Tax season is upon us in the United States. And, unless you happen to be a CPA, you’re probably looking for a little help with your federal and state filing. You can always take it to a dedicated tax service, but for the sake of your wallet (isn’t that the whole point?), you can easily do it on your own.
You can do this with tax software, either online or downloaded to your computer. Here, we’ve rounded up the best options for standard users, intermediate users (those who have a few deductions to make), and advanced users (those who have to deal with multiple income sources, small businesses, and lots of write-offs).
The Best Free Option: IRS Free File
The tax prep folks don’t want you to know this, but it’s totally possible to file your own taxes for free—even using third-party software. In fact, it’s probably the best option if you’re fairly sure that you neither owe extra taxes, nor are expecting a refund for deductions. If your gross income is below $69,000 (lower for some services), you can use one of 10 commercial services to file a federal return for free, including TurboTax, H&R Block, and TaxAct .
There are a few more restrictions based on age and your location, which you can see on the IRS site. Click on the “Lookup Tool” button if you’re unsure of which software you’re eligible to use.
Among these free options, we recommend TurboTax. Its guided interface is “idiot-proof,” with a step-by-step walkthrough for every part of federal and state filing. Unfortunately, its requirement is stricter, with an income limit of $36,000 (or $69,000 for active-duty military).
Keep in mind that these free services don’t offer all the bells and whistles of the paid options—they won’t walk you through each and every possible deduction you can make. That’s why we recommend them if you’re fairly sure you don’t need anything beyond a standard filing. If you owed or received almost nothing last year, and your work or living situation hasn’t changed, this is the way to go.
The Best Option for Intermediate Filers: CreditKarma
If you’re filing with a standard W-2 and don’t need much in the way of deductions or other income reporting, CreditKarma’s free tax app is the way to go. It includes all of the standard federal e-file functions, plus support for all state income tax system except Montana and Wisconsin. (At the time of writing, Credit Karma says state filing for missing areas should be available soon.)
If you do have a few extra deductions or sources of income, CreditKarma can handle most of them with its free tool. This includes the most common 1099 forms for “gig” jobs like freelance work or driving an Uber or Lyft car. The tax service has no paid tier and works on the web or from the CreditKarma app on Android and iOS.
The only downside versus the other free options listed are that you have to open an account with CreditKarma, giving them access to your financial information, in order to use it. However, we are talking about tax software here. It’s also worth mentioning that the service can be a little more confusing than some of the other (paid) services, like H&R Block or TaxAct. CreditKarma still does a good job of getting you where you need to be in the cheapest way possible, but be prepared to spend a little more time working on your taxes.
The Best Option for Advanced and Small Business Filers: TaxAct
TaxAct is the choice for those who know a thing or two about taxes and have a more complex return to file. It’s a popular choice for its economic options (the paid version starts at just $30 for a federal return), but more advanced versions of the tool include additional help for stocks, gains and losses, freelance income, depreciation, and more. At the $40 tier, you get access to support on your computer, including live screen sharing, which becomes very handy if you’re stuck and Google isn’t helping.
TaxAct comes in online and downloadable forms (Windows-only for the more advanced editions), but its mobile app support is limited to its basic software. E-file is supported for federal returns and personal income in all states.
The Best All-In-One Option for Federal and State Filing: H&R Block
H&R Block isn’t quite as easy to use as TurboTax, but it’s an excellent solution if you’re looking to get your federal and state tax software from the same place. H&R Block offers state editions and e-file options for all states that have personal income tax, plus a couple of the gray areas like New Hampshire and Tennessee. For 2019, it’s a flat $37 to add state taxes on top of any of the regular editions (ranging from $30 to 80, if you don’t qualify for free filing).
H&R Block does a good job of making the process of adding your information as seamless as it can be, and it even works with services like ADP to auto-import your income data. Like most other services, H&R Block also offers a “maximum refund guarantee,” so you know you’re getting your maximum refund.