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TaxSlayer Classic 2021 review: Budget filing without finesse

Best tax software for those on a budget

TaxSlayer Classic 2021 review
(Image: © TaxSlayer)

Our Verdict

TaxSlayer Classic is the best budget tax software, efficient and low-priced. But if you can spare the extra dollars, we’d suggest springing for one of its competitors that offer a smoother experience.

For

  • Inexpensive, simplified pricing structure
  • Classic version services all tax situations
  • Lets you work on up to three years of returns
  • Only one with a dedicated Military version

Against

  • No tax expert review

TaxSlayer Classic 2021 is the best tax software for those on a budget. In fact, apart from the entirely free Credit Karma, the entire TaxSlayer lineup has the honor of being the least expensive across the board. And it is the cheapest of all for filing a Federal return, covering many circumstances without requiring a service upgrade.

Interface improvements bolster this year’s offerings as well, with clear guidance and easy navigation through the process. It remains the only service that allows you to do two years of back taxes online, and the only one with a dedicated Military tier for active service members. However, TaxSlayer Classic doesn’t provide as much hand-holding as you’ll get with pricier competitors such as H&R Block and TurboTax.

TaxSlayer Classic 2021 review: Cost

TaxSlayer has four tiers of service in its online Federal portfolio; prices range from free to $47. The free tier includes state filing.

The structure of the services is slightly different from competing services. Simply Free is just that, and it handles W-2 and education deductions and credits. The $17 Classic tier handles most tax situations, while Premium ($37) adds priority phone and email support and Ask a Tax Pro help. The $47 Self-Employed tier notes it is best for contractors, freelancers, and side hustlers (one of the few to acknowledge the trendy term for individual gig ventures). TaxSlayer is the only service with a dedicated Military tier, which allows active service members to do their Federal return for nothing.

The simplicity of TaxSlayer’s pricing structure is refreshing, although we experienced a hard upsell immediately after logging into the Classic service. But there is something to be said for the straightforward approach, without having a la carte pricing and add-ons, as found with competing services. Also refreshing: None of the histrionics of sale or limited time pricing, with high prices slashed through to more affordable ones during certain periods in the lead-up to tax deadlines. TaxSlayer shows one price, clearly and in bold lettering. That approach alone makes a statement. It also makes it impossible to guess whether the price might actually go up as the tax deadline approaches.

TaxSlayer Classic 2021 review: State filing

State tax filing is included with the free version. State filing costs $32 for the other tiers of service, the lowest price we’ve seen of any paid tax service.

TaxSlayer Classic 2021 review: Features

TaxSlayer isn’t big on fancy features. This year adds an improved W-2 import process, importing data from payroll services or by scanning an image, and auto-populating the data in the service.

TaxSlayer Classic 2021 review

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Also new: a better optimized Quick File experience that streamlines the filing process by letting you jump directly to specific forms you know you need.

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As with competitors, the Self-Employed tier is distinguished by its support for full 1099 and Schedule C deductions, and tax payment reminders — standard fare for the self-employed.

It gives some additional guidance on work expense deductions, plus has quarterly tax payment reminders and year-round tax tips.

TaxSlayer Classic 2021 review: Available help

With competing products, the step-up tiers are designed around adding features (for example TurboTax Premium adds investment-centric tax forms). In contrast, TaxSlayer’s Premium version doesn’t add tax features so much as it does add the ability to Ask a Tax Pro and get priority support for skipping to the head of the line during phone and email conversations. However, this feature is only available to users of TaxSlayer Premium and TaxSlayer Self-Employed. This is not available as an add-on as with H&R Block Deluxe, TaxAct and TurboTax.

TaxSlayer Classic 2021 review

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

At the Classic level, that means you get support for a wider swath of tax forms than with most competitors. You also get a hard upsell almost immediately to upgrade to Premium. If you don’t bite on the upsell, you get the standard tier of help that includes tax filing guidance, frequently asked questions, and tax code updates. The support page is very basic, with a website design that at times looks like it belongs in the year 2001 rather than 2021. For example, the tax law updates that detail the impact of Covid stimulus payments is text based, with simple HTML design. You also get email support via a form on the site, online chat, and a local phone number (hours of operation not posted).

TaxSlayer Classic 2021 review: Ease of use

Signing up for TaxSlayer Classic is a standard affair. However, the service deviates from norms by requiring you to provide a signature agreeing to the terms of using the service immediately after your first sign-in.

TaxSlayer Classic 2021 review

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The next screen then begins the upsell to Premium, which it recommends “to maximize your refund with priority support, access to a tax pro, and IRS audit assistance.” The $20 extra cost isn’t what we found offputting — after all, it is still less than the competition — but the mere fact that we had just started, and were already being pushed to upgrade, was.

TaxSlayer Classic 2021 review

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

We skipped that part, and proceeded to work on our taxes. We found a very streamlined, basic interface. Navigation is clear cut, though not without the occasional oddity, and we liked how the interface’s left navigation pane is configured, with a detailed menu that lets you navigate at will through different sections of the return.

TaxSlayer Classic 2021 review

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Overall, the design is basic, and harkens back to an earlier era of website design. The interface has some pleasant graphic touches, but not many; we were admittedly not fans of the red and green buttons for continue and cancel.

TaxSlayer Classic 2021 review

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

TaxSlayer now joins competing services by having one presentation across desktop, mobile web, or mobile app. Language is clear and free of tax jargon. And we liked that TaxSlayer provides direct data entry if you know the form you need, or guided data entry, in which the system asks questions to help prompt you through the process. Still, aswe moved through the service, we missed having context-sensitive help found in competing packages to explain terms while working on our return.

TaxSlayer Classic 2021 review: Verdict

TaxSlayer Classic is the best budget tax software because it gets the job done in an efficient manner, and it does so at the lowest prices of any paid tax software. The experience overall is less smooth than on competing products. The interface has less specific help and less visual design and guidance than our best tax software pick H&R Block Deluxe or even value-price competitor TaxAct Deluxe, and it lacks the breadth of live assistance options of TurboTax. If you can spare the extra dollars, we’d suggest springing for one of TaxSlayers competitors.