It’s almost April, and you know what that means—you’re quickly running out of time to get your tax return done and filed.
As you may have learned in years past, purchasing tax prep software is not cheap. Worse yet, you often end up paying more than you expect because certain fees and “required upgrades” don’t materialize until you’re ready to file.
Of course, few of us would opt for the alternative: Doing our own taxes with paper and pencil. Tax software is money well-spent, even for simple returns.
Not only does software save you time preparing your return, it saves you a trip to the post office and allows you to file electronically—meaning you’ll receive any refund due that much faster.
That doesn’t mean, however, you should pay more for tax prep than you absolutely need to. (Or put up with surprise charges after you’ve spent an hour or more finishing your return.)
While two well-known tax firms dominate the advertising circuit, there is a much less expensive alternative that provides similar services at a fraction of the cost. It’s time to get to know TaxAct.
With TaxAct, free really means free
Many tax prep companies offer a free tax filing option for simple returns. Typically, that means your return is free if you can use IRS Form 1040EZ or 1040A. If you only earned W-2 income and do not have any adjustments, you can file a 1040EZ. However, you cannot use that form if you had any amount of:
- Self-employment income
- Investment income
- Student loan interest payments
- Retirement account contributions
- Or many other common tax situations!
With Form 1040A, you can list dependents and make adjustments for things like retirement contributions, student loan interest or childcare expenses. What you cannot do on 1040A is itemize deductions or claim certain kinds of income—such as self-employment or business income.
TaxAct Online Free Edition lets taxpayers with simple federal returns (Form 1040EZ and 1040A) file at no charge. Plus, those same filers can also complete their state tax returns for zero dollars with TaxAct—an offer no longer available through TurboTax.
Additionally, many of the core features you may need to complete your return—like phone support—are included at no cost when you use TaxAct. This is different from many other DIY tax software providers who typically require you to upgrade for phone support, which comes with an extra fee.
For even for more complex returns, TaxAct can also save you some serious money.
Let’s take a closer look at the differences between the three.
When your taxes get a little more complicated, H&R Block and TurboTax jack up their prices, but TaxAct manages to keep their prices affordable. TaxAct’s federal return prices are just $37 for itemizers, homeowners and investors, and $47 self-employed filers. (Even better—Money Under 30 readers will enjoy 15 percent off TaxAct’s already low prices!)
Compared to TurboTax’s self-employed service, you’ll save $67.99 with TaxAct.
Here’s a helpful chart that outlines the cost of services we found for each provider. Keep in mind, these prices may change—some companies increase prices as the filing deadline draws near, which is April 18th this year. Another good reason not to leave your taxes until the very last minute!
|TaxAct®||H&R Block ®||TurboTax ®|
|Simple Federal + State Returns (1040EZ/A)||0||0||$29.99|
|7 years of Access to Your Return||Included||Upgrade Required||Upgrade Required|
|Free Phone Support||Included||Upgrade Required||Upgrade Required|
|Self-Employed & Business Forms||$47||$54.99||$114.99|
|Complex State Returns||$38 each||$39.99 each||$39.99 each|
|Price Lock Guarantee||Included||Not Available||Not Available|
What makes TaxAct different?
It’s not just the pricing that makes TaxAct a better deal for most, the company offers plenty of other features to make filing your taxes as easy as possible.
Price lock guarantee
TaxAct offers a Price Lock Guarantee. That means customers using any online TaxAct product always pay the price listed for that product at the time they started their return, no matter when they file.
In many cases, filers begin a return but elect to file at a later date. TaxAct eliminates the possibility of an increase by holding the price offered for the online product selected at registration for the entire season. If you get charged more, they will reimburse you for the difference.
So, if you enter your information and TaxAct tells you that you should only be charged $37, that’s how much you’ll be charged at the end of your filing process—no ifs, ands, or buts.
I’ve found that when you go above the free version with TurboTax, the pricing can get a little wonky. You can enter one, seemingly unimportant piece of information, and suddenly TurboTax wants to jack you up to the next price.
TaxAct is more open about their pricing. They tell you upfront what it costs to file your federal and state returns. Plus, compared to TurboTax, their free version is a better deal because you can file your state return for zero dollars. Ultimately, H&R Block wins in the free category—offering slightly more filing options at no charge.
Granted, TurboTax and H&R Block have stylish websites that offer tax services in glamorous colors, but that’s no reason to charge you more. TaxAct’s platform is by no means fancy, but it’s still easy to use and gets the job done.
Although, this simple look doesn’t translate too well to the mobile app unless you have very simple taxes—but the same is true for most tax services. It’s best to just use the web.
Great customer service
Unlike other tax services, TaxAct offers unlimited phone and email support at no charge. Free phone service is hard to find these days when it comes to your taxes.
Many other DIY tax software providers only offer phone support as an add-on or an upgrade, which means you pay more if you need help.
What’s the catch?
Maybe you’re thinking a lower cost means some services are left out. With TaxAct, almost nothing is left out.
You can still check your e-file online and save your information for up to 7 years for free. That allows you to easily access your return after it’s filed any time you need it. Plus, when it comes time to file your taxes next year, you can automatically import your prior year data to help you complete your return even quicker.
The only feature currently unavailable is the ability to take a picture of your W-2 and automatically upload the information onto the software. However, after many attempts and a lot of frustration, TurboTax wouldn’t allow me to upload my info with this service, so you might not be missing out on much.
As stated above, even though the TaxAct platform itself isn’t as fancy as others, it gets the job done. Similar to TurboTax, the software operates as a series of questions, making filling out the information appear easier. All you have to do is answer the interview questions and the software will do the rest of the work for you.
While TaxAct might not have all the glitz and glam of TurboTax or H&R Block, it offers the same services at a much cheaper cost. And the cheaper price doesn’t mean less features—so for those looking for a straightforward filing experience, TaxAct may be the answer.
Learn more: Start your return now with TaxAct and save!