Intuit's TurboTax remains one of the most familiar names in tax-preparation software. The 2019 TurboTax family (which covers the 2018 tax year) forges ahead by offering eight online products to choose among — four each in the TurboTax and TurboTax Live product lines — with the program you pick depending on the complexity of your return and the amount of live support you require.
For this year's tax-preparation product, TurboTax added year-round access to experienced certified public accountants (CPAs) or enrolled agents (EAs) via video chat in addition to a review of your return before you file.
For this review, we started out using TurboTax Deluxe ($59.99 MSRP), the first paid tier of Intuit's tax prep product after the free version designed to handle uncomplicated returns.
TurboTax offers two types of online federal tax products: TurboTax and TurboTax Live, the latter of which adds live video chats with tax experts. Both TurboTax versions are split into four tiers: Basic (free; $79.95 for Live version), Deluxe ($59.99; $119.95 Live), Premier ($79.99; $169.99 Live) and Self-Employed ($119.99; $199.99 Live).
You don't pay anything up front; you pay at the time you file your return. 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).
MORE: H&R Block vs. TurboTax: Online Tax Services Compared
If you prefer to keep your tax data local instead of using an online service, Intuit also sells downloadable versions of TurboTax in four tiers. (Basic, $49.99; Deluxe, $79.99; Premier, $109.99; and Home & Business, $119.99). The downloadable product lets you electronically file, or you can print out and mail your return.
State tax filing costs $39.99 per state on all TurboTax products with two exceptions. You can file your state return for free in the TurboTax Basic online version when you use the new 1040 tax form. For TurboTax Live Basic, which includes live support, state filing costs $29.99.
TurboTax can import data from other Intuit products like QuickBooks. If you splurge for TurboTax Live Self-Employed, you can get a free year of QuickBooks Self-Employed. TurboTax supports calculating the tax on cryptocurrency transactions, too, something competitor H&R Block doesn't yet offer.
The free version handles tax situations like the earned income tax credit, the standard deduction, and basic interest and dividend income reflected on a 1099 form. For anything else, you need to opt for a different tier.
TurboTax's Deluxe product covers charitable donations and Schedule A (real-estate taxes and mortgage) deductions. If you have investments, you'll need the Premier level. And if you have a business or drive for Lyft or Uber, you'll need to jump to the Self-Employed tier.
TurboTax has a help pane on the right-hand side, but it covers over the Help search field along the top navigation bar. Online help lacks consistency: Some links open in the help pane at right, but some open as a pop-up that you have to close.
You can get technical help using any tier of the service, and even share your screen with a professional. But if you opt for TurboTax Live and need help during the tax-season crunch time, be prepared to jump through some hoops. You'll first be connected to a tech-support person, who can answer questions about the product but not give you tax advice as an EA or CPA can.
If you want a tax professional, the tech-support person will transfer you to whichever tax professional is available first. The call starts by phone, and then you can initiate one-way live video or screen sharing. On a February afternoon, I experienced a 1-hour wait for a call-back from a tax professional, not including the first step of connecting to a technical-support representative. On the plus side, TurboTax Live will now offer year-round access to tax pros for tax questions, though how that will work in practice remains to be seen.
One other bonus to using TurboTax Live: You'll have the option to let a tax pro review your return before you file.
Ease of Use
If you've used TurboTax or other Intuit online products before, you log in to this year's program using your Intuit credentials; new customers create an account. We began with the Deluxe product and filled out our return to see how the service handled any recommended upgrades.
While you can graduate up to Live or other higher-level products as you put together your return, we didn't see a way to go backward, which makes having so many offerings as a starting point confusing. Adding Live as a step-up feature might have helped make the process clearer to navigate.
We had other frustrations as we moved through filling out our return. TurboTax begins the process of asking you detailed questions to collect personal data. As elsewhere in the tax-return process, those questions are largely couched in plain English, but the English is often a little too colloquial for our tastes. (On one screen, TurboTax says, "There are 1,000s of industries, but only one you. Good thing we know both." Some may find that charming, but it can also can come off as contrived.)
Although TurboTax has a solid interface in general, in many cases, some screens feature a lot of unused white space that could have been used to provide more information; other screens were needlessly complex, requiring multiple fields and more clicks than you'd expect to enter data. Rival H&R Block offers a much better interface with its tax prep products.
Some steps also felt repetitive, such as when we answered questions in the initial sign-up, only to have to answer them again later in greater detail. 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. Instead, all we got was a standard upgrade option in the left navigation bar, which yielded no recommendations when we clicked through. The upgrade alert came only after we entered the information into what was the start of our return.
TurboTax can also feel a bit invasive. We received an avalanche of reminders to complete our return in time for early-bird pricing, and the company also asked us, during sign-up, to opt-in to sharing our tax data with our 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 queries, you're deposited into the home screen of the service, ready to fill out the details that will make up your tax return, starting with My Info — a more text- and fact-based version of the pre-screening. Before starting our return, TurboTax also served up an ad that plugged a $49.99 upgrade to its theft-monitoring and audit-defense service.
Once all of this is done, 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 a top navigation bar, which is divided into five tabs — Income & Expenses, Deductions & Credits, Health Insurance, Other Tax Situations, 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. But in our experience it only alerted to something obvious — like a missing employer identification number — as opposed to more subtle omissions, such as alerts about deductions common to your particular profession.
TurboTax isn't hard or unfriendly to use. But it feels like the experience could benefit from a holistic makeover to make it more cohesive, and require fewer clicks to get the job done. While TurboTax tries to walk you through your taxes using plain language, that leads to less clarity on the actual tax terms and the lingo itself.
TurboTax remains a strong choice for online taxes, though, and the Live option provides multiple layers of assistance for those with more complex tax-return needs and questions year-round.
Credit: Tom's Guide