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Best Values in Tax Software

Preparing your own return instead of hiring a preparer could save you money, but tax software can get expensive in a hurry, even for taxpayers with fairly straightforward returns. Kiplinger.com reviewed the online versions of five popular programs and ranked them based on cost, ease of use, tax help and more. We used two fictional tax returns: one for a single taxpayer who had income reported on Form W-2 and some freelance income, and a second for a married couple with a young child and a mortgage who itemized deductions. We also looked at how the programs handled the economic stimulus payments, unemployment benefits and multi-state filings.

1. FreeTax USA

Pros: Free federal return for even complex tax situations

Cons: Program can’t import W-2s and 1099s FreeTax USA still earns top marks this year for making the tax-filing process as smooth as possible. Both of our fictional taxpayers were able to file a federal tax return for free. If you have questions, live help is available for just $7. FreeTax is also a good option for taxpayers who need to file multiple state tax returns, which cost just $13 each. www.freetaxusa.com.

2. Credit Karma Tax

Pros: Free federal return and one free state return for all tax situations

Cons: Doesn’t support multiple state returns

Credit Karma is the clear winner when it comes to cost. But last year, Credit Karma Tax was purchased by Square, a tech company that developed Cash App, a mobile payment service. This raises potential privacy concerns, as you’ll be asked early on if you want to sync your tax and Cash App data. You can opt out.

As in the past, the program can’t handle multiple state returns, which makes it unpalatable for people who need to file in more than one state. www.creditkarma.com/tax.

3. TurboTax

Pros: Superior navigation, plenty of support, imports W-2s and 1099s

Cons: Costly, even for straightforward returns

TurboTax is the Mercedes of tax software, promising a smooth ride with plenty of bells and whistles and handholding along the way. But you’ll pay a premium for this luxury vehicle. TurboTax’s free product is limited to taxpayers who claim the standard deduction, have only W-2 income and don’t deduct student loan interest. And it doesn’t take much to require an upgrade to the paid versions. www.turbotax.com.

4. TaxSlayer

Pros: Low cost; imports W-2s and previous-year return

Cons: Marginal guidance; fee for professional help

If you know your way around the tax laws, TaxSlayer Classic is a bargain. For only $17, you get access to all the forms you need. You’ll have to pay an extra $32 for each state return.

If you get stuck on a tax question, there’s some basic guidance available. Free e-mail and phone support is offered, too. But if this is your first time preparing a tax return on your own, you might want to upgrade to TaxSlayer Premium for an extra $20. www.taxslayer.com.

5. H&R Block

Pros: Deluxe offering now available for gig workers

Cons: High price

If consistency is what you’re looking for, H&R Block does not disappoint. Block has four programs, and each has the option to add live help.

The Deluxe offering, which costs $30, did a good job of recognizing tax issues that arose because of the pandemic. But our single taxpayer had to use an upgraded version because he had deductible business expenses.

On the plus side, retirees, students and workers with just W-2 income should be able to file a federal return and up to three state returns for free by using Block Free Online. www.hrblock.com.

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