Khaosai Wongnatthakan via 123RF

One of the downsides of the U.S. tax system is its complexity. Every year, millions of residents struggle to determine how much they owe, whether they qualify for a refund, and how to file their myriad tax forms. Plus, because tax forms go out by the end of January and taxes are due in April, taxpayers have just a few months to figure out that pesky paperwork.

Luckily, various tax software is available to help taxpayers prepare and file their taxes with minimum hassle. Each offers slightly different services and features. Here is a comparison of the top four.

TurboTax

Best for: Individuals, Families, Self-employed, and Businesses

TurboTax is one of the most recognizable names in the self-filing tax market. Its software works like an interview, asking users questions that assess their tax situation. The program then fills in all the proper forms. Some information might be prefilled since more than a million employers and financial institutions allow TurboTax to import W-2 and 1099 form information directly. 

One of its major benefits is that users with tax questions can call to ask certified public accountants and agents authorized to represent taxpayers to the IRS. If a user makes a mistake, TurboTax will double-check the numbers. It guarantees calculations are 100% accurate or will pay any IRS penalties with interest. Its online do-it-yourself service levels range from free to $89. TurboTax Live, which offers access to expert help, runs from free to $259.

H&R Block

Best for: Individuals, Families, Self-employed, and Small Businesses

H&R Block is famous for guaranteeing to maximize people’s refunds. If users find a bigger refund with another program, their tax prep through H&R Block is free. Prices are easy to compare for each plan level. For expert access, the cost can range from $69.99 to $231.99 for both federal and state returns.

H&R Block also offers features such as “Second Look Tax Review,” which double-checks past tax returns to see if users have left any money on the table. Unlike other DIY tax software, H&R Block also has physical offices users can visit for extra help.

Photo: Andriy Popov via 123RF

TaxSlayer

Best for: Individuals, Families, and Self-employed

TaxSlayer is a low- to no-cost option for people who are comfortable with DIY filing and have a simple tax situation. Its price ranges from free to $54.95 for federal, plus $36.95 per state return. The free version covers tuition and fees deductions, student loan interest deductions, unemployment income, W-2 income for people with adjusted gross incomes above $72,000 or everything for those with AGIs below $72,000. However, its interface is known for needing to be more intuitive than other platforms.

FreeTaxUSA

Best for: Individuals and Families

FreeTax USA offers free federal tax return e-filing regardless of complexity, customer support, and free filing for a tax extension. For a nominal fee, the deluxe package connects tax filers with a tax specialist via live chat and offers unlimited amended returns. There is a $14.99 fee per state tax return.

People who used another service in the past can import their prior-year return from TaxAct, H&R Block, or TurboTax to fill in personal information automatically. 

FreeTaxUSA is also helpful for people with foreign-earned income, who live outside of the United States, or are nonresident aliens.

Compare to Get the Best Refund

Because each tax service provides varying levels of support and cost, tax filers should assess the complexity of their filing situation, their ability to file, and their budget before committing to one. If they have the time, people can estimate their refund using multiple platforms since payment isn’t required until it’s time to e-file or print the return. That investment of extra time can maximize a refund.