There's a big deadline looming in your life. On April 15, you have to file your income taxes, and if you haven't gotten a start yet — who likes preparing taxes, after all? — the clock is ticking.
Your first decision: find the best tax preparation software. Fortunately, you're not hurting for choices. Intuit and H&R Block are both venerable purveyors of online tax software that make this chore easier and a little less stressful.
But which program is the best one for your tax prep needs? To find out, we reviewed web-based offerings for both Intuit TurboTax and H&R Block. (The companies also offer downloadable software for those who prefer to keep their data locally as opposed to in the cloud. The software typically offers a similar experience to the online versions we've looked at, but may be missing some features, including access to the assistance of tax professionals. We will call out some of the notable disparities throughout our comparison).
In addition to TurboTax Online, TurboTax has a TurboTax Live version that adds unlimited video-chat conversations year-round with tax experts, meaning CPAs or "Enrolled Agents" (EA) that are authorized by the IRS. We'll discuss both versions in this comparison with H&R Block, which primarily provides chat services as an add-on.
Here's a closer look at how these dueling tax-preparation options compare.
Tax Prep Services Compared
|Service||Starting Price (Deluxe Tier)||State Return Price||Best For||Pros||Cons|
|H&R Block||$49.99||$36.99||Taxpayers who don’t require much hand-holding or prefer a desktop software||More attractively priced; support for importing data from some mobile apps; free tier handles child and dependent care expenses; Ask a Tax Pro feature||Live support options aren't clearly priced|
|TurboTax||$59.99||$39.99||Taxpayers who require a greater degree of support from tax professionals||Extensive support from tax pros; integration with Intuit products; support for cryptocurrency||More expensive than H&R Block; free tier lacks some of Block's features|
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What you'll pay
Unless you have the most basic of tax situations, be prepared to find online tax filing to be an a la carte smorgasbord of options that will likely end up a long way from what you initially thought you'd spend to get the deed done. This approach is a proverbial Catch-22: It's helpful that you're paying only for what you need, but having to pay along the way for features once you're into the process may prove frustrating.
Both TurboTax and H&R Block offer free versions that cover straightforward taxes — no deductions, investments or multiple sources of income — with free federal and state filing included. From there, there are additional tiers — four for H&R Block, three for TurboTax — that cover increasingly complex returns. In most cases, H&R Block's pricing will cost you a little less than a comparable tier from TurboTax will.
The Deluxe Online version costs $49.99 and includes all the features found in the free version, plus access to up to six years of previous tax returns, a way to optimize donation deductions, and support for Health Savings Accounts, real estate taxes and mortgage interest.
Those who want Schedule C and Schedule D support will have to move up to the $69.99 Premium Online version; this version handles cost-basis calculations as well as freelance/contractor expenses of less than $5,000, and income from stocks, rental properties, and other investments.
|Free||Deluxe||Premium||Self-Employed||Tax Pro Review|
The Self-Employed tier ($104.99) provides full-on expenses support for freelancers, contractors and other small business owners, including home office, depreciation and vehicle expenses. This is the way to go to support your side gig, be it driving for Uber or something else.
While all versions include tech support via chat with a tax pro, you'll need the $144.99 Tax Pro Review version to get your tax return reviewed by an H&R Block tax professional. (That's more than what H&R Block charged for that offering earlier in the tax season — the price of procrastination, we guess.) All of these online options support only federal filing needs. State filing costs an extra $36.99 per state, and that includes e-filing.
H&R Block's downloadable software follows similar stratifications: Basic ($29.95), Deluxe ($54.95) and Premium ($74.95). But instead of having a Self-Employed tier, the Premium tier covers the self-employed income and deductions, and a higher Premium & Business tier, at $89.95, covers larger small business needs, including C-Corp returns, S-Corp returns, and estate and trust returns (all three of which are available only in this downloadable software). All include five federal e-file returns, and all but Basic include one state return (e-file is an extra $19.95).
With H&R Block, if you start your return and then realize you need features not included in the version you began with and paid for, you will be prompted to upgrade to the tier that includes what you need. H&R Block also offers a la carte services (see Live Support below).
Because TurboTax has added a TurboTax Live version to its product lineup, figuring out pricing and how much you'll be paying in the end practically requires its own doctorate in tax accounting. TurboTax Live — which differentiates itself by offering live-video chat help with a tax expert — starts at $79.99 for its Basic tier (discounted to $49.99 at the time of this writing), and scales up from there along a similar trajectory as the standard online product.
Whether you use TurboTax or TurboTax Live, Intuit says you start at the same place, with the features you use determining what you ultimately pay at the time you file. But the fee for adding live-video assistance goes up dramatically for higher tiers of service. (Presumably, this is because Intuit assumes that the lower tiers will have fewer, and less involved, questions than the higher tiers.)
The Premier tier, at $79.99, covers stocks, bonds and other investments; rental property income and deductions; and, new for this year, gains and losses from cryptocurrency transactions. The Self-Employed tier, at $119.99, covers specific freelance and small business scenarios. including ride-hailing, online sales and services, and other business income and expense needs.
The TurboTax Live product is fundamentally the same as the regular TurboTax online product. The extra cost of admission includes on-demand video help from CPAs or EAs; unlimited year-round help; and a free final review of your tax return by either a CPA or an EA.
Like H&R Block, TurboTax has software downloads as well, with four tiers that follow similar feature breakdowns to the online product, but different nomenclatures. Basic ($39.99), Deluxe ($69.99), Premier ($99.99), and Home & Business ($109.99), and each software download includes five federal returns for that price. You also get one state return included (except on the Basic tier; see below for more detail). And like H&R Block, you'll need the Home & Business product to get S-Corp or C-Corp returns for self-employed, or small businesses, and to get trust and estate returns.
Winner: H&R Block
State tax returns
H&R Block continues its trend of being the more cost-effective platform. The free H&R Block tier includes filing state taxes for free; all other tiers cost $36.99 per state, and that fee includes e-filing.
For TurboTax, filing state taxes is included only in its free online product when using the new 1040 tax form. For other TurboTax online and TurboTax Live products, filing state taxes costs an additional $39.99 per state (One exception: TurboTax Live Basic costs $29.99 for state taxes). E-filing is free with the state product.
Both companies are on a level playing field when it comes to the downloadable software versions of their programs. H&R Block charges for state filing in the Basic version. But all other versions include one personal state program, and state e-file costs $19.95. TurboTax is set up the same way, with one personal state return included, and state e-file costs of $19.99.
Winner: H&R Block
Both H&R Block and TurboTax are cross-platform. Both services work via web browsers for Mac and PC, and both have software downloads for Mac and Windows (with the top-tier software from both H&R Block and TurboTax only available for Windows). If you're the sort who prefers to do your tax filing on a mobile device, H&R Block and TurboTax each have iOS and Android versions, too.
Both H&R Block and Turbotax allow you to start with the mobile app and move to using the browser-based service. In particular, this capability helps you jumpstart a return by using your mobile to snap a picture of documents to import into service, for example.
H&R Block calls out support for importing data from some mobile apps, like Stride; TurboTax, as you might expect, has easy compatibility with other Intuit products like QuickBooks, and is the only one to support cryptocurrency.
As noted above, both companies have free versions that can handle tax situations like Earned Income Tax Credit, the standard deduction, and basic interest and dividend income reflected on a 1099 form. H&R Block goes beyond TurboTax's free product by handling child and dependent care expenses; student loan interest deductions; tuition and fees statements; and health coverage exemptions.
For each service, the first step up from the free level — referred to as the "Deluxe" tier — covers donation and Schedule A (real-estate taxes and mortgage) deductions. If you have investments, you'll need to go to the next tier up (Premium on H&R Block, and Premier on TurboTax). And if you're participating in the gig economy and have supplemental income from driving a Lyft or Uber in your downtime, you'll need to jump to the Self-Employed tier. (H&R Block's Premium tier will support freelance expenses, but only up to $5,000.) H&R Block gets a slight edge for its free version, though each company essentially offers the same features on each tier.
Winner: H&R Block
Support and access to tax professionals while you're in the throes of tax madness may be one of the most valuable features for tax-prep software. It's also all over the map, depending upon which brand — and which product — you pay for.
For TurboTax online, users get access to a product specialist. Access to a TurboTax specialist is included with TurboTax Deluxe, Premier and Self-Employed; it's an upgrade for users of the Free version. These specialists know TurboTax and can help navigate the product, and can provide on-screen help via the SmartLook feature.
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For more in-depth and personal attention, you'll need the TurboTax Live product. A new addition this year is TurboTax Live via mobile. Basic and Deluxe tiers of TurboTax Live (via web browser or mobile) costs a $50 premium above standard TurboTax; for the Premium and Self-Employed tiers, you'll be adding $80.
TurboTax Live gives you unlimited access to a tax professional, but user beware: You'll either get a CPA, an Enrolled Agent or a tax attorney, but you can't specifically request a CPA. The service is a bargain if you're comfortable with this roll-the-dice approach, but if you're someone who wants to talk to only a CPA, this might not be the best option.
H&R Block takes a different tactic, offering two add-on products, and a third, all-encompassing product. The first add-on that's the most economical approach is Ask a Tax Pro, which is new for this tax season. You get access to a tax professional — which could be a CPA, an accountant or an EA — starts at $39.99 for unlimited chat time and screen-share opportunities to smooth the discussion and guidance.
Tax Pro Review is available as a premium, all-inclusive stand-alone online product, at $144.99, and includes everything H&R Block's $104.99 Self-Employed version does along with access to every tax form and the ability to submit your completed return for review by a tax professional. You can also add a review of your completed return as an option for any of the online products starting at $49.99, and scaling up based on the complexity of the return.
As a baseline, all H&R Block products include "technical support" for free, for 24/7 guidance on using the product via text-chat bubble.
Having tested both programs, we found that both H&R Block and TurboTax that are fairly easy to navigate — a critical feature for last-minute filers. If we had to pick between the two services on interface alone, though, we'd give the nod to H&R Block, which has a cleaner display that keeps its help tools within reach. TurboTax featured a little too much white space for our tastes, and its interview process occasionally felt repetitive.
Both products try to keep the language conversational, with an eye toward avoiding bogging down user in complex tax talk. H&R Block handles this a little better in our opinion, by never becoming too colloquial. TurboTax went a little overboard in that regard, coming off as a little contrived when we tested the product.
Winner: H&R Block
H&R Block and TurboTax are well-matched, with both offering a range of products that will help you get your taxes done.
Thanks to its lower prices, H&R Block offers a better value product than TurboTax. That’s especially true for taxpayers who don't need a lot of hand-holding and whose returns are less complex. H&R Block has a no-nonsense approach and walks you through doing your return.
H&R Block also has an edge on the desktop software. Not only is H&R Block less expensive than TurboTax, but it also supports Ask a Tax Pro, a step beyond what TurboTax offers.
The metrics change when you consider live help, where TurboTax emerges as the better option. TurboTax Live is pricey, but its support features are extensive, and the extra peace of mind could be worth the higher price to some taxpayers.
Credit: Tom's Guide