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April 18 — tax day — is a day you won’t want to forget in 2023. And while it’s a chore many of us dread, for better or worse, your taxes will be due before you know it. To make your life less chaotic, you might consider using an online tax program. These applications take all your income and expense numbers, calculate your total tax and even electronically file your return for you.

But with many online tax programs available, which one should you use? A few years ago we tested the top four programs by entering our tax information into each program. Then, we compared the results to those of a tax professional to see if the programs could get you the same (or better) results.

We revisited the same programs for the current tax year and explored their new features to see if our verdict remains the same.

Best tax software overall
Throughout the entire process, TurboTax is the easiest to use, helping you figure out which forms you need in a customer-friendly way and offering live customer support whenever you need it (although it might cost you).
Best free tax software
Although all four tax preparation programs offer free versions, H&R Block gives you access to the most forms without a charge.
Cheapest tax software

Regardless of the complexity of your taxes, TaxSlayer offers the lowest prices across the board. TaxSlayer costs no more than $60 for your federal return, even for the most complex tax situation.

Best tax software guarantee
When it comes to a guarantee, TaxAct blows all the other programs out of the water. While all four programs are marketed as 100% accurate, TaxAct goes further by offering up to $100,000 in reimbursement if their software fails to provide accurate results.

Each program offers four different filing options based on the complexity of your taxes. Each cover many of the same forms and deductions, but there are some key differences. Prices also range widely across all of the platforms.

This chart lists out those options along with their respective prices at the “do it yourself” level. Some of the programs are also available to purchase via Amazon or your local office supply store at a cheaper price, though you’ll only be able to “try before you buy” at each tax program’s website.

Free/Simple Tax Return
Deluxe/Classic Tax Return
Premier/Premium Tax Return
Self Employed/Small Business Tax Return
Best Uses

Best for those with W-2 income, dependents, education expenses and retirement income

Best for those with W-2 income, dependents, education expenses and retirement income

Best for freelancers and those with investments or rental property

Best for those with business income


$0 (includes one state)

$59 (+$59 per state)

$89 (+$59 per state)

$119 (+$59 per state)

HR Block

$0 (includes one state)

$55 (+$45 per state)

$75 (+$45 per state)

$115 (+$45 per state)


$0 (includes one state)

$29.95 (+$39.95 per state)

$49.95 (+$39.95 per state)

$59.95 (+$39.95 per state)


$0 (+$39.95 per state)

$46.95 (+$54.95 per state)

$69.95 (+$54.95 per state)

$94.95 (+$54.95 per state)

The basics of these programs don’t change much from year to year, so if you have a straightforward tax situation — a W-2 from a job and perhaps some interest or dividend income — all of these programs offer a free option that will likely work for you. However, TaxAct will still charge you to file your state return.

Not many forms are included at the most basic level, though H&R Block provides the most forms under this no-cost filing option. On the flip side, H&R Block will also work hardest at trying to sell extra options to you throughout the process, so “free” might not end up being truly free if you decide to take them up on one or more of their pitches.

If you have relatively simple taxes but still more than what’s allowed in the free versions, all of the basic-level paid options will work just fine, so cost might be your biggest factor when selecting one of the four. Since professional accountant support typically isn’t needed when it comes to a simple tax situation, TaxSlayer should be your go-to for its low-cost option.

However, if you have more complex taxes — which could include running a small business, having numerous deductions or owning lots of real estate — you’ll want to put cost aside and use TurboTax. Based on our testing, it’s hands down the most customer-friendly option with an easy-to-use platform.

But you may find that you need to pay some of TurboTax’s add-on fees to ensure the most accurate results, meaning you might be better off just handing over your tax documents to an accountant to save the headache. Taxes are complicated, and making sure you get everything accurate while maximizing your deductions is just that: complicated.

Best tax software overall: TurboTax

$56 for Deluxe + State version at Amazon

underscored turbotax software editions 2021

From the moment you arrive at the TurboTax website, the company holds your hand to help you figure out the right software version to use for your specific taxes. The site asks a number of questions about common financial items, such as whether or not you have a job, pay rent, pay student loans, sold stock, have children and more. The system will automatically find the TurboTax version you need based on your responses.

Out of all four tax programs, entering my W-2 information was by far the easiest with TurboTax. With some of the other programs, I had to manually enter each line item from my W-2 form, but not with TurboTax. By just entering my employer ID and the dollar amount from box 1, the program was able to automatically import my entire W-2 and populate all the required boxes. If TurboTax doesn’t recognize your employer’s EIN, you can also take a photo of your W-2 form using the TurboTax mobile app.

I was also able to import some of my 1099-INT and 1099-DIV forms by logging into my respective financial institution websites right from the TurboTax site. This made the process seamless and ensured all information was entered correctly.

My personal taxes are on the complicated side, and TurboxTax’s search feature was a huge help. Since not every form was presented to me throughout the process, I had to do some digging to find some of the more uncommon ones. But TurboTax has a great search feature, which allows you to enter the form name and you’ll immediately be taken to that form. This was unique to TurboTax, and made entering all my forms much easier.

Unfortunately, TurboTax doesn’t offer the same complimentary live tax advice options it used to have with its three paid versions. Instead, there’s a paid upgrade option — called TurboTax Live Assisted — which costs between $89 and $209 depending on the complexity of your taxes. With this service, you’ll be able to ask a tax expert any tax questions you may have throughout the process, while also having them review your return line-by-line. You’ll also then have the ability to speak to an expert throughout the year with any additional questions.

While most of these software programs offer some level of guidance, in my experience TurboTax provided excellent help — despite having to pay for it. I did my TurboTax work late at night, and I wanted to test their TurboTax Live feature. With just a 5-minute wait, I was able to speak to an attorney with eight years of experience. I was also able to share my screen with their representative, who guided me to the correct form by highlighting the steps on my screen.

TurboTax Live is available during most waking hours in the US — 5 a.m to 9 p.m. Pacific time, seven days a week — and gives you the option to speak to an expert through audio or video (on many devices, such as your mobile phone or computer) or via chat. But truthfully, we found TurboTax’s online resources were more than adequate to answer any questions we had, making the Live support not a necessity unless you also want the CPA review at the end.

In addition to the paid TurboTax Live service, if you get fed up with doing your own taxes at any point during the process, you can offload the whole thing to a tax expert who will finish it for you — called TurboTax Live Full Service. The cost of this service is quite expensive at $209 to $399, depending on which version your taxes require. At that cost, you might want to compare pricing to a local tax expert to see which one offers the best price.

However, if you have a very basic return that only requires TurboTax’s free version (basically if you only need to file Form 1040), and you’re able to complete your taxes and file by March 31, you can access the TurboTax Live Assisted feature for free. That means if you can get ahead of the game, this is a great opportunity to have someone walk you through the process at no additional cost. (For simple returns only. Not all taxpayers qualify.)

Best free tax software: H&R Block

$35 for Deluxe + State version at Amazon

underscored hr block tax software editions 2021

Even if your taxes are a step up from simple, you still might be able to file through H&R Block’s free filing option, since it includes Schedules 1, 2 and 3, which are some of the more common forms required by many taxpayers. This allows you to cover child and dependent care expenses, student loan interest deductions, tuition and fee statements and unemployment income. With many other tax programs, you may have to pay for the mid-tier service in order to access these options.

However, while many people should be able to use the free option, H&R Block does regularly try to upsell you. Compared to the other programs, it has significantly more pop-ups offering the chance to buy partner apps or additional tax services. You can ignore them, but they become a bit annoying.

A few years ago, we felt that one of the downsides to H&R Block’s software was that the interface wasn’t very user-friendly. Fortunately, the program now has a new look and feel, which greatly improves the experience. For instance, I found it much easier this year and last to use the search function to find forms I had trouble finding in the past.

If filing your taxes on your own proves to be more complex than you thought, H&R Block offers two options to help ease the process. The first is unlimited live expert help, including the ability to share your screen and communicate via on-demand chat or video support. This add-on service starts at $70.

When we tested this feature, we found it useful and the wait time to be significantly shorter than last year. While our wait was just a minute this year, last year it was consistently 20-plus minutes before an expert was available to help.

And if you truly want to have someone else do your taxes for you, you can file with an H&R Block tax professional, similar to filing with your own accountant. The cost of this service starts at $85, but H&R Block doesn’t give you the full price before you actually meet with a tax professional. We were told that the more complex your taxes are, the higher the fee will be.

Cheapest tax software: TaxSlayer

$35 for Classic version, plus $40 per state at TaxSlayer

underscored taxslayer logo 2021

With some programs charging as much as $119 to file a complicated federal return, TaxSlayer has the lowest prices when it comes to more complex tax situations across all four programs. And while one might assume that a lower cost equals lower results, that turns out not to be the case.

I found it easy to navigate the TaxSlayer website, and entering some forms was even easier than other sites. For example, with TurboTax, figuring out where to enter my Schedule K-1 information wasn’t as simple as it should have been. But with TaxSlayer, it was an upfront option where I didn’t have to go searching for it.

Even with its no-cost option, TaxSlayer offers free phone and email support. However, you’ll need to upgrade to the Premium version to speak to an actual tax professional or even use their technical support chat feature. But the cost of the Premium edition is just $50, while the same level of support with the same filing needs will cost almost double with TurboTax.

That being said, the support received was not up to the same standards as the other software programs. Finding the option to get in touch with a representative was not very straightforward and requires you to go through their general Q&A search first. If your question is then not answered, it gives you the option to call phone support to chat with a representative.

We went through the process and a representative was available immediately. However, the person was not a CPA and instead VITA certified (which means they went through the IRS’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance certification program). If you want to speak to a tax professional, you’ll need to submit your question through the Help & Support option and someone will respond back within 24-72 hours.

Best tax software guarantee: TaxAct

$47 for Deluxe version plus $55 per state at TaxAct

underscored taxact tax software screenshots 2021

It’s important to keep in mind that TaxAct’s $100,000 Accuracy Guarantee covers any error made by the program itself, not errors that you might make entering the data. According to the TaxAct site (the bolding is ours), “if an error in our software results in you ultimately receiving a smaller refund or larger tax liability than you receive using the same data with another tax preparation product, we will pay you the difference in the refund or liability (up to $100,000) and refund the applicable software fees you paid us.”

But aside from having the absolute best accuracy guarantee, TaxAct is fairly simple to use, its pricing is in the middle of the road across the four programs, and it offers the option to file your taxes jointly with an expert.

However, one negative with using TaxAct is that filing your state return with the basic version is quite expensive. While all three of the other software packages we reviewed include one free state tax return with the basic version of each program, filing a basic return with TaxAct is $40 per state. If your needs are basic, this could easily persuade you to use another tax option.

Unfortunately though, their Xpert Assist service is no longer free like we’ve seen in past years. For all plans, this service is an additional $40. Regardless, this add-on service is significantly less expensive than what you’ll pay with TurboTax or H&R Block.

With the Xpert Assist service, you’ll be able to speak to a tax professional seven days a week through April 19, although the hours are more limited. Using this feature is incredibly easy and you don’t even have to wait on hold. Instead, you’ll request a call back on the TaxAct site and receive an estimated wait time. We used this feature twice and on a Friday mid-day, our wait time was just a meager two minutes. When we tried to get in touch with an expert last year, it took us an outrageous 77 minutes to receive a call back.

Another big change for this year is that TaxAct is no longer featuring their Xpert Full Service option. This was introduced last year for the first time and allowed you to fully hand your taxes over to a tax expert at a relatively favorable price. This means if you were hoping to offload your taxes again this year, you might want to instead consider another tax program.

How we tested

underscored tax form 1040 with glasses

In our original tests, we went through each of the four programs and completed a real-life tax return with a fairly high level of complexity, attempting to enter every piece of data and use all the features available. We then compared the resulting return from each program to the return prepared by a professional CPA using the same information to see if the amount owed on the federal and state levels matched.

This year, we went back through all four programs and rechecked the features we had originally tested. Then, we tested any new features and confirmed each software’s current pricing.

The main criteria we evaluated included:

  • Accuracy: To ensure accurate results, we matched the end result to a professionally prepared filing. We also compared the results between the four programs.
  • Ease of use: We looked at many different aspects of each company’s site when determining how easy the software was to use. This included how long it took to get started and sign up for the program, navigation through the software, whether the process was straightforward or confusing and the time spent to complete the filing.
  • Cost: We compared all costs for all types of filing needs. We also noted whether we were being upsold extra options throughout the process.
  • Guarantees: We looked at the guarantees each program offered to ensure that they stood behind their results.

Should you use tax software?

While there are some interesting new features in this year’s crop of programs, there weren’t any breakthroughs that led us to change our overall impressions from last year’s tests. And after testing each of these programs, I realized that doing my complex taxes myself isn’t for me and I still prefer a professional. But for simpler returns, using a tax program is definitely a cost-effective option.

Fortunately, if you start your tax return directly at any of the four tax program websites, you don’t have to pay upfront; you only pay at the end of the process when you file. So, if you try one of these products and end up wanting to bring your taxes to a professional, there’s no money lost. Or if you start with one tax program and aren’t happy with how it’s going, you can always try another to see if it works better for your particular tax scenario.

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