The best online tax software no matter your situation
Updated March 16, 2021|9 min read
Most tax services offer a free version, though they usually have income limits and not all deductions are available to claim for free
Most people can save a lot of money during tax season by choosing a lower-cost service, though people who hate doing taxes or have complex tax situations may prefer a higher-cost software
New in 2021: more options for having a tax professional fill out your tax return for you, without the need to visit a physical office
Tax season in 2021 runs from February 12th to April 15th. The IRS strongly recommends that you e-file because it’s a faster and more secure way to file than paper returns. (Plus, you can also get it done from the comfort of your couch.)
To make filing taxes easier, we reviewed six of this year’s best filing services to help you choose the one that works best for your budget and tax situation. Before we get to the individual service reviews, here are some quick notes.
If you don’t mind paying for a top-of-the-line service, consider TurboTax or H&R Block. Both cover all tax situations, are easy to use, and include options for working with a tax professional (in-person or virtually). You may also prefer these programs if you have a complex tax return, like if you went through divorce, have complicated itemized deductions, or have business income. However, other apps can still handle complex scenarios.
Your economical options are TaxSlayer or Jackson Hewitt. Both offer solid all-around features at a fraction of the cost and their pricing structures are very straightforward. TaxAct is an affordable choice in some situations, but it isn’t always the cheapest.
If you don’t want to spend any money, Credit Karma Tax is a completely free tax service. It doesn’t cover all tax situations and may not offer as much guidance as the other services, but you can’t beat a free tax program.
Finally, it’s important to say that many taxpayers could use any of the filing services below without any issues and personal preference will play a big part in which you choose. You may want to go through the filing process with multiple services (it’s free as long as you don’t actually submit your return) to see which one offers you the best price, biggest refund, or smoothest filing experience.
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One of the biggest selling points for TurboTax is its ease of use. If you get easily stressed by taxes and like the idea of answering simple questions then clicking the “next” button, you may like TurboTax. Features like uploading your W-2 by taking a picture also simplify the process. Depending on where you work, you may have the option to import tax forms directly from your human resources account into your TurboTax account.
TurboTax could also be the best option for you if you have a complicated tax situation, like if you’re going through a divorce, you have a lot of stock investments, or you have many (and varied) sources of income. Other tax services can handle these situations too, but you may prefer the TurboTax experience if you don’t have much tax knowledge. Business owners, self-employed people, and QuickBooks users may like that TurboTax integrates with QuickBooks to track work-related expenses.
TurboTax recently started offering live personal assistance, which is helpful if you want to virtually ask a tax pro any questions. Also new in 2021 is a Full Service option that is great if you’d prefer a tax expert to complete your return for you. This feature is similar to the experience of going to a CPA or tax accountant.
TurboTax is the biggest name in tax filing, but that high brand awareness comes at a high cost. It’s the most expensive service on this list, so you should look elsewhere if you don’t want to spend too much. You should especially check elsewhere if your income is between $39,000 and $72,000 since other services allow you to file for free or at a much lower cost.
There is a very limited free version for filers who have an adjusted gross income (AGI) of $39,000 or less and don’t need many tax forms. You can file for free if you claim the earned income tax credit or if you received unemployment benefits (Form 1099-G), but you don’t qualify for the free version if you have student loan interest (Form 1098-E) or mortgage interest (Form 1098).
Many filers will need to upgrade and pay $60 to $120, depending on the version, plus $50 for each state return. Taxpayers with capital gains tax (like on a 1099-B) or self-employment income (such as income on a 1009-MISC or 1099-NEC) will have to pay for the most expensive options.
TurboTax Live includes one-on-one help from a tax professional for $120 to $200 but you still need to fill out your own return. If you want a tax professional to do all the work for you, you will spend between $130 and $290 for TurboTax Live Full Service.
A warning! Some TurboTax customers who deduct the filing cost from their refund have been hit with a $39.99 Refund Processing Fee. Other services may charge a similar fee, which you can avoid by paying via credit or debit card instead of by deducting from your refund.
TurboTax has an intuitive interview-style filing process (which other services have copied over the years). You answer simple questions tax-related questions, one after the other, until you hit “submit” at the end.
There are many pages or notes that offer regular encouragement and reassurance that you’re doing a good job.
You can upload your W-2 as a photo from your smartphone. Many human resource services also allow you to easily upload tax documents from your employer into your TurboTax account.
A mobile app, ItsDeductible, can track your donations to help you claim any charitable deductions you qualify for.
You have live access to tax experts, whether you have questions or want someone to fill out your whole return for you (live options cost more).
TurboTax filers can receive tax refunds via direct deposit, as a physical check, or on a prepaid Visa debit card in the mail.
There’s integration with QuickBooks to help you track work expenses year round.
TurboTax doesn’t have any office locations, but you can download TurboTax software for offline use. Downloadable software is also available for previous tax years (2017, 2018, or 2019).
→ For more advice on how taxes work, check out our guide to filing income taxes.
People who don’t want to pay for TurboTax but still want top-of-the-line tax software may prefer H&R Block. H&R Block offers a comprehensive and user-friendly tax service that can handle more complex tax situations like owning rental properties, dealing with taxes after a divorce, or deducting business expenses. Also consider H&R Block if you want to talk to a tax professional or have someone complete your tax return for you. There are options to work with a tax professional virtually, over the phone, or in person.
H&R Block’s free version also covers more people than the free TurboTax option, so consider H&R Block if you were disqualified from the free version of TurboTax because your income was too high, or because you want to claim any of the following: student loan interest deduction, the tuition and fees deduction, the lifetime learning credit (LLC), or the American opportunity tax credit (AOTC). (These four tax breaks are included in the free H&R Block option but not the free TurboTax option.)
You may not want to use H&R Block if you’re trying to spend as little as possible on your tax return and you don’t care about live support from a tax expert. Unless you qualify for the H&R Block free option, there are cheaper filing services out there (though a less expensive service may not have the same level of guidance or user friendliness).
There’s a free edition you can use if you have a relatively simple tax situation with only common tax forms like a W-2, 1099-G (unemployment benefits), 1098-E (student loan interest), or 1098-T (tuition payments). You can also claim the earned income tax credit (EITC).
The Deluxe, Premium, and Self-Employed editions cost between $29.99 and $84.99, plus $36.99 for each state tax return, if you want to file online. You can instead download the H&R Block software and file offline at a cost of $19.95 to $79.95.
If you want to work with a tax expert, you’ll pay at least $39.99 to get digital support (plus a state fee) and you’ll pay at least $69 to have a tax expert complete your return for you, in-person or virtually.
Similar to TurboTax, you can upload your W-2 as a photo.
For an extra cost, you can call or talk virtually with a tax expert.
H&R Block has office locations across the country for in-person filing.
Integration with Stride for help tracking business expenses and mileage reimbursement for self-employed individuals or business owners.
H&R Block filers can receive their tax refund via check, direct deposit, or a prepaid MasterCard.
H&R Block has office locations in all 50 states. It’s possible for you to visit an office without an appointment, and you can start a return virtually and then switch to an in-person filing option. There is also downloadable H&R Block software, including old editions dating back to 2016, if you want to file yourself but not over the internet.
→ Learn more about how to file back taxes.
TaxAct’s free version has a high income limit, which means many people can file for free even if they wouldn’t qualify under TurboTax or H&R Block. Certain filing options for TaxAct are also cheaper than the two services above, though that may not hold true once you factor in state tax return costs.
If you’re looking to save money on tax filing, TaxAct isn’t the best service for you unless you qualify for the free option. For the paid options, the cost of a federal return is lower than for TurboTax or H&R Block. But the high cost of state returns could mean you ultimately pay about the same amount as you would with one of those two services (while also getting fewer features).
TaxAct also may not be the best option if you want expert help. TaxAct does allow you to call an expert but you can’t have a tax expert complete your return for you like at TurboTax and H&R Block, which both offer video chats or in-person visits at comparable prices.
Finally, while TaxAct’s user-friendliness and extra guidance have improved over the years, filers who don’t understand taxes or have more complex situations may still prefer the more robust user experience of TurboTax or H&R Block. On the flip side, if you have a decent grasp of how taxes work, or you don’t mind searching the internet for answers, you may want one of the less expensive options on this list.
There’s a free version that includes state filing for people aged 56 and younger with an adjusted gross income (AGI) of $63,000 or less, people who are eligible for the earned income tax credit (EITC), and active military members with an AGI of $72,000 or less. Note that free state returns are only available in 24 states and the District of Columbia, otherwise it’s $19.95 per state return.
Three paid options — Deluxe, Premier, and Self-Employed — that run from $44.95 to $79.95, plus $54.95 per state return
TaxAct also has an Xpert Help feature that gives you access to call a tax expert. This option has four pricing tiers that run from $65 (plus $19.95 per state return) to $159.95 (plus $54.95 per state return).
You can easily import old returns from TurboTax or H&R Block.
The Donation Assistant calculator helps you calculate the fair market value (FMV) of any items or property you donated to charitable organizations.
If you don’t need expert advice, there are checklists, blog articles, tax calculators, and other reference tools to help you understand your taxes.
For audit assistance, TaxAct offers the option to enroll in Protection Plus, a third-party service, for $44.95. Read more on what happens during an IRS audit.
TaxAct filers can receive tax refunds via direct deposit, paper check, or on an American Express prepaid debit card.
TaxAct doesn’t offer in-person tax filing, but you can file offline with its tax preparation software for this tax year or previous years going back to 2013.
Tax filers looking for a worthwhile budget option will like TaxSlayer. Its free version covers more tax filers than TurboTax or H&R Block, and the paid options have a simple pricing structure. Plus, anyone can use TaxSlayer’s lowest-cost filing option regardless of income, what tax forms you need to use, or which tax deductions you want to claim.
The extra features and guidance may not always be as polished or in-depth as more expensive services, but TaxSlayer is still easy to use and friendlier than other inexpensive tax filing programs.
You may prefer a more expensive filing software if you have a complex situation and want extra guidance. TaxSlayer can certainly help with complex tax scenarios, but you may need to do some extra reading or internet sleuthing for unfamiliar topics. Anyone looking to talk or meet with a tax expert should also consider a different service or even an in-person tax preparer.
There’s a free version for filers with income of $72,000 or less, ages 51 or younger. All filers who can claim the earned income credit also qualify to file for free. A free state return is included in the free version.
TaxSlayer’s Classic option costs $24.95 to cover all tax situations and state returns are $39.95. You can upgrade to Premium for $44.95 to live chat with a tax expert. People with business income or income on a 1099 form may want the extra guidance offered by the $54.95 Self-Employed option.
All active duty military file federal returns for free, but state returns cost $39.95.
You can import your W-2 via PDF upload.
TaxSlayer has partnered with Hurdlr to help you track business expenses, whether you’re self-employed, a business owner, or just someone who needs to track mileage reimbursement.
Upgrading to the Premium level lets you speak online with a tax professional about any questions you have.
TaxSlayer also includes audit assistance if you upgrade to their Premium product, though it doesn’t cover Schedule C for business and self-employment income, Schedule K-1 for estate and trust income, or Form 2555 for foreign income. It’s only audit assistance, too, so they will not represent you in front of the IRS.
TaxSlayer filers can receive their tax refund through direct deposit, a paper check, or a Visa prepaid debit card from Green Dot Bank.
Yes, TaxSlayer is an online-only service. Besides a mobile app, there is no downloadable software.
Credit Karma Tax is a decent option if you want to file for free, you have a relatively simple tax situation, or you aren’t concerned with live access to tax experts.
Credit Karma Tax doesn’t offer the same level of tailored advice that small business owners or self-employed people may get from other services. It’s also a relatively new service and doesn’t support all tax situations.
For example, Credit Karma Tax doesn’t allow you to file multiple state returns, file a state return as a part-year resident, or file state returns if you’re married and filing separately in a community property state. You cannot use this software if you have a Schedule K-1 (for estate or trust income), you want to claim the foreign tax credit, you need the health coverage tax credit (HCTC), or if you have income from a state where you aren’t a resident (for example, if you have rental income from out of state).
Lastly, anyone concerned about how their personal data is used may want to read more into the company’s terms and conditions. You will need to create a Credit Karma account, which may use financial information from account holders to connect them with third-party partners, like lenders or credit card companies. In 2020, Credit Karma was also acquired by Intuit, the owner of TurboTax (through Credit Karma Tax was subsequently sold to Square after an antitrust lawsuit from the Justice Department).
Credit Karma Tax is free, period.
You can easily import tax returns from previous years if you filed with Credit Karma Tax, H&R Block, TurboTax, or TaxAct.
Credit Karma Tax provides blog articles that answer common tax questions, but it doesn’t offer as much educational content as more established services.
You can import your W-2 via photo upload or (if available for your employer) you may upload directly from your human resources service if it uses ADP or Equifax.
If you need audit assistance, you can purchase Protection Plus, the same third-party provider that TaxAct uses.
Any Credit Karma Tax filer can receive their refund via direct deposit or a physical check.
Yes, Credit Karma Tax is only available online.
Jackson Hewitt is great for anyone who wants an affordable option with very simple pricing. There is only one price no matter your income or tax situation, making Jackson Hewitt’s online service the most affordable one on our list if you have to file multiple state returns. If you want to file in person, there are thousands of Jackson Hewitt offices, many of which are located in Walmart stores.
Consider another service if you qualify to file online for free, since Jackson Hewitt doesn’t have a free option this year. You may also prefer another option if you need extra guidance, either because you don’t know a lot about taxes or your taxes this year are complicated.
→ Need more help? Start with our guide to Form 1040, the main income tax form.
Jackson Hewitt online filing costs $25 for a federal tax return and $24 for state returns. Unlike other services on this list, there is no extra cost for filing multiple state income tax returns.
Jackson Hewitt offices can be found in Walmart stores all around the country.
There are multiple online calculators, including some to help you determine your earned income tax credit, estate tax, or self-employment tax.
Jackson Hewitt filers can receive tax refunds through direct deposit, paper check, or on a prepaid American Express Serve Card. There are a few refund advance options, too.
No, Jackson Hewitt offers online filing and in-person help with about 6,000 office locations, half of which are in Walmart stores.
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