Skip to main content

Cash App Taxes 2021 review: New name, same free tax experience

Formerly known as Credit Karma Tax, Cash App Taxes lets anyone file free federal and state returns — including self-employed. But the service lacks strong guidance

Cash App Taxes 2021
(Image: © Cash App)

Tom's Guide Verdict

Cash App Taxes has a new name and color scheme, but it remains the best free option for filing both federal and state taxes (in 40 states plus D.C.). It can handle a surprising variety of tax situations — including self-employment — but H&R Block and TurboTax offer vastly more support.

Pros

  • +

    Mobile-friendly filing

  • +

    Simplified, clean interface

  • +

    Free to file both federal and state taxes, even for self-employed

  • +

    Supports investments and cryptocurrency transactions

Cons

  • -

    No tax expert option

  • -

    Minimal online support and guidance

  • -

    Interface lacks refinement

Cash App Taxes may seem like a newbie, but is in fact last year’s Credit Karma Taxes with a new name, new owner, and slightly refreshed interface. It remains free, and a contender for best tax software. However, it falls short of paid competitors, some of which charge nominal fees to get a greater breadth of support.

The service is now owned by Cash App, which in turn is owned by Block. The service still has a mobile-friendly, visual interface that is the definition of minimalism. Read the rest of our Cash App Taxes review to see if this free service is enough, or if it’s worth paying a little extra for more assistance

Cash App Taxes 2021 review: Cost

Cash App Taxes is free to use, and free to file most any federal return. Not every scenario is covered (for example, the service targets single-state residency returns and lacks support (opens in new tab) for several scenarios), but it is completely free.

Cash App Taxes 2021 review: State filing

As with your federal return, state tax filing is free for one state with Cash App Taxes, but the service doesn’t support multiple states. The catch is that state filing is available in 40 states plus Washington, D.C. You can only file a state return with Cash App Taxes if you file the federal return with the service. Most competitors charge between $32 and $50 per state, though the free tiers at H&R Block, TaxSlayer, and TurboTax include free state returns.

Cash App Taxes 2021 review: Features

No upgrades, no upsells, no hidden costs here. Even gig workers with Schedule C deductions and self-employed or freelance income can file without paying extra.  So too can S-corporations and partnerships. And crypto investors. However, the service can't handle estates and trusts, and it can't handle part-year or nonresident returns.

(Image credit: Cash App)

When you’re done with your return, you can export a PDF copy of your taxes for your offline records.

Cash App integration is minimal for now. You can have your refund redeposited into your Cash App account, but that’s it for this tax year.

Cash App Taxes 2021 review: Available help

Cash App Taxes lacks the detailed original tax code content of its competitors. Click the ? and the help pane comes out, with a separate tab on top for chat. Chat support is available from 8 a.m to 8 p.m. PST. Cash App lacks phone support. Help is via a form on Cash App’s support page. With no upgrades available, that means no upsells — and also no avenue for help from tax experts, as found in the four paid services in our best tax software buying guide. 

Cash App Taxes’ help interface seems more fractured now. Less content appears in the pop-up pane at right. When you click on help within the app, you get a pop-up box that has to be dismissed to resume working on the page. Many entries refer to IRS documents, and lack depth.

Cash App Taxes 2021 review: Ease of use

Since Credit Karma Tax was acquired by Cash App in late 2020, it comes as no surprise that the service has a new name, new color scheme and new look. Officially, Cash App Taxes is an “independent business” within Cash App. The team working on the app has remained the same, which means it’s also not surprising to find a lot of familiar design elements, including the card-style design and general approach to completing a tax return. 

Cash App Taxes is so new that you’re most likely to find the app by starting out where you did before — at Credit Karma Tax. That page now calls the service Cash App Taxes, and gives a link to jump over to Cash App Taxes’ new home, complete with an explainer about the new digs and the new detail that you need to download Cash App in order to use Cash App Taxes. At first I was annoyed that the service required me to sign up for yet another digital payments account, but I didn’t have to add a debit card in order to use Cash App Taxes. That said, the need for a Cash App account by default means that you have to have a smartphone or tablet with the that runs Cash App app in order to use Cash App Taxes.

(Image credit: Cash App)

To log in, click File Now to start a return, and you’ll get a QR code to scan with your cell phone that has Cash App installed. I used my cell phone’s camera (or you can use the camera from within the app), scanned the QR code, and the phone prompted me for my password. I entered the password on my phone, and then magically, the laptop browser shifted and dropped me into the first of three refreshed intake screens asking about my tax filing situation.

(Image credit: Cash App)

From this first screen it is clear the interface’s design is responsive and minimalist. It’s well-suited for use on touchscreens, with finger-friendly, large oblong buttons and differentiated text that is easy to read. Everything runs down the center of the screen; at top sits a question mark for pulling up a help pane, and three dots for a menu with few options (including a link to the support center page, and a link to share the app with your friends).

(Image credit: Cash App)

The initial intake screen asked for filing status, dependents, whether you received advance Child Tax Credit payments, and where If you worked in more than one state, Cash App notifies you immediately that you can only use the service to file a federal return. And you can’t use the service if you made more than $600 in foreign income.

(Image credit: Cash App)

The next screen asks about your types of income, including self-employed and investment income, rental properties, and more. Finally, it asks some very clear questions around your personal expenses, medical expenses, and other expenses.

(Image credit: Cash App)

As with Credit Karma Tax, Cash App Taxes’ interface is built around a tax home page dashboard, with a center-weighted design and separate card-style modules that work well whether on a desktop or in a mobile environment. You’ll start the tax return process by reviewing the terms of service and authorizing Cash App Taxes to share information with parent company Block. Want to opt out? A tick box at the lower vaguely says Change Sync Settings; once there, you’ll find a way to skip sharing info and jump straight into the personal info screens of the return. The wording here could be clearer and more transparent.

Next, I filled in the standard personal information fields: Name, birthday, address, phone number. This information auto-populated from my Cash App account. basic info is confirmed, you can unlock the other modules and enter data in any order you wish.

From here, the overall interface is generally the same as with the previous iteration. Along the top, Cash App Taxes groups data entry by five core tabs that are much more clear than previous versions: Info, Income, Expense, State and Review. These tabs merely jump to those sections lower in the page, but they do provide at-a-glance clarity.

Cash App Taxes populates the cards representing various tax return topics based on what information you shared during the first three intake pages. A search bar at the bottom lets you look for something specific, and go back to cards you didn’t select to re-evaluate and it to your return. When you finish entering data in a given card, you return to the main dashboard, and you’ll see your progress towards refund for federal or state at the top of the screen. Some cards have the option of single-page or multi-page view, where the former puts all of the fields for that card on what page.

(Image credit: Cash App)

Some aspects of the interface remain woefully dated. For example, when entering a business description, Cash App Taxes lacks numerous business category options in the drop-down, and the drop-down is the only way to complete the field. “Writer” became “All other professional, scientific, & technical services.”

The super-simple, minimalist interface is helpful in some ways, and frustrating in others — same as in the previous iteration. For example, entering Schedule C business expenses is buried under business income, and is accessible through multiple clicks (unless you choose the single-page view). You can now add aggregate expenses to a Schedule C form, although other expenses could require a lot of manual input.

(Image credit: Cash App)

There are three ways to enter investments, including cryptocurrency. But even though you can enter data in spreadsheet style, you can’t import from a spreadsheet, and Cash App Taxes doesn’t link to any services to pull data in. You can also choose to enter a summary of transactions, to simplify data entry. But expect little automation of any tasks within Cash App Taxes. The one exception: the ability to import a W-2 via photo.

One nice part of Cash App Taxes: Even though its design shields you from the actual tax forms themselves, you can view your tax return forms at any time during the process. The services from H&R Block and TurboTax don’t let you see the forms until after your return is submitted.

Cash App Taxes 2021 review: Verdict

Cash App Taxes is a reasonable free option for filing federal and state taxes. Its lack of finesse may not matter to you if you’re enticed by the word free. It can handle a surprising variety of tax situations, but when you run into tax questions, you’ll pay with your time to find answers elsewhere. If you’re likely to need assistance, or would like a tax pro to go over your documents, both H&R Block Deluxe and TurboTax Deluxe are better, if more expensive options. We also prefer their more intuitive menus. If free is your main criteria, FreeTaxUSA may provide a more full-featured experience with more options.

Melissa Perenson is a freelance writer. She has reviewed the best tax software for Tom's Guide for several years, and has also tested out fax software, among other things. She spent more than a decade at PC World and TechHive, and she has freelanced for numerous publications including Computer Shopper, TechRadar and Consumers Digest.