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Best online tax-filing software 2020: TurboTax, H&R Block, TaxAct, and TaxSlayer compared

Online tax-filing programs can help you file your taxes with the IRS, easily and conveniently, and in some cases, for free.

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The latest version of TurboTax Live gives you real-time access to a human being, who you can see on screen as you ask them questions. This feature, which is available from 5:00 AM to 9:00 PM PST, allows your live CPA or enrolled agent to access your screen, co-browse your return, and speak with you directly and answer any questions you have at any point during your tax filing process.

I was initially told I could see a demo of what the remote professional can see when reviewing your taxes, but after my phone conversation with TurboTax reps I was told they weren’t comfortable sharing that backend view with me, citing “privacy concerns.” Intuit states that only your financial info is visible to the remote professional, no SSNs or birth dates, and that all other important personal information is redacted in some fashion. But I would have preferred to see this demoed. Trust but verify, as the saying goes.

TurboTax Lives!

TurboTax remains a solid application for handling all your personal tax filing needs. Intuit continues to improve its user interface, making it easier to understand and less likely to cause any tax-related anxiety. And the improved TurboTax Live promises to make filing your taxes feel the same as sitting down with your accountant, only from the comfort of your own home.

TaxSlayer review

I’ve had an ambivalent relationship with TaxSlayer over the last few years, finding aspects of the tax-filing app to be less than confidence inspiring. The latest edition of TaxSlayer has improved to some degree, but I still question the app’s basic understanding of the person logging in and filing taxes.

The TaxSlayer business, unlike all the major players in the tax filing software space, is a family-owned privately held tax company, based in Augusta, GA. It began life as a brick-and-mortar tax prep outfit in 1965 and has grown to encompass a line of businesses including everything from business management to online legal advice to, obviously, tax filing software.

Pricing

TaxSlayer’s pricing remains largely unchanged from last year:

  • $0 for Simply Free, a 1040 filing for basic returns
  • $17 for Classic, which is good for most 1040 filers ($0 for active duty military)
  • $37 for Premium
  • $47 for Self-Employed
  • $0 Active Duty Military filing

What differentiates each of these versions is the level of personal support available with the product. As of this year there is no longer a TaxSlayer Ultimate product and most of the features of that version have been rolled into the products listed above.

The interview process

In previous years, TaxSlayer’s interview process was where I felt like the product came up short. This year’s version has made the questions more straightforward and easy to understand, although I wasn’t 100 percent satisfied this year either. 

I’ve entered tax information into TaxSlayer for the past three years as part of my review, although I’ve never filed my taxes with the app. Even so, TaxSlayer did not automatically pull my tax information from my account. I had to re-enter all of my personal information manually. I was able to look at last year’s forms in the app and  that data existed, so I’m not sure why it wasn’t pulled into my 2019 return.

taxslayer unclearinterview IDG

At times, TaxSlayer’s questions can seem a little too spare, making them more confusing than simple.

Once my data was entered I was offered the option of using a feature called Quick File, which allows you to select the forms you need rather than being guided through an interview process. I chose to be guided and it was here that the entire process smoothed out, especially compared to last year.

TaxSlayer has largely removed the “tax-y” language from its website, limiting text to the basics of what information you need to provide. However, in limiting the verbiage on the page, it sometimes wasn’t totally clear how to answer a question. For example, when asking about mortgages used to buy/build/improve a home, the explanatory text only said “Usage Question” and I had no clue what I was was being asked to answer on the page. I was also asked about a D.C. Homebuyer Credit, even though I live in New York, so all is not 100 percent well in TaxSlayer land.

TaxSlayer matures

TaxSlayer still doesn’t feel as refined as any of the other tax prep apps on the market, but it continues to mature year-over-year and is well on its way to becoming equal in quality to the bigger names in the tax filing business. Where TaxSlayer is a true standout is if you’re an active-duty member of the military, which makes you eligible to use any of TaxSlayer’s packages free of charge.

This story, "Best online tax-filing software 2020: TurboTax, H&R Block, TaxAct, and TaxSlayer compared " was originally published by PCWorld.

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