages we found.

If you don’t need help from a CPA or EA, you can also get extra help with any paid plan through SmartLook™, which connects you via one-way video to a TurboTax specialist. With this service, a specialist can help guide you through the steps of filing a return, though they won’t be able to answer tax-specific questions to maximize your return like a CPA or EA would. No matter which service you use, you’ll be able to schedule appointments more than two weeks in advance, which means that even the busiest of customers can get the help they need.

Points to consider

Expensive premium plans

While TurboTax provided the best online tax filing experience we saw, it does come at a price. Like all of our picks, it offers free filing for federal and state taxes, but anything above that will cost you. Its Deluxe plan starts at $60, while the package for self-employed filers climbs to $120. In comparison, TaxAct’s paid plans start at $15, with the self-employed option costing $60. That said, it’s very possible that TurboTax’s excellent deduction tools could help you save money and file easier, even with the higher upfront price.

Best Customer Support
H&R Block
H&R Block
If in-person support sets your mind at ease, then an agent at one of H&R Block’s 12,000 locations should do the trick.
Pros
Customer support
In-person service
Hands-off option
Cons
Rigid design
Lack of clarifying information

Why we chose it

Customer support

H&R Block was an easy pick for personalized customer support. When we submitted a request for instant chat, H&R Block was immediately on the line. And even though it took a few minutes to talk to someone on the phone, it was still such a short wait that we didn’t ding the company. Plus, our customer service representative was kind and patient as they walked us through pricing — without pushing paid options.

In-person service

H&R Block’s calling card is a real-life, flesh-and-blood helping hand. If you’re someone who appreciates the safety net of a human being guiding you through the muck of tax jargon, H&R Block is the way to go. (Free federal filers: You don’t get in-person assistance unless you upgrade, but you can still file your return in an office.)

New this year is what H&R Block is calling Tax Pro Review: an improved version of H&R Block’s Best of Both service. Essentially, clients begin their tax return online and can then choose to be paired with a tax professional who will help them complete, review, and file the return. The best part? It can be purchased as a separate service for $60 to $90 (depending on the complexity of the return) rather than as part of a $150+ package like the similar TurboTax Live. Better yet, the Tax Pro service gives you the option to choose a tax expert in your local H&R office for a face-to-face chat.

Hands-off option

In addition to Tax Pro Review, H&R Block is rolling out a service called Tax Pro Go, which starts at $60 and matches consumers with a digital tax professional. Clients simply have to upload their documents, and the professional will take care of the rest. Better still, the return will be sent to clients within five days for approval. The offer sounds tempting — a lot of tax software, including TurboTax, starts around $60, but you’ll still have to do most of the heavy lifting.

Points to consider

Rigid design

H&R Block’s software uses a simple design with straightforward progression, with logical checklists that show you how far you’ve come and how much is still ahead. The checklist might be a little too restrictive for some, though. You can’t skip around to different sections or even preview them to see what’s in store. If you try, you’ll be greeted by harsh red text that lets you know you haven’t finished the step you’re on yet. Not so fast, tax filer.

Lack of clarifying information

At times, H&R Block’s software also fails to predict common questions. For example, our tester wasn’t sure what to do when filling out their employment information — they had three jobs in the past year, which was one more than the allotted space on H&R’s online form. Under the “Need Help?” banner, H&R Block’s system drew a blank. Even though TurboTax only offered space for a single job, it still predicted the confusion and provided an explanation, reassuring our tester that the software wouldn’t forget extra income.

HR-Block-No-Common-Questions-for-Online-Tax-Software

H&R Block's "Need Help?" banner left us craving more.

Cheapest Tax Software
TaxAct
TaxAct
By far the cheapest tax software, but lacking guidance and a clean design.
Pros
Low prices
Free access to returns for seven years
Cons
Hard to navigate
Limited state tax filing

Why we chose it

Low prices

If you want to get in and out of your return as inexpensively as possible, TaxAct is the way to go. Even its Premium option is cheaper than that of competitors, maxing out at $35 (with an additional $37 per state). It also has a PriceLock guarantee, a not-so-subtle dig at competitors like TurboTax, which notoriously charges for add-on features after you’ve started your return.

Free access to returns for seven years

Additionally, we loved how TaxAct users can access their tax returns for seven years — even when using the free version of the software. TurboTax charges a whopping $50 per return for this feature, while H&R Block only lets you go back three years.

Points to consider

Hard to navigate

TaxAct isn’t nearly as interactive or enjoyable to use as our other top picks. We initially liked the no-frills nature of its simple, text-heavy screens, but it made the process feel monotonous after a while. At times, the amount of text makes the process more difficult to navigate — when compared with the large, scannable tools of TurboTax, it can be hard to find the information you’re looking for.

TaxAct-TurboTax-Comparison-for-Online-Tax-Software

The layout of TaxAct (left) was a maze compared to the clean, colorful segments in TurboTax (right).

Limited state tax filing

The software’s limited e-filing of state taxes might also be a deal breaker for some users. The software is missing key forms that make it ineligible for e-filing in some states: It doesn’t have 1041, 1065, 1120, and 1120S for every state. To be fair, forms 1120 and 1120S are for corporations, and most corporations won’t use simple consumer tax software to file. Regardless, if you have a small business, you probably don’t want to file with TaxAct.

Guide to Online Tax Software

How to protect yourself when filing taxes online

File early

A common way for identity thieves to make cash is by filing fake tax returns based on stolen information before you have the chance to submit the return yourself. In 2014, the IRS prevented about $24 billion in attempted fraud but ended up paying an estimated $5.2 billion in fraudulent tax refunds. Online tax software companies insist that it’s not the products that are insecure, it’s that identity thieves are getting better. To avoid any surprises, file as early as you can — before identity thieves do it for you.

Take precautions

You can take steps to add security on your end, too. Keep clear of phishy emails; shred old tax documents; don’t file your tax info over unsecured wireless networks. The IRS puts out a list of the “Dirty Dozen” tax scams every year, and it’s worth taking a look early in tax season. If you really want to up your peace of mind, check out our review of the best identity theft protection services.

Use a unique password

You should ideally use a unique password for every financial website you’re using. While that can get hard to keep track of, you don’t want to cut corners when it comes to filing your taxes online. If an identity thief somehow obtains your Facebook password, you don’t want that to open the door to your tax returns as well.

Watch out for suspicious phone calls

Unfortunately, the IRS has seen a rise in phone scams in recent years where the callers impersonate IRS agents and try to get victims to pay exorbitant tax bills through wire transfers or prepaid debit cards. Some scams have even gotten so sophisticated that caller IDs show legitimate IRS numbers. Don’t fall for it. The IRS will always send a bill in the mail first, and it will never threaten to bring in police for an unpaid bill. If you think you might have an outstanding debt to the IRS, just call directly at 800-829-1040.

Online Tax Software FAQ

How have tax software companies responded to increased security threats?

All of our top picks beefed up their security in 2018. In addition to asking for your password, they now require you to answer personal questions that are harder for a stranger to get right, like, “What is the name of your third-grade teacher?” TurboTax goes a step further by sending a six-digit verification number to your phone or email whenever you login.

What is the Free File Alliance?

The Free File Alliance is a nonprofit collection of 12 tax software companies that agreed to partner with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and provide free filing for low- and moderate-income taxpayers. The Free File versions give you access to more forms than you’ll find in a software company’s standard free option.

To be eligible for Free File preparation, the government mandates that your adjusted gross income be $64,000 or less. However, companies are allowed to make the same cutoff even lower for their individual versions of Free File software — the cutoff for TurboTax’s is $33,000. In fact, as long as they don’t exceed the government’s cutoff, each participating software company can set its own eligibility requirements, which can be found on an IRS-sponsored list.

Free File Alliance software isn’t available until January, but could be worth a look for many; at the last estimate, 70% of all taxpayers would qualify. When the software is available, you’ll see a “Start Now” button on the IRS Free File site to review the list of participating companies, and you must start the process on the IRS site in order to ensure you don’t pay fees. For those who may need more free forms than a 1040EZ or 1040A, it’s definitely worth a look.

How will the GOP's 2017 tax bill affect 2019 filing?

At the beginning of November 2017, Republicans unveiled one of the most sweeping tax overhauls in decades, a bill called the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. And while it didn’t affect 2018 taxes, there are some significant changes that will impact how much you’ll pay in 2019.

To start, whether you’re single or married, it’s likely that you’ll be paying a lower federal tax rate next year. The bill nearly doubles the standard deduction as well (increasing to $12,000 for individuals, $18,000 for heads of household, and $24,000 for married couples filing jointly). To make up for these cuts, personal exemptions (currently $4,050 per dependent) will be completely eliminated, and you’ll be unable to fully deduct state and local taxes, so some households in high-tax states could end up paying more.

These are the broad strokes, though — how your taxes will be affected depends on many factors. We recommend using a tax calculator to estimate next year’s changes.

The Best Online Tax Software: Summed Up

TurboTax
H&R Block
TaxAct
Best Range of Tools
Best Customer Support
Cheapest Tax Software
Filing federal online
$0-$150
$0-$37
$0-$35.70
Filing state online
$0-$187
$0-$40
$0-$35.70
Desktop software (federal and state)
$40-$110
$19.95-$79.95
$43.50-$53.20
1040EZ and 1040A free filing
Office locations
Automatic W-2 import

Our Other Financial Service Reviews

Filing your taxes is only step one on the road to healthy finances. Check out some of our other financial service reviews here: