Best Tax Software: 2021 Guide

Dawn Allcot
Expert Contributor
Last Updated:
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If you don’t have exceptionally complex tax returns, but the thought of doing math to file your taxes makes you cringe, tax software provides a low-cost, convenient solution. Additionally, using one of the best tax software platforms makes it easy to e-file without navigating the IRS website.  

Many tax preparation companies, including the biggest in the country like H&R Block, offer online tax software solutions for customers who prefer to do it themselves. 

Best Tax Software: 2021 Guide

We looked at some of the top-rated tax software programs to help you find the best for your needs. We evaluated their prices, offerings, options, ease-of-use, and customer service availability from a tax professional if you need a helping hand.

H&R Block

H&R Block, a leader in tax preparation services, offers tiered online software for tax filing. You can file online yourself for free, or you can gain access to on-demand, online help for $69.99, plus $39.99 each for any state tax return. 

The software makes it easy to import the information for your taxes. You simply take a photo of your W-2 and other tax forms to upload it. The H&R Block software lets you import last year’s tax returns from TurboTax, Quicken, or your independent tax preparer. If you used TurboTax and weren’t happy, H&R Block makes it easy to switch. 

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The free version only offers online technical support, with no professional tax guidance and no phone support. If you have a fairly simple return and are confident in filing – or if your returns are nearly identical to last year’s – you can save time and money using H&R Block’s free tax software. 

If you run a small business, have 1099 forms, or have a more complex return, you may want to pay for additional services. The pricing tiers are as follows:

Basic Online Assist – help with W-2, childcare, dependents, and education deductions – $69.99 plus $39.99/state

Deluxe Online Assist – help maximizing credits and deductions and claiming HSA contributions – $109.99 plus $49.99/state

Premium Online Assist – for freelancers, contractors, or investors – $159.99 plus $49.99/state

Self-employed Online Assist – for small businesses and self-employed individuals –  $189.99 plus $49.99/state

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As with H&R Block’s in-person tax prep services, the company is transparent about pricing.

Pros

  • Transparent pricing
  • Five packages (including a free option) to fit the needs of any taxpayer
  • Guaranteed maximum refund
  • In-product support via chat
  • 24/7 customer service

Cons

  • Not accredited by the Better Business Bureau
  • Free version offers no support from a tax professional 

TurboTax

TurboTax initially launched as a tax software company, not a brick-and-mortar tax prep firm. 

With this in mind, you may expect TurboTax software to be robust, intuitive, and flexible – and you’d be right. 

TurboTax offers four cloud-based software packages, and four different packages available for download to do your taxes locally. Only the online version has a free edition. You can take a photo of your W-2 to file easily with any version. 

TurboTax, which is owned by Intuit, integrates seamlessly with the Mint budgeting app and QuickBooks accounting software, also developed by Intuit. TurboTax is an ideal choice for small business owners or taxpayers who budget with Mint. 

The cloud-based solutions include: 

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Deluxe – Helps you itemize deductions and tax credits. Suitable for families and individuals without extensive investments – $60

Premier – Automatically imports investment income. Useful for individuals with stocks, bonds, EFTs, cryptocurrency investments, or rental property income – $90

Self-employed – Get one-on-one help from tax professionals and make sure you’re claiming all your business expenses. Good for self-employed, small business owners, and 1099 contractors. 

Taxpayers who prefer locally hosted software can opt for a CD/Download product, available in four different packages. 

The Basic version, for $49.99, compares to the free version of the online software. Additional downloadable packages are priced as follows: 

  • Deluxe – $79.99 
  • Premier – $109.99
  • Home & Business -$119.99

One free download for state taxes is available in each download version of the software, while the online versions charge additional fees for state taxes. 

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Additionally, you can pay to have a CPA or IRS Enrolled Agent file your taxes for you online. 

Pros 

  • Maximum refund and 100% accuracy guarantee
  • Live help from CPAs  
  • Import your W-2 and 1099 using your smartphone camera
  • Pay nothing for cloud-based software until you file
  • Choice of cloud-based or CD/Download versions
  • Multiple options for taxpayers
  • Integrates with QuickBooks and Mint

Cons

  • No brick-and-mortar location to visit with questions or if you need help
  • High prices to have a CPA or EA file for you

Jackson Hewitt Tax Software

Jackson Hewitt is well-known as a brick-and-mortar tax service provider nationwide. The company guarantees 100% accuracy and your maximum refund when you use their tax software to e-file your taxes from home. 

Jackson Hewitt doesn’t have as many options as some of the other tax software providers. There is no separate option for small businesses or self-employed, but the top package is affordable at $69.95. The free package offers no-cost state and federal tax filings. The two paid packages charge $44.95 for each state tax filing. 

The prices and offerings for their paid packages are as follows: 

Deluxe – Good for individuals and couples filing W-2 forms and have dependents, student loans, educator expenses, or retirement income. – $49.95 plus $44.95 for each state tax return. 

Premier – Individuals with income over $100,000, self-employed people or independent contractors with 1099 forms, real estate investors, and anyone with a more complex return and itemized deductions may want to choose the Premier package. – $69.95

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Pros

  • Affordable pricing
  • Online tech support for all packages
  • Online refund tracking
  • Maximum refund guarantee

Cons 

  • No audit support
  • Can’t import last year’s tax forms
  • Fewer packages offer less options for small business owners and independent contractors
  • Limited customer service hours

TaxAct

TaxAct software is a comprehensive, robust solution with four different packages ranging from free filing services to options for self-employed individuals with multiple business deductions and depreciation. 

You can easily import your past year’s tax returns. The TaxAct website offers transparency for pricing and clarity, with comprehensive resources and tax tools, including a tax bracket calculator, self-employment calculator, and information on the latest tax reform act that went into effect for the 2019 filing year. 

For those who want to do their taxes on their own online but need a lot of guidance, TaxAct is the perfect fit. You can even check boxes on the website regarding your tax situation, and the website will recommend which software package would be best for you. TaxAct charges extra for state tax filings but does not state the added cost on the website. 

The free version of TaxAct is designed for individuals or couples with children and with W-2 income only. 

TaxAct is not the lowest-priced software, nor is it the highest. All the paid versions provide phone support from a tax specialist, which is a nice selling point. The packages are as follows: 

Deluxe+ – Designed for homeowners with child and dependent deductions, education deductions, a health savings account or other, slightly more complicated returns – $54.95

Premier+ – For those with investment income, real estate income, complicated returns, and higher income levels, the Premier+ package caters to these needs. It also provides prioritized support from a tax specialist and screen-sharing capabilities, so the tax expert can walk you through the process and ensure you’re getting all the deductions you deserve. – $79.95

Self-employed+ – Catering to small business owners, independent contractors, and farm owners, this package also includes year-round tax planning resources. – $109.95

Like TurboTax, TaxAct is also available in a desktop software version, with pricing as follows:

  • Basic – $26.95
  • Deluxe – $96.90
  • Premier – $101.90
  • Self-employed – $124.90

The features on each correspond with the cloud-based versions.  

Pros

  • Four different options, including a free version and one for business owners
  • Import last year’s tax returns easily
  • 100% accuracy guarantee 
  • Tax specialist phone support on all paid packages
  • Comprehensive website with taxpayer resources
  • Downloadable and cloud-based versions available

Cons

  • Does not list pricing for state returns
  • No brick-and-mortar office

TaxSlayer

TaxSlayer is an extremely affordable, cloud-based tax software solution with prices ranging from free up to $47 for the self-employed version. The free version even offers free state filing. The cost is $39 per state for state tax filings on the three paid versions. Unlike some of the other alternatives in tax software, the price to file state taxes doesn’t rise depending on the version of software you choose. 

TaxSlayer offers extensive tools and resources on its website, as well as a mobile app that lets you file your taxes from your phone once you’ve calculated your returns. 

The software makes it easy to import your past year’s 1040 forms for easier filing. 

The Simply Free version is designed for couples and individuals with W-2 forms to file. It rolls education expenses, including student loan interest, into the free version, unlike some of the other tax software solutions, which put education-related items into one of the middle-tier packages. 

Additionally, TaxSlayer’s lowest-priced solution ($17) is suitable for 1099 contractors and those with investment income because it supports all income types. Other software solutions only offer these capabilities on the upper-tier products. 

The paid versions are as follows: 

Classic – Best for people with children or dependents, plus investment income, mortgage interest, or a few 1099-Misc or 1099-K forms, but still with relatively simple returns – $17

Premium – All the features of classic plus priority phone and email support, live chat capabilities for technical issues, and IRS Audit Assistance for three years – $37

Self-Employed – Independent contractors and self-employed individuals who want to maximize their refund and get extra support and guidance may select this top-tier version. It includes everything in the Premium plus package, along with access to a tax professional who specializes in maximizing refunds on self-employed returns. You’ll also get quarterly estimated tax payment reminders and year-round tips. – $47

Pros

  • Lowest prices
  • Flat rate for one-state tax returns across all packages
  • Extensive resources for 1099 contractors and self-employed individuals
  • Mobile app makes it easy to file on-the-go
  • Import last year’s returns
  • Excellent on-site support tools
  • Deduct tax prep fees out of your return using “File & Go” option
  • Unlimited phone and email support

Cons

  • No brick-and-mortar store for in-person support
  • No live chat support for the free version

Liberty Tax Solutions

Liberty Tax prides itself on the fact that it has brick-and-mortar offices where you can get tax help if you need some guidance with their software. One of the key selling points to using Liberty Tax software is that if you’re stuck, one of their tax preparers in your local Liberty Tax office will help you free of charge. 

As far as pricing, Liberty Tax runs a special where all three packages are available for $44.95, the price of filing a Basic tax return. It’s important to recognize that the Basic option for Liberty covers what free software from other providers covers. But the company also offers support from in-person tax specialists for an added fee, which is not available on every free tax software package. 

Normally, the Deluxe and Premium packages cost $64.95 and $89.95, respectively. The company does not offer a free version. 

Basic – Best for single or married people with no dependents and a simple W-2 form. – $44.95

Deluxe – Covers taxpayers who may have childcare or dependent deductions, investment income, mortgage interest deductions, or education-related deductions – $44.95 (Normally $64.95)

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Premium – This package fits best for self-employed individuals and those making more than $100,000 in income, who may have more complicated returns and many itemized deductions – $44.95 (Normally $89.95)

Liberty Tax is not accredited by the Better Business Bureau and, in fact, has a D- rating with the consumer watchdog organization. However, many of the complaints relate to their in-office services. 

Pros:

  • One low price for any solution, no matter how complicated your return
  • Free in-office help at a local branches
  • Import last year’s form from another provider

Cons:

  • Limited hours for phone support and live chat
  • No free package available for simple returns

How to Choose the Best Tax Software For You

As you get prepared to file your next tax returns, think about what you need in a tax software. If you have a simple W-2 form, many of these free packages might work for you. 

Do you want to complete your tax returns locally, through downloadable software, or are you okay with entering your data in the cloud? Either way, you’ll need to upload your tax return information to e-file, but if your internet connection is spotty, a locally hosted solution might work better for you.

On the other hand, if you frequently switch between devices and want your tax information at your fingertips, a cloud-based solution is the way to go. 

What are some of the other qualities you need in tax software? These might include: 

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  • 24/7 live support
  • Guidance from tax specialists 
  • A brick-and-mortar location for peace-of-mind
  • Affordable returns regardless of your personal tax situation 

All the companies reviewed offer a 100% accuracy guarantee and many promise to maximize your refund. Ultimately, it comes down to choosing a software you feel comfortable using, that provides the functionality you need. We identified these solutions as some of the best tax software you can find to help you maximize your refund and ensure you get those returns in on time. 

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Dawn Allcot
Expert Contributor
Last Updated: