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Find the Best Tax Software and Services

by Melissa Hincha-Ownby Tax Software Contributing Editor

Use our guide to research and choose the best tax software and services company for you. These companies take the work out filing taxes. Most provide the option to use the software without professional help, and many let you speak to a tax professional for help and assistance.

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What to consider when choosing tax software

Accuracy

The most important feature of any tax software program is accuracy. An inaccurate tax return could cost a taxpayer hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Both errors in favor of the taxpayer and in favor of the IRS can be costly.

  • Error check: Most tax software programs run an error check prior to filing the tax return.
  • Accuracy guarantee: Companies typically offer an accuracy guarantee, which ensures that the calculations the program completes are accurate. The guarantee doesn’t cover human mistakes, though, so it is important that taxpayers verify all of the data entered into the system.
  • Professional review: Some programs allow taxpayers to pay an additional fee to have their return reviewed by a tax professional.

Ease of use

No matter how accurate and well priced a tax software program is, if it isn't easy-to-use then customers will take their business elsewhere. Tax time is stressful for many taxpayers, and the last thing anyone wants is the challenges of a difficult to use program.

  • Online programs: Web-based software programs eliminate the need for a local software installation, which reduces compatibility problems.
  • Interviews: The most popular tax software programs use an interview approach to gather tax data; this makes tax preparation a simple and hassle-free process.
  • Table of contents: In addition to the interview approach, many of the more popular programs allow taxpayers to pick and choose specific forms. This is a great feature for more experienced users.

Data security

Data security is of the utmost importance. Hackers, unscrupulous employees, fires and floods are just a few of the ways that your data could be compromised or lost.

  • Data security software: A completed tax return has everything an identity thief needs to set up financial accounts in your name. Tax software companies need to utilize the latest in security software and post a security policy online.
  • Account disclosures: Tax software companies should disclose what happens to your credit card or bank account information when your return is complete. Is the data stored for future use or removed from the system?
  • Disaster recovery plan: Companies should also have an adequate disaster recovery plan in place because a fire or natural disaster could destroy your data. Taxpayers that failed to make a personal backup won’t have access to important financial records.

Help and support

Tax software, at its core, is a do-it-yourself project. There is a reason that taxpayers, by the millions, opt for software programs over an accountant – they like the DIY aspect. However, people do run into problems, so a solid help and support system is an integral part of any tax software package.

  • Live chat support: Companies can provide longer support hours by utilizing a live chat support service.
  • Phone support: Even web-based programs need to have a phone support option because there are some problems that can’t be solved efficiently using text-based interactions.
  • Knowledge base: Most DIY taxpayers would rather research their problems than wait for a customer service response, which makes a comprehensive knowledge base a valuable resource.

Tax refund options

Gone are the days of waiting months for a check from the IRS to arrive in your mailbox. While taxpayers can still opt to receive a paper check, the IRS and most tax software programs offer direct deposit and other refund options like U.S. Savings Bonds, prepaid debit cards and more.

  • Direct deposit: All of the major tax software providers offer customers a direct deposit option.
  • Paper checks: The IRS and software companies still offer paper checks to taxpayers expecting a refund.
  • Prepaid debit cards: A prepaid debit card loaded with the refund is a great option for taxpayers without a bank account.

Filing options

A tax software program that offers multiple filing options is preferred. While online filing is a popular choice, not every taxpayer has access to the Internet or wants to submit sensitive data electronically. A program that offers both online and print and mail options leaves this decision up to the customer.

  • Online: All of the popular tax software programs allow online tax filing, in addition to tax preparation services.
  • Print and mail: Some programs allow taxpayers to print and mail a copy of their returns.
  • Online and print: The best option is to file your return electronically and then print a copy for personal records.

Types of tax software

Online tax software

An online tax software program is entirely web-based. The program shouldn’t require any downloading, aside from a plugin or two. Most online programs store historical tax return data and allow users to download a copy for personal records.

Downloadable tax software

Unlike online programs, a package that is downloaded or purchased at a local computer store involves a local software installation. Returns can often be prepared without an internet connection, although connectivity will be required for product updates and electronic filing.

Tax software apps

The rise in popularity of smartphones and tablets has opened up a new segment of tax software – mobile applications. Some tax programs allow a return to be prepared and filed entirely through a mobile app, while other companies use apps to supplement an online program.

Professional tax software

Even tax professionals use software to complete tax returns. There are a variety of products marketed specifically to tax professionals but the vast majority of individual filers will never need to research or use these products.

Tax software and service questions

What software do CPAs use for taxes?
There are over a dozen tax software programs for CPAs to choose from. The software that your CPA uses will depend on their personal preference and your tax needs.
Who is the cheapest tax preparer?
It depends on your tax needs. There are multiple do-it-yourself tax preparation programs with varying levels of services, but use them at your own risk. It may be less stressful to hire a professional.
Are online tax services safe?
If you’re working with a reputable tax service company, yes. Don’t give a company your personal information without checking a few things first, like:
  • Their BBB rating
  • Their consumer reviews
  • Their rates and fees
Do I need a license to prepare tax returns?
Yes, the IRS states that anyone who prepares taxes must have a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN).
Can I file my business taxes myself?
Yes, you can file your business taxes yourself using online tax software.
What is the easiest tax program to use?
Picking the easiest tax software will depend on your specific needs. While a tax professional will cost more than doing your taxes yourself, it could save you a run-in with the IRS.

Not sure how to choose?

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    Tax software reviews

    Intuit - TurboTax

    This company gives you easy access to tax software while guaranteeing maximum refunds. It offers services nationwide, with live CPAs available to answer questions or offer assistance. Start filing your taxes by entering some simple information about yourself regarding any major life changes. Based on your answers, it recommends the right tax solutions, while also directing you to possible tax deductions.

    Read 3279 Reviews
    TaxAct

    This company has comprehensive tax filing services for every kind of filer. It has a maximum-refund guarantee, a money-back guarantee and a satisfaction guarantee. Head to its website and answer a few questions to find out which tax filing plan is right for you.

    Read 819 Reviews
    TaxSlayer

    This company’s online tax services are affordable and easy to use. It has 24/7 support, and its software lets you complete your tax forms from any mobile device, including your phone.

    Read 173 Reviews
    H&R Block

    This company offers tax services online and in-store, and it even has free filing services for simple tax returns. If you’re unsure how to file or what forms to fill out, visit H&R Block’s website and answer a few questions. Its software then directs you to the correct tax forms to fill out.

    Read 2778 Reviews
    Jackson Hewitt

    This company offers customers tax software and services in-store and online. Depending on your status, you may be eligible for free filing. Once you’ve filed your taxes, Jackson Hewitt lets you easily check the status of your refund through your online account.

    Read 1409 Reviews
    eSmart Tax

    This is the online version of Liberty Tax Service. As part of Liberty Tax Service, eSmart Tax makes several promises to its customers, including satisfaction, accuracy, biggest-refund and lock-in guarantees.

    Read more about eSmart Tax

    Compare Top Tax Software and Services

    by Melissa Hincha-Ownby Tax Software Contributing Editor

    Melissa Hincha-Ownby is a freelance writer who finds joy in doing her taxes, testing new tax software programs and sharing her experiences with others.

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