Filing taxes is pretty much nobody’s idea of fun. (And if it’s fun for you, well… you probably aren’t reading this blog post. And by the way, have you considered becoming a CPA?)
Fortunately, this means there’s a wide range of digital quick-file DIY tax services available to help you get your paperwork right without spending your entire refund on an accountant.
If there’s anything worse than doing your taxes, it’s doing research on where to do your taxes. Good news: We did that part for you! Here’s what you need to know about TurboTax and how it stacks up to its competitors.
TurboTax: How Does It Work? What Does it Cost?
Perhaps the best-known of the digital filing options, TurboTax is the tax-focused baby of Intuit, the same company behind Mint and Quickbooks.
As such, it’s not surprising that TurboTax has a dazzling array of financial tools to help you out during tax time as well as year round. But let’s start with the basics.
TurboTax offers both totally-DIY filing options as well as an upgraded suite of DIY filing with live help. You can also purchase its software on CD or by download, which can help you save even more money: You pay a one-time fee and get up to five included federal files, though you’ll likely still need to pay additionally by state.
For the purpose of our review, we’re going to focus on the totally-DIY online filing options. Here’s what the pricing tiers look like at TurboTax. (These prices are current per late January 2020 and are, obviously, subject to change.)
TurboTax’s Free Edition is appropriate for filers whose taxes are “simple.” It covers W-2 income, Earned Income Tax Credit (EIC) and child tax credits.
Cost: True to its name, it costs $0, but few peoples’ taxes are truly this basic.
The TurboTax Deluxe edition includes everything the free edition does, but adds in mortgage and property tax deductions, charitable donations, student loan interest, educational expenses and 1099-MISC income—the kind you get when you’re an independent contractor like a freelance writer or Uber driver.
However, if freelance work is your sole source of income, you’ll be better suited by the TurboTax Self-Employed edition, which we’ll get to in just a second.
Cost: The Deluxe edition regularly costs $60 for federal filing with an additional charge of $45 per state.
TurboTax’s Premier product includes everything you get in Deluxe, as well as coverage for stock market and cryptocurrency investments, rental property income and refinancing deductions. It also has a feature that allows you to auto-import your investment income.
Cost: The Premier edition is $90 for federal filing with an additional charge of $45 per state.
This edition includes a host of features specifically designed for freelancers, such as:
- help finding deductions specific to your line of work;
- the ability to import 1099-MISC forms with a quick photo;
- free access to Quickbooks Self Employed;
- access to a year-round tax estimator after filing (new this year).
Cost: TurboTax’s Self-Employed edition is — surprise, surprise — the most expensive, priced at $120 for federal filing with an additional charge of $45 per state.
I’ll step out from behind the curtain to say that, as someone who’s fully self employed, I’ve paid far more than $165 to have an accountant file my taxes, so if you’re looking for a budget-friendly option to tackle your slightly more advanced paperwork, this could still be a good choice.
As mentioned above, TurboTax also offers this same range of products with a “Live” upgrade, which allows you to get on-demand answers and a line-by-line review of your taxes by a living, breathing CPA or EA. These services start at $80 for the basic tier (what’s listed as the “Free Edition” above) and run to $200 for the Self-Employed product.
TurboTax’s Basic Features
No matter which tier works best for you—and fortunately, there’s an easy, clickable questionnaire that helps you figure out the right product—all TurboTax customers get access to a wide range of tools, guarantees and features. They include (but aren’t limited to):
Audit Support Guarantee
If you should get audited by the IRS, you can access the support center for free, live one-on-one guidance with a tax professional, as well as year-round answers to your questions and assistance on what to expect and how to prepare. This service is not, however, a replacement for legal advice.
Money-Back Maximum Refund Guarantee
TurboTax is confident enough in its deduction-finding abilities that it guarantees you’ll get the biggest refund possible. If you get a larger refund, or smaller total tax bill, from another tax preparation service, they’ll refund your money (or pay you $30, if you’re a free filer).
Mobile Apps for Apple and Android
(H&R Block also offers well-reviewed apps for both platforms, and TaxAct does, too, though its apps rankings are a bit lower.)
Refund Advance and Pay-With-My-Refund Options
If you need your money post-haste, TurboTax offers a refund advance with 0% interest and $0 loan fees.
Eligibility requirements do apply, however. For instance, your expected federal refund must be at least $500. And while you’ll gain access to the funds within as little as an hour, they’ll be in the form of a Turbo Visa Debit Card, which may limit your ability to spend them on certain bills (or stash them in savings).
TurboTax also allows you to pay for your filing with your refund, meaning you never see an out-of-pocket cost for the service. There is, however, an additional fee for this service; most users report a charge of $39.99, though this price is subject to change.
Both H&R Block and TaxAct do offer their own versions of both of these features, though TaxAct’s advance is available only at the professional level and isn’t available to everyday consumers.
TurboTax: Pros and Cons
Now that we’ve laid out the basics of TurboTax’s features, what’s the verdict on its performance? Like all financial products and services, there are both pros and cons to using TurboTax.
Filing with TurboTax is pretty comprehensive and seamless, according to user reviews. The company has a product available for just about every flier, no matter how hands-on or hands-off you want to be, and also uses upgraded technology to make the process as simple as possible. (For instance, you can automatically populate your tax forms by snapping photos of your W-2s.)
Although all those options mean TurboTax is super customizable, sifting through them can feel kind of overwhelming. The TurboTax homepage is a lot to look at and it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the available products. It’s also not that easy to see exactly what you’ll pay until you actually go through the process of filing; states are additional, for instance, and that price is hidden behind at least two clicks.
TurboTax doesn’t offer an in-person, brick-and-mortar option like H&R Block— so if person-to-person help without screen mediation is what you’re after, this service can’t deliver.
TurboTax’s DIY online filing options bear the highest regular prices of the three services we’re reviewing, though the company does offer discounts and promotions on a regular basis.
Who Is TurboTax Best For?
When it comes right down to it, most online tax preparation services are more alike than they are different. It’s up to you to decide which one best suits your needs.
Our suggestion is that TurboTax, while not the least expensive option, may be the best for someone who wants a good amount of custom tax help without having to go into an office to get it. It’s also a good option if you’re looking for a truly fee-free line of advance tax credit so you can access your money sooner.
Remember, you can always file for really free, if you’re eligible, through the IRS portal. This service is available to filers who’ve earned $69,000 or less, and the page also links to free fillable forms for earners at all levels.
Jamie Cattanach’s work has been featured at Fodor’s, Yahoo, SELF, The Huffington Post, The Motley Fool and other outlets. Learn more at www.jamiecattanach.com.