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Intuit TurboTax Deluxe 2021 review: Tax returns with the best guidance

Intuit TurboTax Deluxe 2021’s hallmarks are its extensive tax expert assistance and strong support for importing investments and cryptocurrency

TurboTax Deluxe 2020 review
Editor's Choice
(Image: © TurboTax)

Tom's Guide Verdict

TurboTax Deluxe is the most expensive tax software, but it also has the most extensive intake from financial institutions, the best crypto handling and the widest expert help options, including a revamped full-service tier that takes the guesswork out of filing.

Pros

  • +

    Easy to navigate around return

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    Wider help options than most, including full service option for end-to-end tax filing assistance

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    Excellent automated data input

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    Strong cryptocurrency support

Cons

  • -

    Pricier than other tax software

Intuit TurboTax Deluxe 2021 is a mainstay for the best tax software crown, and this year it edges ahead of the competition on the virtue of its available upgrades. Now in its 38th year, the TurboTax family (which covers the 2021 tax year) has improved its tax expert assistance options, with a smoother all-virtual full-service upgrade that lets a tax professional do the heavy lifting. And if you’re trading in investments and cryptocurrency, this tier provides the best intake process of any of the competitors. 

The service’s user interface provides guided detailed questions in plain English, and minimizes your exposure to actual tax forms. TurboTax Live’s expert assistance remains a well-integrated experience. For 2022, TurboTax improves the workflow of using its fully virtual Live Full Service, through which you can have a tax pro complete and file your taxes for you. If your tax needs are uncomplicated, TurboTax has a phenomenal free limited-time deal for those who qualify for Basic Live Full Service. 

Read the rest of our TurboTax Deluxe 2021 review to find out what else we liked about the software.

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 2021 review: Cost

TurboTax now offers three types of online federal tax products: TurboTax and TurboTax Live, the latter of which adds live video chats and tax return review with tax experts; and then TurboTax Live Full Service, which is now its own entity and no longer an upgrade from Live. With Full Service, you give your documents to a tax expert and they do the rest. While we considered the availability of these upgrades, we evaluated the standard TurboTax online product, focusing on the Deluxe tier.

TurboTax has four product tiers based on your return’s complexity: Basic (free; $79 for Live version after March 31, 2021; $129 Full Service after March 31, 2021), Deluxe ($59; $119 Live; $199 Full Service), Premier ($89; $169 Live; $259 Full Service); and Self-Employed ($119; $199 Live; $289 Full Service). Current prices are up to $30 off right now, for an undetermined period. (See here for a matrix of various TurboTax options.)

BasicDeluxePremierSelf-Employed
TurboTaxFree$59$89$119
TurboTax Live$79 (after 3/31)$119$169$199
TurboTax Live Full Service$129 (after 3/31)$199$259$289

Full Service’s prices are clearly a step up from Live, but still reasonable when you consider it’s a fully virtual service for having a tax pro deal with your taxes. And TurboTax has a phenomenal free limited-time deal for those who qualify for Basic Full Service. Also, 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.     

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.)

Active military users can file federal and state taxes for free, using a link via the website’s menu. TurboTax’s software dynamically adjusts, as opposed to be there being a separate “product” as TaxAct markets their tax service for military.

Intuit TurboTax Deluxe 2021 review: State filing

State tax filing costs $49 per state on all standard do-it-yourself TurboTax online products (A free state return comes with TurboTax Free online). TurboTax Live Basic, which includes live support, includes one state filing. All other TurboTax Live and Live Full Service options cost $49 to file a state return, $5 less than it did last year. Still, that’s pricier than H&R Block, which charges $36.99 per state return.

Intuit TurboTax Deluxe 2021 review: Features

TurboTax has long let you import data from Intuit QuickBooks, but not from its consumer-centric Mint (only “some” users can do so at this time; and Quicken data can only be imported into the desktop versions of TurboTax). 

New this year is the MyDocs cloud service, which you can use to upload documents. However, the ability to link accounts still says this is coming “soon.” You can still import available tax documents directly from TurboTax’s massive list of import partner institutions during the return process itself. 

(Image credit: Intuit)

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. It also now handles student loan forms. For anything more complex, you need to graduate to a higher tier.

(Image credit: Intuit)

TurboTax's Deluxe product covers charitable donations and Schedule A (real-estate taxes and mortgage) deductions, and searches for over 350 possible tax deductions.

(Image credit: Intuit)

If you have a 1099-NEC form (the new independent contractor income form) or investments you may be able to use Deluxe. But Schedules D (investments) and E (rentals and royalties) — including rental income, roboinvesting, and cryptocurrency transactions — require the Premier tier. And if you have a business with associated deductions, that’s covered in the Self-Employed product, which now looks for over 500 possible credits and deductions.

Investments and cryptocurrency gain big support this year with updates to the import process. Now you’ll be able to import up to 10,000 stock transactions directly from financial institution import partners, up from 1,550 last year. And for cryptocurrency transactions, TurboTax supports up to 4,000 transactions, nearly double last year’s number. TurboTax has also partnered with 15 crypto exchanges – including Coinbase, Robinhood, and Binance –to directly import cryptocurrency transactions. This is a direct import, versus using a manual process and importing a CSV file, as before. Only H&R Block, with its support of CoinTracker, has any level of direct import for crypto.

(Image credit: Intuit)

Charitable deductions are improved as well. Intuit’s nifty integration of donations tracking app ItsDeductible into TurboTax simplifies estimating and adding the value of goods donated to your return. Previously, you could only import data from your account on this Intuit-owned app.

Intuit TurboTax Deluxe 2021 review: Available help

As you move through the service, the help experience has smoothed out, but only a little. I encountered the legacy help pop-ups less frequently than before. Help is largely standardized to invoke a dedicated slide-out panel on the right side of the screen, which now includes a search field at top.

The help experience remains fractured, though. At some point, the new pop-up chat head reminded us of live product specialist chat help, but it’s not persistent and I couldn’t find this feature otherwise. Clicking the ? in the top navigation bar opened the digital assistant that points to existing info in TurboTax’s vast resource library. But I asked the digital assistant to speak with a product specialist, and that invoked a phone call.  

(Image credit: Intuit)

TurboTax’s written help is the most comprehensive we’ve seen. The content is largely well-written, original, and useful. It even mines questions from other users, which might help you figure out your own situation without asking an expert.

The service does include resources related to tax year 2021-related events, like the Child Tax Credit. This information is presented as you encounter specific options in the service.

(Image credit: Intuit)

You can get technical help using any tier of the service, and even share your screen with a support person. This year, until March 31, the free product includes the TurboTax Live or Live Full Service tax expert help.

For other tiers, or when that deal expires, you can add TurboTax Live at any time by clicking on the Live Expert Help badge at the top right 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.

(Image credit: Intuit)

The call starts by phone, and then you can initiate one-way live video or screen sharing. TurboTax Live is available year-round to ask tax pros questions. If you upgrade to Live Full Service, you get matched with a tax pro based on the complexity of your return, and this year going forward you will be able to interface with that same pro if you’d like.

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 2021 review: Ease of use

TurboTax has made a number of refinements to its overall experience, from navigating the website to the presentation of information. For example, the website has more options visible via menus (for example, that’s how we found the free active military filing link). 

The onboarding process remains similar, with updated tile selections for different scenarios. Selecting tiles – which will come up again as questions later – gives you a recommendation on which tier to start with, but it’s not necessary. As with other paid tax products, we started with the Deluxe tier, and upgraded along the way. 

(Image credit: Intuit)

Onboarding continued even before we logged in, asking us how we filed taxes last year; the answer will customize your experience once you log in. Prior users of TurboTax or other Intuit online products (QuickBooks, Mint) log into the service with their Intuit credentials; new customers have to create an account. The service sends a code to your phone or email, and if you use email it then does a secondary check to verify your phone number.

From the start, TurboTax continues its intake with plain language questions and improved visuals to guide you through the tax return process. It first prompted me to enter any life changes in the past year. Here I selected new child/dependent to see how TurboTax handled the Child Tax Credit, which in turn led to a short video discussing how dependents affect taxes and what are the related tax breaks.

(Image credit: Intuit)

The service next showed a summary of what I could expect to deal with in my taxes, and it also gave more reading info, in a new card-like style, about hot topics like Child Tax Credit and stimulus payments. If you realize you forgot something at this stage, you can’t go back. But you will be able to manually recoup later within each related section.

(Image credit: Intuit)

Finally, the service prompts you to agree to share tax info with Intuit to get personalized strategies. You can opt out if you’d prefer. That ends the onboarding process and you can finally begin working on the return itself.

(Image credit: Intuit)

Compared with last year, TurboTax’s overall online design is fundamentally the same, with some color, graphics and font tweaks for easier reading. The service has a left-hand navigation pane for your tax home, Documents, and top-level navigation for the different components of your tax return (personal info, Federal, State, review, and file).

(Image credit: Intuit)

You’ll start with adding personal info (name, birthday, Social Security number, occupation, residency–including if you lived somewhere part-time– and military status), dependent info, and the like. After reviewing all of the personal info, TurboTax plugged an optional $49.99 upgrade for its theft-monitoring and audit-defense service. Once I declined this, we finally moved into the federal return.

Throughout the process of answering questions to complete your return, TurboTax again gives plain language guidance to walk you through adding your data. If you don’t want to see what looks like a representation of a tax form, you don’t have to. This hand-holding is in stark contrast to some competitors, like FreeTaxUSA and TaxAct, who just drop you right into walking through different tax forms with minimal questions and natural language guidance.

TurboTax allows you to navigate your federal return via four floating tabs — Income & Expenses, Deductions & Credits, Other Tax Situations, and Federal Review. You can complete these in any order you want if you prefer jumping around to TurboTax’s systematic walkthrough. When you reach the end, TurboTax alerts you to missing information before you file, or you can choose to have a tax pro review your return. If you are expecting a refund, you can track the status of your refund at Credit Karma, which is now owned by Intuit.

(Image credit: Intuit)

Atop the screen sits the global navigation bar, with buttons for accessing notifications, search, virtual assistant help, and live tax advice. The latter leads to the upgrade for TurboTax Live, or to the TurboTax Live expert if you’ve already upgraded. TurboTax also shows an update of your federal and state refunds in the top nav, but you can hide this info.

The onboarding questions do feel repetitive, and if you miss something it requires you to find it on your own. For example, I had to click the add income button to expand on other income received, and found a highly detailed list that jogged my memory of what else to add. At least the language on the whole is friendly and accessible. And TurboTax covers more scenarios – and it does so more clearly – than some of the competing services. For example, TurboTax calls out if you have a nontraditional situation for a dependent or made money while living in a state other than your residence, and provides appropriate guidance in the slide-out help pane at right.

(Image credit: Intuit)

The TurboTax service has responsive design, making it easy to navigate across mobile apps, mobile browser, and desktop browser. While the text size is now larger in some places, overall it could still use work to become more friendly on all screens. Often the text remains surprisingly small on a computer screen, making it harder to read. Also, the font weight for many screens is still too low, which makes the text too light and hard to read. Overall, H&R Block still does a better job with its cohesive interface design and visual presentation.

Even though I chose self-employed in the initial onboarding, it wasn’t until I started the return and said I had deductions that TurboTax served up an upgrade alert. It was the same with respect to stocks and cryptocurrency and the need to upgrade to Premier.

Intuit TurboTax Deluxe 2021 review: Verdict

The experience of using TurboTax Deluxe 2021 is fundamentally the same as compared with recent years, but subtle interface tweaks, strong support, and the software’s significant improvements in investment and crypto handling gives TurboTax a slight edge over H&R Block and other contenders as the best tax software. Even though it’s the most expensive of the tax prep software we tested, the steps it takes to simplify everything remains a key differentiator. 

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.