Editor's note: Please read our TuboTax Deluxe 2021 review for the latest version of the tax software.
Intuit TurboTax Deluxe 2020 is a stalwart contender for the best tax software, and with good reason: It has been around for 37 years, and it continues to evolve and add new features and products to the lineup.
The 2021 TurboTax family (which covers the 2020 tax year) continues that tradition, and takes TurboTax into new territory by adding an all-virtual full-service option, whereby a tax professional does the heavy lifting for you. As before, TurboTax Live provides the advantage of year-round access to experienced certified public accountants (CPAs) or enrolled agents (EAs) via video chat. With the addition of TurboTax Live Full Service, you have the added advantage of building a relationship with your tax preparer.
For this TurboTax Deluxe 2020 review, we started out using the first paid tier of Intuit's tax prep product after the free version designed to handle straightforward returns.
If you purchased TurboTax from 2016 to 2018, but because of your income, were eligible to use its free offering, you may be entitled to a refund, due to a settlement between Intuit and the states' Attorneys General offices.
Intuit TurboTax Deluxe 2020 review: Cost
TurboTax now offers three types of online federal tax products: TurboTax and TurboTax Live, the latter of which adds live video chats with tax experts; and then TurboTax Live Full Service, which is an upgrade from Live.
TurboTax has four product tiers based on your return’s financial needs, with the level of help stacking to the price on top of that: Basic (free; $50 for Live version, unless filed by February 15, 2021; $130 Full Service), Deluxe ($60; $120 Live; $200 Deluxe), Premier ($90; $170 Live; $260 Full Service); and Self-Employed ($120; $200 Live; $290 Full Service).
You can’t view Full Service’s costs clearly through the standard price comparison matrix (which does list TurboTax Live); rather, this information is only visible if you click on the additional fee link in the description of Live products, or if you walk through a customized three-step questionnaire (opens in new tab) designed to help you figure out which product is best for you. (See here for a matrix (opens in new tab) of regular and Live TurboTax options.)
Still, at least you can see up front what Full Service costs before you start; H&R Block’s interface obscures the pricing for its virtual tax prep option online. Intuit’s all-virtual approach to tax preparation is a welcome and worthwhile pandemic-era convenience, and it can save consumers money as compared with going to a tax preparer through real life channels.
As always, you don't pay anything up front to start your taxes; you pay at the time you file your return. This includes the Live options. You select a level to start the process, but then as you move through the information-gathering stages, what you select will prompt a recommendation to upgrade (more on that below).
If you prefer to keep your tax data local instead of using an online service, Intuit continues to offer four varieties of download-to-own TurboTax. (Basic, $50; Deluxe, $80; Premier, $110; and Home & Business, $120). The downloadable product lets you electronically file, or you can print out and mail your return. (Live services are not an option when using the downloaded versions.)
Intuit TurboTax Deluxe 2020 review: State filing
State tax filing costs $50 per state on all standard do-it-yourself TurboTax products (A free state return comes with TurboTax Free online). For TurboTax Live Basic, which includes live support, state filing costs $50. All other TurboTax Live and Live Full Service options cost $70 to file a state return. That’s pricier than H&R Block, which charges $36.99 per state return.
Intuit TurboTax Deluxe 2020 review: Features
TurboTax can import data from other Intuit’s QuickBooks, but not from its consumer-centric Mint (Quicken data can only be imported into the desktop versions of TurboTax). Under the Documents tab, we did find an option that proclaimed, “Soon, you'll be able to link your financial accounts to TurboTax to automatically import any available forms.” However, this option to link other accounts to automatically import data was not available at the time of review.
The free version handles simple Form 1040 tax situations like the earned income tax credit, the standard deduction, the child tax credit, basic interest and dividend income, and unemployment income. For anything more complex, you need to graduate to a higher tier.
TurboTax's Deluxe product covers charitable donations and Schedule A (real-estate taxes and mortgage) deductions, student loan interest, and searches for over 350 possible tax deductions.
If you have a 1099-NEC form (the new independent contractor income form) or investments — including rental income, roboinvesting, and cryptocurrency transactions — you'll need the Premier level. And if you have a business with associated deductions, you'll want to jump to the Self-Employed tier.
Intuit TurboTax Deluxe 2020 review: Available help
As you move through the service, you’ll encounter two types of help — an inconsistency that has remained in the interface for the past few iterations. Help is largely standardized to invoke a dedicated pane on the right-hand side, which now includes a Help search field at top, as well. Other help links open in a pop-up that you have to then close to proceed with data entry.
The service does include information related to tax year 2020-related events, like stimulus packages and the impact of the CARES Act. However, this information is presented as you go, and encounter specific options in the service.
You can get technical help using any tier of the service, and even share your screen with a support person. You can add TurboTax Live at any time by clicking on the Live help badge at the bottom left of the screen.
But if you opt for TurboTax Live, expect a few extra steps before you can talk to a tax pro. You'll still first be connected to a tech-support person, who can only answer questions about the product. Then, if you want an actual tax professional, you need to ask for one, and wait to be transferred to whichever tax professional — Enrolled Agent (EA) or CPA — is available first.
The call starts by phone, and then you can initiate one-way live video or screen sharing. Early in the season (January), it took about 20 minutes until I could talk to an EA, including hold times and initial conversation with tech support. When the season gets busier, expect longer hold times for a call-back. TurboTax Live continues to offer year-round access to tax pros for tax questions. If you upgrade to Live Full Service, you get matched with a tax pro based on the complexity of your return, and then you will continue to interface with that pro.
If you don’t go the Full Service route, TurboTax Live does let you have a tax pro review your return before you file.
Intuit TurboTax Deluxe 2020 review: Ease of use
If you've used TurboTax or other Intuit online products (QuickBooks, Mint) before, you log into the service using your Intuit credentials; new customers have to create an account. We began with the Deluxe product and filled out our return to see how the service handled any recommended upgrades.
TurboTax’s overall online design remains largely unchanged for the past few iterations. The service has a left-hand navigation pane for your tax home, Documents, and the different components of your tax return (personal info, Federal return, State return, review, and file). Further options for each part run along the top of the page in a seamless nav bar. You can reveal, or hide, your refund progress.
While you can upgrade to Live or other higher-level products as you put together your return, we didn't see a way to go backward if you try the Live product and then realize it’s not for you.
The interface is a bit repetitive at the start. It asks detailed questions to collect personal data, then asks them again as you expound on that. Still, the language is generally friendly without sounding too contrived.
The TurboTax service is easy to navigate, and is largely the same across mobile apps, mobile browser, and desktop browser. That means, though, on a PC browser, many screens have unused white space. Also, it continues to make data entry daunting with multiple clicks and fields required at various points (such as adding expenses or charitable donations). H&R Block offers a much better interface with its tax prep products.
Furthermore, it still takes well into the process to recommend stepping up to another tier. For example, by selecting self-employed during TurboTax's initial screening, we had expected that the service would warn us that we would need to upgrade from the Deluxe version to the self-employed product. The upgrade alert came only after we entered the information into what was the start of our return.
TurboTax still feels invasive; our email was filled with reminders to complete our taxes. Also, during the sign-up process, you get the choice to opt-in to sharing your tax data with your Intuit account for "personalized advice and offers." The details of what this entails are not clear, though, and you can choose to pass.
After TurboTax's initial screening, you're deposited into the home screen of the service. You’ll next start your return by completing My Info — a more detailed version of the pre-screening. But before doing so, TurboTax plugged an optional $49.99 upgrade for its theft-monitoring and audit-defense service.
Once you get past the initial setup, you can start your return. As you move through the rest of the data entry and questions, TurboTax allows you to navigate your federal return via four floating tabs — Income & Expenses, Deductions & Credits, Other Tax Situations, and Federal Review. You can jump among these and fill in pieces as you wish, or you can go through sequentially. When you reach the end, TurboTax alerts you to missing information before you file, or choose to have a tax pro review your return.
Intuit TurboTax Deluxe 2020 review: Verdict
The experience of using TurboTax Deluxe 2020 seems largely unchanged from recent years — just one reason this software comes in second once more. The premium pricing coupled with niggling interface complaints (really, the interface would benefit dramatically from a refresh that prioritizes efficiency and visual cues) hold TurboTax back.
H&R Block Deluxe 2021 remains our top pick overall for the best tax software, as it’s more approachable and, more importantly, less expensive. That said, if you plan to tap experts to help you with your taxes — or have them done for you completely — TurboTax Deluxe is the clear winner.