TurboTax stands out for its design and flow. It’s pricier than most, but while confident filers may not need the bells and whistles, many people will find the experience worth a few extra dollars. Of all the tax software providers we evaluated, TurboTax as a whole emerged with the highest rating.
- User-friendly, interview-style Q&A
- New support feature raises the bar in human help
- Some of the most expensive software on the market
TurboTax has a lot of things going for it, but price isn’t one of them. The list price of its software routinely lands on the high end of the spectrum, especially when you factor in the added cost of a state return. The provider and some retailers sometimes offer discounts. Military discounts are available, too — typically $5, though the Deluxe version might be free, depending on rank. But on balance, buying TurboTax means spending more.
TurboTax’s free federal version is available only to people who qualify to use the 1040EZ or 1040A. Folks filing a regular 1040 will need to go with one of the paid versions.
Available packages and list prices
|Free edition||Federal: $0
This option allows you to file a 1040EZ or 1040A.
This version lets you itemize, includes the ItsDeductible feature for calculating the value of donated items and gets you the SmartLook support option. TurboTax will store your tax documents, too.
Gets you everything that's in the Deluxe version plus added capability for reporting your investments and income from rental properties.
Gets you everything in the Premier version plus deduction help and expense-tracking features for freelancers, independent contractors and side-hustlers.
|TurboTax Live||Federal: $179.99
New this year, this package handles virtually every form the IRS can throw at you, plus you get a one-on-one review with a CPA or Enrolled Agent before you file, as well as unlimited live tax advice from an on-screen CPA or EA.
One note about prices: Providers frequently change theirs. We’ll keep updating this review, but you can verify the latest price by clicking through to TurboTax’s site.
TurboTax also offers desktop software, but it’s not part of our review. Desktop means your return doesn’t reside in the cloud; it stays on your computer while you work on it. People who have used the desktop version before will see a cosmetic difference with the cloud, but the steps are similar — and, of course, the math is the same.
TurboTax’s features and ease of use
TurboTax’s products are some of the most user-friendly on the market, and for good reason. Like many other providers, TurboTax’s cloud software lets you access and work on your return across devices: on your computer via the website or on your phone or tablet via an app. So you could import your W-2 information from your employer, but you also could snap a photo of the form with your mobile device and see all the data transferred to your return. The latter is especially helpful if you have multiple W-2s.
Getting help throughout the preparation process is TurboTax’s biggest strength — especially this year. A banner running across the top keeps track of where you stand in the process and flags areas you still need to complete.
TurboTax’s interface is like a chat with a tax preparer. The software asks questions in plain language and puts your answers in the right place on your return. You can skip around if you get sick of the interview process, or you can ditch it altogether and go straight to the forms if you’re feeling bold.
Paid users also get ItsDeductible, a feature — and standalone mobile app — that’s helpful for quickly finding the deduction value of donated clothes, household items or other objects. These users also get access to and protection of their past tax returns.
TurboTax’s Self-Employed version offers a neat expense-tracking feature through QuickBooks, including the ability to store photos of your receipts and track mileage from your phone. New this year is a feature that calls attention to common deductions in your industry.
Expense Finder and ItsDeductible are designed in part for you to use after the April deadline, to become yearlong habits that will make next year’s taxes easier — and, of course, to keep you using TurboTax.
Support options with TurboTax
If you need (or want) a lot of handholding, TurboTax could be a great choice. Its searchable knowledge base, video tutorials and online community are great for research on the fly.
Ways to get help
- Searchable knowledge base.
- Online community.
- Video tutorials.
- Live, on-screen human help (if you paid for it).
Users with paid versions also get real-time help using SmartLook, which connects you to a tax specialist via one-way video using the TurboTax mobile app or your computer. You can ask questions, and they can see your screen and highlight areas you might need to address or show you where to enter more information. SmartLook isn’t available with the free version, however.
New this year is TurboTax Live — a high-end software package that offers a one-on-one review with a certified public accountant or enrolled agent before you file, as well as unlimited live tax advice from an on-screen CPA or EA. You can make an appointment or talk on the fly to the advisors via one-way video (you see them, but they don’t see you — they just see your screen). Hours of operation are 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. local time in general, though that may widen during tax season. All of the agents are CPAs or EAs and are employees of TurboTax; they’ll even sign and e-file your return if you want. Help is available via chat, too.
In other words, SmartLook is a little more like product support and TurboTax Live is closer to tax advice. The price difference is considerable — it can be as much as $100 — and many filers might be just fine with the less-expensive option.
The company also launched an Alexa skill this year, which means users can ask Amazon’s voice-activated device to check in on their return status, check their refund amount or track their refund.
If you buy a paid version of TurboTax, you have the option of paying for it out of your refund, if you’re getting one. But there’s a $39.99 charge.
If you’re audited
Audit support comes free with all versions, but be sure you know the difference between “support” and “defense.” If you get that dreaded letter from the IRS, audit support entitles you to one-on-one guidance from a tax pro about what to expect and how to prepare. Audit defense, on the other hand, gets you full representation before the IRS by a tax professional.
TurboTax’s audit defense, called Max Assist and Defend, is an add-on product. You’ll need to buy it when you file; you can’t do it after the fact. It costs $44.99.
No matter how you file, you can choose to receive your federal refund via direct deposit to a bank account — that’s the fastest option. You can also have your refund loaded onto a TurboTax Prepaid Visa Card. Other options include getting an old-fashioned paper check, applying the refund to next year’s taxes or directing the IRS to buy U.S. Savings Bonds with your refund. If you’re getting a refund on your state taxes, see if your state offers a prepaid card option as well.
You have the option of paying for the software out of your refund (if you’re getting one). But there’s a $39.99 charge to do that.
How TurboTax compares
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|TurboTax stands out for how easy it is to use and its intuitive design and flow.|
It’s pricier than most, but while confident filers may not need the bells and whistles and can find better value elsewhere, many people will find this experience to be worth a few extra dollars.
|H&R Block’s software is a solid contender in the crowded market for tax software, and its network of brick-and-mortar locations offers a warm, fuzzy security blanket.|
The interface is straightforward and easy to use, and the free version is one of the best on the market.
|TaxAct’s no-nonsense design will be a turnoff for some, but the cost is lower than many competitors and there’s phone and chat support.
The interface isn’t fancy, and there’s less of a Q&A feel than other packages, but the data-entry process in general is similar to most and there are plenty of tools to help you along.
The bottom line
With its cutting-edge support and comprehensive design, TurboTax is in many ways the standard for the do-it-yourself tax-prep industry. Its products come at a price, however, and confident filers who don’t need all the bells and whistles may get a better value elsewhere.