H&R Block has been at the tax-preparation game for a long time, with both online and offline services. And that experience is reflected in the company's measured approached to its do-it-yourself tax-filing program.
With thoughtful, efficient design, value pricing and educational help, the updated 2019 service will appeal to both return users and newcomers alike.
H&R Block's federal tax software ranges from a no-cost online version to a downloadable version built for small businesses. In addition to a Free online version for very basic tax returns, the company offers four tiers of online service, each with a stacking list of added features and support; add-on upgrades deliver broader support from tax professionals as you do your taxes.
Besides the Deluxe version ($49.99) we've tested here, H&R Block's offerings include Premium ($79.99) and Self-Employed ($104.99) tiers. Tax Pro Review ($144.99) is the Self-Employed version but with access to every tax form and schedule, secure chat with H&R Block tax professionals, and the ability to have a tax pro review, sign and file your tax return.
As with Intuit's TurboTax software, you don't pay up front with H&R Block; instead, you pay when you file based on the complexity of your return. But you have to select a level to start with, and then as you move through the information-gathering stages, you'll be given opportunities to step up to the appropriate package, depending upon your needs.
For example, we started our review at H&R Block Deluxe, the first step up from the company's free tier, and then moved through the experience from there. Once we had entered that we had 1099-Misc forms and were self-employed, the interface directed us to upgrade to that version to have access to the correct tax forms.
For those who would rather download and install full versions of tax software on their PCs, H&R Block offers $29.95 Basic, $54.95 Deluxe, $74.95 Premium and $89.95 Premium and Business versions, all of which save data locally rather than in the cloud.
Except for H&R Block's Free version, which includes a state tax return at no cost, other H&R Block online versions require an additional $36.99 per state. State e-filing is included in all online versions. You can only move on to filing state taxes online after you've completed a federal return, and the service will auto-populate information entered for the federal forms into the state forms.
H&R Block's Free online and Basic download versions are meant only for the simplest of federal tax returns. As soon as you have a deduction to declare (beyond child care or student loan interest), you'll need to step up to a higher version with more features that let you deduct things like donations, real estate taxes and mortgage interest. The H&R Block works with Stride, a mobile-expense tracking service, to auto import your data.
At the Premium online level, you gain access to Schedule C and D, support for self-employed filers with limited business expenses, and support for logging investment and property income as well as for tracking Health Savings Accounts. The Self-Employed online version offers more complete support for independents and freelancers, with higher deductible business expenses and support for filing for home-office deductions, depreciation and vehicle expenses.
At the top of H&R Block's online offerings is the Tax Pro Review version, which includes a thorough federal tax return review by an H&R Block tax professional.
H&R Block has done a terrific job of bolstering its help features. As you move through constructing an online return, you get context-sensitive help at the ready, always visible in a right-hand pane that can be accessed by the question-mark icon on the top navigation bar, or by clicking on the Learn More links in the main interface.
The help pane changes automatically as you move through different screens in the central interface. It is efficiently designed and saves you from fumbling around the interface looking for help — a real pleasure and a time saver.
The help offered includes answers to common questions, a help search bar and related additional information. If you haven't already upgraded to the Ask a Tax Pro feature — which provides unlimited chats and screen-sharing guidance with tax professional — the option to sign up will appear here.
Ask a Tax Pro starts at $39.99 and scales to $49.99, depending upon your tier of online service. You can also buy Tax Pro Review as a stand-alone online product, at $119.99 (the better value), or 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 the online help pane and text-chat technical support offering free, 24/7 guidance on using the product.
Ease of Use
The H&R Block online interface gets a refresh for this year to provide a compelling, friendly interface that takes some of the mystery out of the tax process. The interface's designers paid close attention to the details in this refresh, providing a unified, coherent experience with bold, clear fonts and lettering and language that's friendly without being too colloquial.
In fact, using the H&R Block service taught us a few things about the new tax code and how it affects us. This is because H&R Block manages to make taxes seem less threatening, while also referring to form numbers and terms that you might come across while tackling your return.
We appreciated how efficient H&R Block's interface was to navigate. Beside the help pane on the right, the main window is flanked by a left navigation pane and two top navigation bars — one which always gave access to help and price previews to see how much our return was going to cost. That second navigation bar lets you move through your federal and state returns and start the e-filing process.
We could import W2 info in a variety of different ways, including taking a picture and uploading it, and the program did a good job prompting us to add potential information as we moved through questionnaires in the different sections (Your Info, Income, Deductions, Credits, Taxes, Wrap-Up). We even liked how the service forced us to stay on target, and not jump out of order; this approach made it harder to miss adding something we needed to enter.
While H&R Block's program was largely consistent in behavior and presentation, we found a few inconsistencies as we navigated the interface — particularly when using different browsers — but nothing that was insurmountable or overly frustrating.
The cohesive, holistic H&R Block service interface, combined with the service's helpful guidance, value pricing and safety net of affordable tax pro help, makes this the tax preparation program the one to get when it's time to file your taxes.
Credit: Tom's Guide