With April 15 bearing down fast, individuals and businesses may start panicking over how to prepare their tax forms. Using do-it-yourself tax services can take the pain out of preparation. Choosing the right one seems daunting, but with a little financial service advice, taxes will be filed on time – and properly. There are no huge differences in the different tax preparation tools, according to The Motley Fool. However, some may be easier to use than others. Here are several to consider.
Intuit’s TurboTax software scored as the favorite in Lifehacker’s 2012 poll, and for good reason. TurboTax guarantees users the highest possible refunds, whether the user chooses the online, Windows, or Mac version, and comes in several flavors: a free basic version, a pricier deluxe version ($29.99), an even more expensive premier version ($49.99), a home and business version ($74.99) and a strictly business version ($149.99). TurboTax also has excellent customer support; users who are stuck can call its support team to get through issues, and the support team will even help users find other errors in their filings. TurboTax will also pay IRS penalties and interest if the software errs in its calculations, prioritizes the items needed to file and prepares state taxes simultaneously.
However, TurboTax is not without its pitfalls. It can be slow at times, prompt users to download unnecessary upgrades and provide excessive reminders of how to access help. Help answers also do not cover everything, and users who have complicated tax returns to file find difficulty when using the program.
For users with simpler returns, TaxSlayer may serve their needs perfectly. It offers guided or explore-it-yourself financial service advice options for things like income and deductions, and the guided option really helps those who are new to preparing their taxes. TaxSlayer also includes a life events guide, which includes home, family, job, business, investments and rentals. Additionally, it includes an audit meter that alerts users to potential red flags – but as with all risk meters, this does not predict whether or not an audit is imminent. Military personnel also can use TaxSlayer for free. TaxSlayer starts with a free version and offers a classic edition for $12.95 and a premium edition for $32.95.
Yet TaxSlayer lacks some of the more complex features found in other software packages, such as assisting with charitable deductions or industry-specific deductions. It does not have a percentage complete meter, which lets users see the light at the end of the tax preparation tunnel, nor does it include a user forum that lets users interact with peers and tax professionals. Support is also limited.
Another lesser-known program, TaxAct, offers federal filing for free regardless of income. Like TurboTax, TaxAct guarantees the maximum tax refund. It also allows for importing W2 forms from some payroll providers, includes a tool to prepare FAFSA applications and offers other tools such as TaxWatch, which shows users how they can lower their tax bills next year. Users can see what their refunds will amount to as they work, and the software offers advice on life events such as marriages, home purchases and job changes. TaxAct also offers financial services advice by asking about less-common events like repaying homebuyers’ incentives, for example. The free version really is free, and the deluxe edition is $12.95.
However, for those who want to speed through tax preparation, the guidance can seem overwhelming. Additionally, the free version does not include phone support, and users have found the help files confusing. Thoroughness also has its downside, as TaxAct asks users a lot of inapplicable questions.