How We Tested
When you’re getting ready to file taxes, you’re probably thinking about cost first. But it also pays to consider how the tax software will guide you through the process, answer your questions and look for tax breaks tailored to you. If you choose a product that’s inexpensive but not too helpful, you could spend hours deciphering IRS lingo and backtracking through forms to make sure they’re completed properly. The confusion and stress could even produce errors that cost you money.
Once you select the tax preparer, you should understand its different price tiers and what they cover. For example, people with a simple tax situation probably won’t need to upgrade to a paid version. Generally, a “simple” tax situation means you get wages from a W-2, have limited or no income from interest or dividends, and you plan to claim the standard deduction.
This year we tested four tax-filing programs: TurboTax, H&R Block, TaxAct and TaxSlayer. The products were chosen for testing based on their percentage of market share and/or visibility with the public. Each product received scores based on three areas of quality:
- Personal adaptability: How well did the software respond to the information from each of the personas, and how confident does it make the user feel that the numbers are going in the right places?
- Product experience: How easy is the software to use entering and/or uploading information?
- Customer support: How easy is it to find customer support, and how good is the support the user receives?
Our Fictional Tax Filers
Noah Numbers is a recent college graduate who’s filing as single. He works at an accounting firm earning $50,000 per year and is repaying $30,000 worth of student loan debt. Noah has health insurance and a retirement account.
Steve and Jane Go-Getter are a young married couple with one child, Piper, who was born in 2018. They have a mortgage on their home in Massachusetts. Steve earns about $81,000 per year at an office job, while Jane earned $70,000 this year as a freelance writer. Steve and Jane both have health insurance and retirement accounts.
Timothy Taxpayer is a single retired man who’s enrolled in Medicare and receives IRA distributions and Social Security income. He’s paid off his mortgage and has no dependents.
Other Tax Software We Tested
When to Hire a CPA or Tax Pro
If you have a complex tax situation along with a list of questions, then you might benefit from hiring a CPA or tax preparer. These professionals typically help if you:
- Own a business, a rental property or a complicated investment portfolio.
- Want help planning for your financial future, such as saving for retirement or paying for your kids’ education.
- Had a big life event this year, such as buying a home, having a child, getting married or divorced, or receiving an inheritance.
Tax preparers charge an average of $188 for federal and state returns without itemized deductions and $294 for customers who did itemize, according to the National Society of Accountants’ 2018 survey. Taxpayers with business income paid an extra $187 on average to file Schedule C. But an accountant could be well worth the fee if they dig up extra tax breaks or help you make sense of a complicated tax situation.
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Meet the testers
Kim Porter is a seasoned journalist whose work has been published on websites such as U.S. News & World Report, Credit Karma, and LifeLock. Her expertise is in credit cards, credit, real estate, running, and travel, and she plans to run a half marathon on each of the seven continents.
Checking our work.
We use standardized and scientific testing methods to scrutinize every product and provide you with objectively accurate results. If you’ve found different results in your own research, email us and we’ll compare notes. If it looks substantial, we’ll gladly re-test a product to try and reproduce these results. After all, peer reviews are a critical part of any scientific process.