By Tracey Dowdy
Even though the 2021 income tax deadline has been pushed to May 17th, it’s a good idea to get started now, especially with The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. There have been changes to sick leave rules, unemployment insurance claims, changes to deductions for the self-employed and those working from home. Of course, don’t forget those stimulus checks (if you didn’t get one, you can file to recover your missing money).
More and more Americans choose to do their own taxes, and there are a number of tax preparation software packages that can make filing efficient and as pain-free as possible. If you earn less than $72,000 annually or your tax prep is straightforward, you can easily file your taxes at no cost to you. However, if your situation is complicated – you had a child, bought or sold a house, collected unemployment insurance, etc. – or if you’re determined to get every dollar you’re owed, these reasonably priced platforms will are a good option.
Jackson Hewitt Online promises the best refund insurance. The site features a user-friendly interface, a massive library of tax articles, built-in calculators, a free IRS audit assistance, and a Worry-Free Guarantee plan that promises to reimburse those who end up with a reduced refund or face additional tax liabilities. Like other platforms on this list, users can import previous tax returns even if they’ve been prepared on other platforms, receive tech support via live chat, access service for basic tax returns, and auto-complete the user’s state returns. ($20 – including federal and unlimited state returns).
H&R Block offers unlimited tech support to all users and phone and chat support for those who chose their more expensive packages. Its software platform is user-friendly and walks users step by step through the process. It’s intuitive and features calculators to help navigate complex tax questions as well as a library of articles to clarify both simple and confusing tax scenarios. (Free to $85 for federal; $37 per state; $40 to $145 for Online Assist)
TurboTax by Intuit offers comprehensive support for your tax return, even if your tax situation is complicated. It integrates with Quickbooks making it easy to import necessary data, a definite perk for real-estate investors and self-employed individuals. There are several options directed at specific needs. The most popular option, TurboTax Deluxe, will search for the standard deductions for a tax credit to ensure you get your maximum refund, while TurboTax Premier is designed for taxpayers with investment or rental properties. Whether you choose Intuit’s services or not, they offer a free tool to help customers navigate the government’s CARES Act assistance programs whether or not you use TurboTax to file. (Free to $90 for federal; $40 per state; free to $170 for TurboTax Live; additional $45 to $60 for Max)
Credit Karma Tax is relatively no-frills compared to others on this list, but it’s free, so it’s a “you-get-what-you-pay-for” situation. It’s straightforward, a glossary of tax-related terms, allows you to import a tax return from the IRS, as well as from TurboTax (Credit Karma’s parent company),. It will also walk you through itemized deductions, business income or expenses, self-employment taxes, and capital gains and losses. Credit Karma offers “audit defense,” which includes a consultation with a representative who can also attend a hearing on your behalf and help with tax debt resolution. One unique perk is that if you receive a larger tax refund or owe less in federal taxes after filing with Credit Karma, you may be eligible to collect up to $100 in gift cards.
FreeTaxUSA is free for filing federal returns, but you’ll need to pay to file your state taxes. Users can import previous tax returns and file an amended tax return. If you choose the deluxe version, you have access to priority live chat and customer support, as well as access to its tax specialists and audit service. (Free for federal; $13 per state; $7 deluxe version)
Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits, and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.