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✔ Features and ease of use
TurboTax stands out for how easy it is to use and its intuitive design and flow. It’s pricier than most, but while confident filers may not need the bells and whistles, many people will find the experience worth a few extra dollars. Of all the tax software providers we evaluated, TurboTax as a whole emerged with the highest rating.
- User-friendly, interview-style Q&A
- Best-in-class features
- Online answers among strongest in industry
- More expensive than nearly all other competitors
- Free version is only for those filing a Form 1040A or 1040EZ
TurboTax has a lot of things going for it, but price isn’t one of them. The list price of its software routinely lands on the high end of the spectrum, especially when you factor in the added cost of a state return. The provider and some retailers sometimes offer discounts. Military discounts are available, too — typically $5, though the Deluxe version might be free, depending on rank. But on balance, buying TurboTax means spending more.
TurboTax’s free federal version is available only to people who qualify to use the 1040EZ or 1040A. Folks filing a regular 1040 will need to go with one of the paid versions.
Available packages and list prices
|Federal Free edition||
This option allows you to file a 1040EZ or 1040A.
This version lets you itemize and gets you the SmartLook support option. TurboTax will store your tax documents, too.
Gets you everything that's in the Deluxe version plus added capability for reporting your investments and income from rental properties.
This is the highest-end version TurboTax offers to individual filers.
One note about prices: Providers frequently change theirs. We’ll keep updating this review, but you can verify the latest price by clicking through to TurboTax’s site.
TurboTax also offers desktop software, but it’s not part of our review. Desktop means your return doesn’t reside in the cloud; it stays on your computer while you work on it. People who have used the desktop version before will see a cosmetic difference with the cloud, but the steps are similar — and, of course, the math is the same.
TurboTax’s features and ease of use
TurboTax’s products are widely considered the most user-friendly on the market, and for good reason. Like many other providers, TurboTax’s cloud software lets you access and work on your return across devices: on your computer via the website or on your phone or tablet via an app. So you could import your W-2 information from your employer, but you also could snap a photo of the form with your mobile device and see all the data transferred to your return. The latter is especially helpful if you have multiple W-2s.
Getting help throughout the preparation process is easy. The software also does users a huge favor by explaining why the numbers are what they are. A banner running across the top keeps track of where you stand in the process and flags areas you still need to complete.
TurboTax’s interface is like a chat with a tax preparer. The software asks you questions in plain language, and it takes the answers you give and puts them in the right place on your return. You can skip around if you get sick of the interview process, or you can ditch it altogether and go straight to the forms if you’re feeling bold.
Deluxe, Premier and Self-Employed users also get ItsDeductible, a feature — and standalone mobile app — that’s helpful for quickly finding the deduction value of donated clothes, household items or other objects. These users also get access to and protection of their past tax returns.
This year, TurboTax revamped its Home & Business offering — it’s now called Self-Employed — and the new iteration offers a neat expense-tracking feature. If you link your bank accounts and credit cards, Expense Finder scans and categorizes your spending to find deductible business expenses that otherwise could slip through the cracks or be forgotten during the year.
Expense Finder and ItsDeductible are designed in part for you to use after the April deadline, to become yearlong habits that will make next year’s taxes easier — and, of course, to keep you using TurboTax.
Support options with TurboTax
If you need a lot of handholding or have a huge fear of getting audited, TurboTax could be a great choice. Its searchable knowledge base, video tutorials and online community are great for research on the fly.
Ways to get help
- Searchable knowledge base.
- Online community.
- Video tutorials.
- Live, on-screen human help (if you paid for it).
Users with paid versions can get real-time help using SmartLook, which connects you to a tax expert via one-way video using the TurboTax mobile app or your computer. TurboTax says all of its experts are credentialed certified public accountants or enrolled agents. You can ask questions, and the expert can see your screen and highlight areas you might need to address or show you where to enter more information. You can even ask about your state taxes, but don’t get crazy: Questions about local taxes or non-income-tax issues such as bankruptcy, inheritances, business incorporation or similar topics are off limits. New this year is the ability to schedule an appointment with a live tax expert. You’ll get on-screen confirmation and reminders.
SmartLook isn’t available with the Federal Free Edition. However, for $29.99, those users can buy Plus, a package of features that includes access to SmartLook.
If you’re audited
Audit support comes free with all versions, but be sure you know the difference between “support” and “defense.” If you get that dreaded letter from the IRS, audit support entitles you to one-on-one guidance from a tax pro about what to expect and how to prepare. Audit defense, on the other hand, gets you full representation before the IRS by a tax professional. TurboTax’s audit defense, called Max Assist and Defend, is an add-on product. You’ll need to buy it when you file; you can’t do it after the fact. It costs $44.99.
No matter how you file, you can choose to receive your refund via direct deposit to a bank account — the fastest option — loaded onto a NetSpend Premier Visa prepaid debit card or as a paper check. Other options include applying the refund to next year’s taxes or directing the IRS to buy U.S. Savings Bonds with your refund.
If you buy a paid version of TurboTax, you have the option of paying for it out of your refund, if you’re getting one. But beware: There’s a $34.99 charge. Also, in California, if you choose to pay your TurboTax fees out of your federal refund, that service is bundled with a Premium Services package that runs an additional $39.99. You can remove the Premium Services package before filing and then pay the TurboTax fees upfront with a credit card, debit card or prepaid debit card.
How TurboTax compares
Start your return
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Start your return
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Start your return
|TurboTax stands out for how easy it is to use and its intuitive design and flow.|
It’s pricier than most, but while confident filers may not need the bells and whistles and can find better value elsewhere, many people will find this experience to be worth a few extra dollars.
|H&R Block’s software is a solid contender in the crowded market for tax software, and its network of brick-and-mortar locations offers a warm, fuzzy security blanket.|
The interface is straightforward and easy to use, and the free version is one of the best on the market.
|TaxAct’s no-nonsense design will be a turnoff for some, but the cost is lower than many competitors and there’s free email and phone support.
The interface isn’t fancy, and there’s less of a Q&A feel than other packages, but the data-entry process in general is similar to most and there are plenty of tools to help you along.
The bottom line
With its forward-looking features and comprehensive design, TurboTax is in many ways the standard for the do-it-yourself tax-prep industry. Its products come at a price, however, and confident filers who don’t need all the bells and whistles may get a better value elsewhere.
Tina Orem is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.