It’s that time of year again. Deductions, net income, gross income, returns and state and federal tax calculations. You could go out and hire someone to do your taxes for you, packet of sensitive documents in hand. Or, you could try your own hand at filing this year. You may have heard about Intuit’s fantastic Turbotax system, but not quite found it to your liking. Well, in that case there’s great news: there are plenty of alternative programs to test out before settling in on one you like, and more importantly, one that will reduce your chances of being audited while getting the biggest return possible. Here, we take a look at some of the best alternatives to Turbotax.
What should I look for in a Tax Program?
Before starting our list, let’s take a look at some of the factors that are required of any good tax preparation program. The first of these are deductions.
Naturally, if you want the biggest return, you’ll want as many deductions as possible provided for you to enter. Therefore, look out for what programs offer deductions specifically for you. The most common of these are the Charity, Itemized, and Student deductions. However, some may also need the Business Owner and Rental Property deductions.
Like with deductions, when it comes to features, more is better for your taxes. Some key features to account for are the following:
Data Import: Some tax programs allow for easy input of your data, whether through retrieval tools, or taking a picture of your W-2. This can certainly make the process less of a headache and lead to quicker, more accurate returns.
Accuracy Checks/ Assurance: Let’s face it, anyone with coding experience can make an app, program or website to file taxes on. Does this mean they are qualified to do so, and that you are safe from errors if you choose them? Not always. However, those companies that ensure you are not held liable for miscalculations by paying for any principle and interest on back charges based off these errors is a great sign you are doing business with the right groups. Also, those officially endorsed by the IRS are great program choices.
Support: When doing something for yourself the first time, a little support can be handy. Especially if that something is as complex as taxes. Therefore, finding programs that have real customer service behind the screen can be essential to avoid tax errors and associated frustrations.
Robust Auditing Corrections: Do you have foreign accounts? Multiple properties? Did you not report all previous income? Then you may be at risk for auditing. But how would you know if you filed and no one made you aware of such risks? For this reason, programs that check for audit prone files may be of great use.
#1 Turbo Tax Alternative: TaxAct
As someone who has moved around from state to state, I sometimes find filing taxes to be a bit expensive, with incomes being prone to both federal taxation and multiple state filing systems. As you’d expect, things get expensive in a hurry when having to use a system where each state can cost around 20 dollars or more per filing.
However, even I found TaxAct to be fairly cheap. With free federal & state tax filing available to those with simple returns, there really aren’t many options cheaper for the thrifty tax filer. For more complicated tax returns, TaxAct’s Plus Edition is available for $15, and their Premium Edition is only $30. Any state returns filed using Plus and Premium are an additional $25. TaxAct is pretty thorough in making sure you don’t miss out on any potential savings or refunds so the list of questions are just short of asking for your blood type (just kidding) but you may want to grab that coffee and buckle down. Probably a good thing though since no one wants to pay more taxes than they have too!
That being said, due to the depth of the questions, you are unlikely to go wrong in terms of TaxAct having everything you need for filing while maximizing your deductions. If you need to file with Form 1040EZ/A you can take advantage of their Free Edition, which includes a free state return. However, if you own a home you want to deduct, have investment income or wish to itemize your return, the Plus Edition is better suited for you. Additionally, TaxAct’s Premium Edition works well for freelancers, contractors and those who are self-employed.
Tax Act also comes with several features that come in handy throughout the year, like free extended access to your 2016 return for 7 years after filing. Each product also has multiple import options to help save you time transferring your personal information from last year’s return to your new one. This feature can also import data from returns prepared by TurboTax or H&R Block for free, making it easier than ever to switch.
Additionally, with TaxAct Alerts, each product will inspect your return for errors and omissions that could increase your risk of an audit as well as uncover valuable tax-saving opportunities you may have missed as you prepared your return. And, perhaps most importantly, every filer has access to free, unlimited tax and technical support via phone, email or chat. So, if you get stumped by a tax question, it’s easy to get help.
After weighing all the Turbo Tax alternatives this one really takes the cake. If you want to maximize your refund at the lowest cost possible this is the best option.
Runner Up: H&R Block
Often known more for their office locations, H&R Block also offers excellent financial services software that is as clean cut and well polished as you’d expect. If you have a few more bucks to spare, H&R Block offers a slightly less hassling experience, as while the basic and free services are great for the simple things (a W-2 or a 1040, for example which is generally more than half of all tax payers), some users will need one of their higher up packages, which go from about $60-80 starting.
Now this may seem like a big number until you take into account potential refund bonuses of 10% (the refund being returned in the form of gift cards, in case you wanted to stock the house with the cash anyways) which can offset and in some cases overtake the costs completely. Though at times leaving new users in a bit of an ambiguous situation (namely, at times not fully disclosing forms or filtering them in an easy yes/no manner), the subsequent customer support is exceptional and can ensure no errors take place. One catch is that importing data can be a little difficult and limited as compared to TaxAct and even Turbotax. Overall though, it’s a great value and a much faster choice.
A few more facts about H&R Block’s DIY Products:
- Six in 10 taxpayers can file free federal and state income tax returns with H&R Block More Zero.
- Clients can import a tax return from virtually any competitor, upload key tax documents, and prepare and file a return on any device
- Almost 50 percent more taxpayers could file free federal and state returns with H&R Block More Zero than they can with the largest competitor’s free offering.
You can currently get a pretty good discount on the H&R Block Tax Software by clicking here.
Runners up and Alternatives to Online Filing
Of course, these aren’t the only games in town. There are plenty of other software choices, including Taxpoint with their auto refund calculator, SimpleTax which allows for iPad integration, and Open Tax, the open source tax software platform. However, these are still not quite as well known and still have some kinks to work out in a few cases.
If on the other hand, software and doing your own taxes still don’t appeal to you, keep in mind that 14 major tax preparation companies offer free filings depending on income requirements, if finances were the primary reason for filing online. These can ensure the safety of a professional filing, with all the benefits, at none of the cost or worry.
Again our recommendation is TaxAct (click here for the free version and automatic coupon code) in first and if not TaxAct than H&R Block is a solid option as well.
Do you happen to have a favorite TurboTax replacement? If so, be sure to mention them in the comments, and which features you enjoy the best.