9 Best Professional Tax Preparation Software Programs 2015-2016

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Before you choose an online tax preparation company, review the pros and cons of each of the major players below. The advertising blitz is on for your tax preparation dollars. The best deals, however, are with software firms that don't need to spend a lot on advertising to grow their business.

We will review costs and services provided for HRBlock/TaxCut, TurboTax, RapidTax, TaxSlayer, TaxAct, TaxBrain, 1040.com, CompleteTax, and EZTaxReturn. At the end of this article, the software reviewed will be ranked from best to worst based on all factors covered. Your tax return covers an entire year's income. Only the best tax software will do. This article will cover issues of cost, accuracy, ease of use, and reliabilty.

H&R Block and TaxCut

HRBlock advertises the most and is the most popular online tax service. You can import previous tax data from TurboTax and TaxCut.

Pros: HRBlock online tax software offers 5 choices of service at different costs. They offer a limited free filing service. Audit coverage is provided at a cost. Advanced tools are available on more expensive plans.

Cons: The extra choices add to an already complex software with too many choices. It seems like HRBlock has worked hard to maximize revenue at your expense. Several annoying requests for refund loans and similar services add to your cost if purchased. At a cost of up to $99.95 (extra for state returns), HRBlock is not a value. At this price you can have an accountant do it for you beginning to end. H&R Block also lost their refund loan bank. If you need a refund loan, use 1040.com. The link is below.

TurboTax

TurboTax, like all software reviewed, guarantees accuracy and the maximum refund. TurboTax is published by Intuit, maker of QuickBooks.

Pros: TurboTax has a comprehensive service that includes online preparation of corporations, partnerships, and LLCs, in addition to individual income tax returns. Limited free filing service is available. They also have an audit support center. TurboTax has the best free file program.

Cons: TurboTax has a more cluttered feel to their website. They are cheaper than HRBlock, but still charge up to $74.95, plus additional charges for state returns. The TurboTax website is slow at times and adds to frustrations. Like HRBlock, they offer overpriced and unneeded bank products.

RapidTax

Pros: RapidTax has an open and easy to use platform and is user friendly. You can file returns from previous years. Live chat and email support are a bonus with RapidTax.

Cons: Audit support and professional review is expensive. States are expensive and are in addition to fees for the federal return. You pay RapidTax to store a copy for three years so don't lose your copy.

TaxSlayer

Pros: Active duty military people can file their taxes for free. Fees are reasonable and should appeal to those that qualify for free-file.

Cons: TaxSlayer is a low grade tax program. For easy returns, the price is right. Audit assistance only. Ouch. The price can't overcome the other negatives of this tax software and doesn't have a user-friendly feel.

TaxAct

Pros: Business and individual returns are offered with a money-back guarantee. Free file is available for very simple returns. Free email and phone support. Previous year's software available.

Cons: Price is right for the simplest returns, but annoying bank loan features cost significantly more. As we've seen with many low-cost online tax software, you get what you pay for. Audit support only. You will need a solid understanding of taxes to prepare your return with TaxAct. Still, a solid value for a few.

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TaxBrain

Pros: Audit services include payment of up to $4000 in federal and state assessments in an audit. The questionnaire and worksheets are easy to fill out, making preparation a cinch.

Cons: Audit service agreement has enough outs to save Taxbrain from paying most tax assessments. Very expensive preparation fees at $69.95, plus $29.95 for states.

1040.com

Pros: 1040.com is the easiest online tax preparation program I reviewed. The program doesn't ask irrelevant questions. Lowest cost and simple returns are free. The largest tax returns cost under $40. File as many states as needed for one price. Bank products offered, but not invasive. Questions answered by a local tax professional if tax questions arise. Audit protection is handled by local tax experts (CPAs and enrolled agents). Has the best audit protection program on the market. Of all online software reviewed, 1040.com has the best value. If you can only choose one software, this is the one. Free refund estimator available year round.

Cons: I hate refund loans and 1040.com has them like everyone else. Stick with direct deposit and have your refund in as little as a week.

CompleteTax

Pros: Free file available for simple returns. GainsKeeper compatible. Tax resources, financial calculators, tax news and alerts are nice additions to their services.

Cons: Difficult to navigate and overpriced at $49.95, plus $24.95 for a state return. Price changes throughout tax season.

EZTaxReturn

Pros: Easy to use for those with little or no tax knowledge. Free newsletter and audit alerts. Referral program if you want to recommend family or friends.

Cons: Very basic software. They brag that you need no tax knowledge which is never a good idea when filing taxes. Online resources are thin. Cost is high for what you get.. They also sell fill-in forms; they are free at the IRS website, www.irs.gov. Copies of a tax return cost $9.95 after May 15.

Ranking

Several factors were used to determine the order of the following list. Price, ease of use, and additional hidden fees are the most important. Also considered, but less important, are: layout, research, audit services, and support.

1.) 1040.com Ease of use, low cost, and no hard-sell on bank products makes 1040.com the best. They don't advertise. They are supported by a network of over 28,000 professional tax preparation offices nationwide.

2.) TaxAct: Low cost and ease of use cannot trump the multiple efforts to add to your preparation bill.

3.) RapidTax: Low cost, ease of use and the opportunity to file previous years played in ranking RapidTax third.

4.) TaxSlayer: Low cost is TaxSlayer's biggest benefit. Concern over the software quality reduced the ranking a notch. Lack of a firm audit protection program hurts, too.

5.) EZTaxReturn: The opportunity to earn money on referrals coupled with reasonable cost is EZTaxReturn's biggest advantage.

6.) TaxBrain: High cost, but a compelling audit protection program. It is doubtful TaxBrain will pay many tax assessments from an audit. High level of online complaints.

7.) CompleteTax: Average program and fee is a little high, but nice financial calculators and research resources.

8.) TurboTax: The two biggest are also the biggest disappointments. TurboTax is cheaper than HRBlock/TaxCut, but still has a very high price with invasive attempts to add to an already bloated fee. They have name recognition and charge heavy for it. Software is excellent if you have the time to wade through the endless sales pitches.

9.) HRBlock/TaxCut: Easily the worst tax preparation offer on the market. Their price is so high you are better off visiting a local CPA and having it done for you. The effort needed to navigate the program adds frustration when coupled with the price. Solid program if you don't throw your computer out the window first. Name recognition allows HRBlock to charge the way they do. Not worth the headaches or cost.

Summary

A link has been provided for 1040.com only. They are the best when compared side by side with other industry leaders. Use the above ranking when researching where you want to prepare your tax return.

Here is to a happy return.

Which tax software did you use to prepare your last tax return?

  • Complete Tax
  • TurboTax
  • TaxCut
  • 1040.com
  • TaxAct
  • RapidTax
  • Tax Slayer
  • EZTaxReturn
  • TaxBrain
  • Pen and paper
  • Hired a pro
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