While it’s typical to put off filing your taxes for as long as humanly possible, filing them on time is still something you should do if you don’t want to risk paying late penalties or exuberant interest costs on top of what you might owe. You can even potentially lose your refund after three years if you refuse to file in a timely fashion.
However, you don’t have to opt to get a personal accountant if you have a straightforward return. Filing online is quick, accurate, and yields a return directly to your bank account within 21 days, as opposed to the typical six weeks associated with paper filing. Plus, if it’s down to the wire, e-filing your taxes is far more convenient.
Below are our favorite methods for e-filing your taxes, so you can nab your return without ever leaving the comforts of your bed. For a look at more dedicated accounting software, check out our favorites.
Important 2020 update: The deadline to both file and pay federal income taxes has been extended to July 15, 2020. The IRS encourages low-income taxpayers and others who don’t generally file tax returns to wait so that it is easier to set up an “Economic Impact Payment” for them. The IRS Free File site (listed below) is a good place to go to receive continuing updates on this situation.
Credit Karma Tax
After adding tax services to its platform several years ago, Credit Karma has continued to make updates to its online tax filing that make it more streamlined and easier for newcomers. This includes the ability to import files from all major competitors, free audit checks and smart filing suggestions, and a refund guarantee of up to $100 if you don’t get the money back that the software expects.
There’s also excellent support in the form of 24/7 chat if you have any trickier questions. Fortunately, continuing improvements have made the interface increasingly easy to understand and use, even from more mobile devices, so it’s not likely you’ll get confused.
Overall, the fact that Credit Karma is completely free — the service doesn’t even take a cut of your return — and easy to use makes it the most convenient resource for people looking to file their tax returns online.
IRS Free File
The IRS’s Free File option is incredibly direct and fast, and it keeps slowly improving over the years to make it easier for the average taxpayer to use. Currently, the site offers two sections of free forms, one for those with an income of $69,000 and below, the other for those above that threshold. The below $69,000 option is particularly good because the IRS can help you choose the best filing options and link you with the right service. Free File is available through pretty much all major tax filing services (including those on this list), so you can use your preferred service while still filing for free. For the above $69,000 crowd, the IRS has you stay on a more limited Free File portal that gets you access to all forms you need along with some tips on what to do.
TurboTax stands its ground as the premier site for filing your taxes online. It’s a great option for both personal and small businesses, and you can even file your federal taxes for free using its IRS e-file system (state will cost you). The free edition contains many major forms, from the W-2 to the 1040EZ, with ample guidance and direction if you feel completely overwhelmed. The more advanced packages come bundled with step-by-step instructions and handle more intricate deductions such as home mortgages and various business expenditures, but can cost you more than $100 depending on what you plan to do with them. Regardless of which package you opt for, though, TurboTax features one of the sleekest interfaces around and robust support for importing W-2 and 1099 forms. Tax experts also provide expert advice when need be, as does the active user community
H&R Block is another solid alternative for e-filing your taxes online, but it doesn’t offer as in-depth help as some of its online competitors. Like TurboTax, the free edition also offers a vast array of forms and schedules. The software becomes more comprehensive and effective the higher up you go in price, bringing in step-by-step instructions and expanding the schedule lineup, but the site can prove cumbersome at times due to poor navigation tools.
Fortunately, filing is entirely free if you don’t need help, and if you are in over your head H&R makes it especially easy to switch to a real-world tax expert. Each tier still supports data import and deduction guidance, but paid tiers are best for taxpayers with more complicated portfolios, small business owners, and so on, with better customization options than most services. H&R is also at the forefront of interesting new technologies, like the ability to snap a photo of your tax docs to automatically upload the info into the right forms.
TaxACT’s tier pricing focuses on more unique needs than many competitors. One tier is designed for investments and rental property with a focus on added support for questions. Another tier is made for self-employed people who may have tax questions throughout the year. You can also pick what tags apply to your situation to have TaxACT recommend the best tier for you. The simplest tier is free (with states costing extra), but homeowners will have to pay at least $55 for their tier.
The service’s lackluster interface and navigation have improved over the years, taking, in particular, a lot of UX notes from Turbo Tax, so most users shouldn’t experience any problems. There’s also an extensive library of video and text assistance that spans an array of common tax issues regarding penalties and law. TaxACT also allows you to file your tax return out of sequence, which is rather nice if you want to skip a particular section and come back to it later.
TaxSlayer is a particularly affordable option, although its interface and navigation fall a bit short compared to alternatives. The low prices, however, make it easy for all tiers of users to get started at a low price, although you may have to spend more time understanding the menus and navigation than other software — there’s generally less hand-holding overall.
The service also provides email and phone support regardless of which package you choose, though, you won’t be able to pull last year’s data or talk with a tax professional unless you opt for one of the higher-tiered offerings. The built-in guidance will be enough for users filing a simple return, even if the help menu does often provide non-pertinent information and link out to a host of other sites, providing new or returning users a basic means for filing their taxes without consulting elsewhere.
eSmart Tax is Liberty Tax’s online tax software, and it’s very scalable while also making filing easy. The service can import tax data from large employers or rival tax software like TurboTax, so you can easily get all the info you need electronically. There’s a good combination of chat, email, community, and office support if you run into any complications. Three primary tiers, starting at $45, offer different services, adding extra tools for investments and home offices as you scale up. There’s also a “smart bundle” that professionals can buy that offers audit assistance, five-year storage of documents, and other extras.
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