The tax software industry has experienced exponential growth over the past 15 years. What started out with a handful of programs has grown to dozens of companies providing software, online and mobile-based tax preparation and filing services for individuals and businesses.

Top 10 Best Rated Tax Services

Community Tax is a reliable company dedicated to tax relief and resolution services for consumers. Based in Chicago, IL, the company also helps clients with tax preparation and book keeping services to its customers.
TaxAudit.com is a company that was originally created by TaxResources, Inc. This company provides its customers with tax audit representation and taxpayer education so that they don't have to deal with the IRS on their own.
eSmart Tax provides its customers with helpful and reliable online tax preparation services for both federal and state taxes. This company is the online division of the larger tax services company, Liberty Tax.
Intuit TurboTax is a company that has created software solutions for tax completion and filing. TurboTax was developed in the mid-1980s by a San Diego-based company called Chipsoft, which was ultimately acquired by Intuit.
TaxSlayer is a company with a range of products to help customers e-file their taxes. Based in Evans, GA, Taxslayer has several different product options for customers to choose from -- Basic, Classic, Premium, Military, and more.
H&R Block is one of the country's leading tax preparation service companies. The company offers in-person tax preparation or online tax preparation, and its corporate headquarters is located in Kansas City, MO.
H&R Block is one of the country's leading tax preparation service companies. The company offers in-person tax preparation or online tax preparation, and its corporate headquarters is located in Kansas City, MO.
TaxACT is a company that allows customers to complete, file, and print their taxes for free via the Internet. With its headquarters in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, the company is a subsidiary of Blucora Internet services.
Tax Master Inc. is a helpful tax preparation company that was founded in 1950. The company currently offers a wide range of tax preparation services to consumers out of their offices in Long Island and Queens, NY.
Jackson Hewitt is a large tax preparation company with more than 6,300 locations across the United States. The company offers customers help in filing their taxes via a Jackson Hewitt franchise or easily online.

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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What features matter most?

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 gathering 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 and 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

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/CD-ROM

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.

Mobile 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 programs

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.

Who's it for?

Individual or basic filer

A taxpayer that qualifies for the 1040EZ, which includes married couples without children or deductions as well as middle-class individuals, can often file their taxes for free. Most of the popular tax software programs offer a basic free file for federal 1040EZ returns.

Families or high-income individuals

Married couples with children, individuals that earn more than $100,000 per year and other taxpayers that have to use a 1040A or 1040 need a more comprehensive tax software program.

Sole proprietors

Most sole proprietors file their taxes as part of an individual return, however not all tax software programs have the necessary forms to complete this type of return. Companies that offer enhanced individual or small business packages are a good choice for sole proprietors.

Small business owners

Small business owners have more advanced tax needs than sole proprietors and need a package that can fit their needs. A few of the major tax software programs offer packages for S-Corps, C-Corps and other small business entities.

Taxpayers with special situations

Not every taxpayer files a simple and straightforward return. Taxpayers in special tax situations, including those with rentals, individuals that need to file back taxes or those with foreign income need to find a software program that can meet their varied needs.

What do the experts have to say?

  • Intuit - TurboTax

    TurboTax is one of Intuit's many financial services products. Intuit, which was founded in 1983, has kept TurboTax at the top of the tax software industry. In 2013, more than 26 million taxpayers across the nation used a TurboTax service.

    • Portability: Intuit’s TurboTax software is available on a variety of platforms including web-based, local software installations and even a dedicated iPad app.
    • Expert advice: TurboTax customers can chat live with a tax expert at no extra charge.
    • Business support: A Business version is available for use by multi-member LLCs, partnerships, S corporations, C corporations, and estates and trusts.
    • Review: Intuit removed the option to have a return reviewed by a Certified Public Accountant, a benefit that set it apart from competitors.
    • Customer service: Contacting customer service by phone is challenging; the TurboTax website requires customers to use a web form to provide contact information and view online help before releasing a phone number.
    • Best for Sole Proprietors, Small Business Owners, Taxpayers with Special Situations
  • TaxACT

    TaxACT launched in 1998 and has grown to become the second most popular tax software program available. For the past seven years, TaxACT has maintained its number two spot, providing tax preparation and filing services to more than 38 million customers.

    • Economical: TaxACT is a great solution for money-conscious consumers. The company’s top of the line package, the Ultimate Bundle, only costs $21.95 and includes federal and state return filing fees.
    • Transparency: TaxACT prides itself on its transparency – there are no hidden fees or gimmicks, pricing is straightforward and available upfront.
    • Mobile app: Customers can download and save documents using the new TaxACT mobile app.
    • Interface: TaxACT is one of the more cumbersome products on the market and customers with a complex return may be better off spending a little extra money to save both time and frustration.
    • Customer service: Customers that need tax help or assistance troubleshooting a problem will have to make a long distance call as no toll-free number tech support number is available.
    • Best for Individual and Basic Filers, Families and High Income Individuals, Sole Proprietors
  • Taxslayer.com

    TaxSlayer started out in 1992 as a software package for tax professionals. In 1998, the company created a basic online version for individual taxpayer use. Today, the TaxSlayer program is a full-featured product that can compete with industry leaders.

    • Military edition: Active duty military can prepare and file their federal and state returns for free using TaxSlayer.
    • Economical: TaxSlayer is inexpensive; a comprehensive federal return can be prepared and filed for as little as $9.95, including live phone support.
    • Prior year return: In 2013, TaxSlayer launched a new prior year return service, which allows taxpayers to prepare and file a return for the previous tax year.
    • Mobile app: TaxSlayer does not currently have a mobile app.
    • Refund options: Prepaid debit card option is not available for consumers expecting a tax refund.
    • Best for Individual and Basic Filers, Families and High Income Individuals, Sole Proprietors
  • H&R Block

    H&R Block has prepared and filed more than 600 million tax returns since 1955 and although the online version is a more modern incarnation of this service, taxpayers can have peace of mind knowing that they are working with one of the most experienced tax service providers in the nation. In 2012, the company processed more than 25.6 million tax returns including 20 percent of the returns filed by low-income taxpayers that claimed the Earned Income Tax Credit.

    • Variety: H&R Block offers several different packages that meet the needs of a wide variety of taxpayers - from a basic free file to a more complex return for a sole proprietor. H&R Block At Home customers can also grant access to a local H&R Block professional, which allows for more personalized support and assistance.
    • Audit support: All packages, including the Free File option, come with free audit support and representation from an enrolled agent.
    • Multiple refund options: Multiple refund options are available including direct deposit, refund anticipation checks and a prepaid MasterCard.
    • Upsells: H&R Block uses refund anticipation checks. Refund anticipation checks come with higher fees and there are only certain instances in which this option is used.
    • Basic package : The basic package is priced at $34.95.
    • Best for Individual and Basic Filers, Families and High Income Individuals, Sole Proprietors, Taxpayers with
  • Jackson Hewitt

    Jackson Hewitt started out as an in-person only tax service provider, but in 2010 the company expanded with the launch of Jackson Hewitt Online. The online tax software service is aimed at those taxpayers that are comfortable preparing and filing taxes themselves, which introduced the Jackson Hewitt brand to a new market.

    • In-person option: Jackson Hewitt offers both online and in-person tax preparation services.
    • Expanded online support: All Jackson Hewitt online packages come with free unlimited live chat support.
    • Great price for freelancers: The Premium package, which is designed for 1099 contract employees and freelancers, is priced significantly lower than some competitors.
    • Phone support: Phone support is available with the premium package.
    • Website: The JacksonHewittOnline.com website is very basic.
    • Best for Individual and Basic Filers, Families and High Income Individuals
  • TaxBrain

    Taxbrain is one of two brands owned by Petz Enterprises LLC, a family-owned company with more than 35 years of experience in the accounting and tax industry. In 1998, Taxbrain became an IRS Authorized e-filer and in 2000 the Taxbrain.com online tax preparation software was launched.

    • Prior year returns: Taxbrain customers can file taxes going back five years.
    • Online tools: Free, online calculators help customers choose an appropriate W-4 withholding and estimate tax refunds based on the new withholding figure.
    • Comprehensive support: Unlimited US-based live chat, phone, and email support is provided to all Taxbrain customers.
    • Free files: There is no free file option for 1040EZ customers. The basic package is $14.95 for a federal return and an additional $29.95 for a state return.
    • Military discount : TaxBrain offers a 20 percent military discount.
    • Best for Families and High Income Individuals
  • eSmart Tax

    eSmart Tax is the online version of Liberty Tax Service's popular in-person offerings. As part of Liberty Tax Service, eSmart Tax provides several guarantees to customers including satisfaction, accuracy, biggest refunds and a lock-in guarantee. The lock-in guarantee ensures that you pay the fee you agreed to when signing up for the service, regardless of what the price is when you file your return.

    • Free audit assistance: CPA audit assistance is provided at no charge to customers that have used eSmart Tax to successfully file a federal and/or state return.
    • State-only option: Taxpayers can choose to file only a state return using eSmart Tax’s software.
    • Easy interface: eSmart Tax has an easy-to-follow, interview-style approach to preparing and filing your taxes.
    • Foreign support : eSmart Tax does not support taxpayers that are part-year residents of the United States.
    • eSmart design: The software design can be difficult at times to understand.
    • Best for Individual and Basic Filers, Families and High Income Individuals
  • TaxSimple

    In 2010, TaxSimple was acquired by Thomson Reuters, which added a personal tax solution to the company’s existing suite of tax services. TaxSimple owner and co-founder John Vora remained on staff but the acquisition enabled TaxSimple to improve its product.

    • Data-rich website: The TaxSimple.com website provides a comprehensive list of the IRS forms supported by each software version. If a taxpayer knows the form she needs to file, she can instantly see which package she needs to purchase.
    • Guarantees: TaxSimple offers a maximum refund guarantee. If you use another software program and find out you were entitled to a larger refund, TaxSimple will refund your money.
    • Upgraded interface: The application now uses Microsoft Silverlight, which is better than the previous version that often caused user’s computers to crash.
    • Support hours: TaxSimple has limited live chat support hours.
    • Support : There is no phone support option available, which makes live chat the only interactive support available to customers experiencing problems with TaxSimple.com’s software.
    • Best for Individual and Basic Filers, Families and High Income Individuals

11 – 20 Best Rated Tax Services

Founded in 1997, Liberty Tax Service offers reliable tax services to clients in both the United States and Canada. The company is headquartered in Virginia Beach, VA, and has franchise locations across the country.
Power Tax Relief is a company that specializes in tax resolution for customers who need help in filing their taxes. The company handles a range of situations, from IRS Liens, late tax returns, wage garnishment, and more.
Expresstaxrefund.com is a company that is authorized by the IRS and provides reliable tax filing services for its customers. Their core focus is on getting customers their tax refund quickly, easily, and securely.
Free1040TaxReturn.com offers its customers safe and secure, simple tax completion and filing services for convenience. The company offers an easy filing process, and currently serves customers in 21 U.S. states.
Headquartered in Virginia Beach, VA, Taxbrain offers tax preparation services and tools for consumers. The company has helped customers prepare over 16 million tax returns in the 17 years they have been in business.
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