Tax Season 2013: TurboTax vs H&R Block vs TaxACT

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If you’re like millions of Americans who use tax preparation software to file your taxes, it may be a decision time as to which product to select. Among so many available options, I decided to take a look at TurboTax, H&R Block, and TaxACT.

Tax preparation software products have become very similar; each product offers variety of options and features but the ones that I think are the most relevant to a tax preparer are: ease of use, help & support, and available options and pricing.

Ease of use

None of the products come without annoyances but those can also be a part of your experience with an accountant. With time, you learn how to deal with them and pay less attention to them.

TurboTax has been on the forefront of making the experience of filing taxes simpler and more palatable. Continued improvements not only helped the product win many industry awards, it became a standard against which comparisons are drawn. TurboTax is very well designed; it’s hard to imagine new ways of making the software more user-friendly but it’s definitely an improvement from last year’s version. A quick look even to a novice eye quickly and easily conveys a message of where in tax return you are, your current refund, and what is available to you. It asks intuitive questions and the interview process is very efficient making you at ease and letting you progress swiftly without too much confusion.

H&R Block is also simple to use but I think that first time filers may find it relatively harder to operate than other products. The truth is that once you get comfortable with a specific software, you become a more proficient user and with time differences between products may be unnoticeable. Comparing to other products, H&R Block appears more loaded with information and overall feel to the software is overwhelming. There’s too much information, there are many interview questions that are not always clear, and it’s harder to just get started.

TaxACT is a type of a hybrid of TurboTax and H&R Block trying to balance clarity of information displayed and providing easy access to information a tax preparer may find helpful. In my opinion it falls somewhere in between the two other programs; it is uncomplicated and simple to move around and from one section to another but does not strike me as the easiest of the three. There are a lot of interview questions that may slow you down unless this isn’t your first time using the product.

Help & support

This option is always important; you’re preparing the taxes by yourself and want to have access to assistance if you hit a roadblock. The chances are there will be some confusion along the way unless you’re preparing a very basic tax return.

Support part of TurboTax takes you to a screen where you can either type a specific question or select from 6 general categories. Many questions are universal and TurboTax tries to post solutions before you get on the phone. You can also post your questions to an expert although a response is not immediate; there is Live Community that provides user-based support. Finally, if all else fails, you can request to speak with a representative by typing a general topic you need help with and you will receive a phone number to call and a case number.

At H&R Block your options include browsing answers by a category or by most popular question, getting educated by reaching out to tax expert blogs or watching video answers to many questions. As always there is an option to call or unique to H&R Block Best of Both, a combination of online and office support. First-time filers or tax novice may find this solution ideal where H&R tax specialist will review tax reports you prepared online to ensure accuracy.

TaxACT support is very neatly organized by popular topics or video tutorials. There is also a section on the latest tax news, tips, and important dates. I also like Audit Assistant, which advises you on what and how to prepare in case of an audit depending on a letter you received from the IRS. It’s a good start to understanding the purpose and causes of the audit, what’s expected, and what your options are. All those options are website based but there is also a phone support that is $7.95 or free, depending on a product you purchase. Typically, it is included in all bundle products.

Available product options and pricing

All three products offer online, desktop, and even mobile options to prepare or monitor your taxes. Below is a simple breakdown of what each software maker has to offer.

TurboTax

  • Online version – 5 categories of products; price range from free to $74.99.
  • CD/download – 5 categories of products; price range from $29.99 to $149.99 for business taxes for corporations.
  • Mobile and Tablet – SnapTax $24.99 and TurboTax for iPad $29.99.

H&R Block

  • Online – 4 categories ranging from free to $49.99; state additional.
  • Download – 4 categories ranging from $19.95 to &79.95; state additional.
  • Best of Both $79.95 (file online and have the tax return checked at the office).

TaxACT

  • Smallest and simplest product offering and lowest pricing.
  • 3 online and desktop products; online: free for simplest return to $17.95 which includes state; desktop free to $21.95.
  • 3 business editions ranging from $19.95 to $54.95.

Verdict

What’s the best tax preparation software? There are too many opinions each product offers to agree on one and select a clear winner. Products have differences and it’s individual experiences that forge long-term preferences and strong opinions.

The final decision will depend on factors such as your budget and experience. TaxACT is the most inexpensive tax software to get your documents prepared (perhaps best suited for preparers with simple returns). TurboTax has been a leader in many areas, especially design and simplicity of use. This may be a product for you if you want to get started preparing taxes on your own and/or need an easy and worry-free program. Finally, H&R Block offers hybrid help and may be best suited for those who need to prepare taxes by themselves but are looking for additional support that in-office visit guarantees.

I expect you find the product that meets all your objectives, I hope it’s not hard to find among available options although it may take trying all three before settling on the right one.

 

 

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