In almost every analysis, TurboTax ranks high among tax software programs. TurboTax leads the pack because:
- It’s easy to use: Reviewers cite the software’s natural flow and simplicity. You can save your return-in-progress and access it from any device. The Q&A approach separates you from the grind of dealing with tax forms.
- It’s cutting edge: Industry-leading features such as the ability to import W2s by taking a picture keep TurboTax popular.
- It’s helpful: TurboTax’s process integrates customer service availability throughout the process. Now you can have real-time conversations with tax professionals online.
- It’s recognizable: Name recognition carries a lot of weight throughout the financial services industry, including online tax preparation. TurboTax advertises heavily before and during tax season.
Did you notice what’s missing from this list? Affordability. Tax filers pay lower fees on average with H&R Block, TaxAct, and TaxSlayer, which are three other industry leaders.
But not everyone fits into the average. Tax needs are specific to the taxpayer, and software platforms price their services differently.
You’ll need some closer inspection to see whether you could save.
TurboTax Pricing and Services
Before checking out its competition, let’s see where your state and federal returns would fit within TurboTax’s price structure. Please note the prices for each service below can and probably will change throughout the tax season.
- TurboTax Free Edition: You can file a federal 1040 and your state’s standard return for free with TurboTax, but only if you don’t plan to itemize your deductions. You can claim the standard deduction, the earned income tax credit, and the child tax credit with the free plan; adding any other deductions or credits will bump you into a paid plan.
- TurboTax Live Basic — $89.99 federal / $29.99 state: This plan takes the Free Edition but strengthens the customer service options, including TurboTax’s new on-demand video access to a tax professional.
- Deluxe — $59.99 federal / $39.99 state: Itemizers will need this level of service, though you still won’t be able to report income from rental properties or capital gains. Add Live (video access to a tax pro) to this plan for an extra $70.
- Premier — $79.99 federal / $39.99 state: Landlords and investors who report capital losses or gains will need this level of service. Add Live for an extra $100.
- Self-employed — $119.99 federal / $39.99 state: This service adds extra features for freelancers who have multiple sources of income; also ideal for independent contractors. Add Live for $90 extra.
Where TurboTax Stands Out
TurboTax excels at customer service. Yes, you’ll pay more to unlock the best features such as live help from a tax professional, but you’d probably still save when compared to hiring your own accountant.
Even without buying live help from a pro, TurboTax still builds in help throughout the filing process, including an easy-to-search knowledge base for specific questions.
TurboTax’s most expensive option, which is designed especially for freelancers and independent contractors, can help you track expenses throughout the year, making the process of preparing your taxes much easier.
Using TurboTax as a standard for comparison, let’s look at H&R Block, TaxAct, and TaxSlayer. We’ll use cost as a point of comparison, but also compare value and quality.
TurboTax vs H&R Block
H&R Block’s online services closely resemble TurboTax’s, though usually at a lower price point. H&R Block’s tiers usually break down like this:
- Free Edition: Even taxpayers who need Schedules 1-6 can file a free state and federal return with H&R Block. (You can add in help from an H&R Block tax pro for an extra $50).
- Deluxe — $49.99 federal / $36.99 state: H&R Block’s Deluxe plan works well for itemizing other than capital gains or rental property income. The Deluxe plan can still help some freelancers with simple expenses who plan to use Schedule C-EZ. (Add pro help for $80).
- Premium — $69.99 federal / $36.99 state: Planning to use Schedules D or E for capital gains or rental income? You’ll need this plan, and for an extra $90 you can add pro help
- Self-Empoyed — $104.99 federal / $36.99 state: Independent contractors, freelancers, side-hustlers, and anyone else with diverse sources of income, will need this level of service. Add pro help for $80.
H&R Block’s services generally cost a little less than TurboTax’s, even though the platforms resemble each other in many ways. So almost everyone could save a little.
Who can save big? If you’re filing a federal 1040 with Schedules 1-6 — which is true for many people with children or other dependents — you can still file for free with H&R Block. If you’d like the free plan but plan to access pro help, you can also save compared to TurboTax.
Who else could save big? Freelancers who plan to use Schedule C-EZ would have to buy a more expensive plan with TurboTax.
TurboTax vs TaxAct
TaxAct, another leading tax service, does not feature the same glossy, seamless feel you’ll experience with H&R Block or TurboTax.
It still gets the job done, though, and if you’re looking to save, the price point for TaxAct will be appealing.
Here are TaxAct’s current levels of service with prices that could, and probably will, change as tax season progresses:
- Basic: File the most basic state and federal returns for free with this plan; itemizing or utilizing Schedules 1-6 will bump you up to a paid plan. Unfortunately, saving tax data from year to year isn’t possible with this plan.
- Basic+ — $9.95 federal / $19.95 state: This option works just like the free plan except you can get professional help. Unlike H&R Block and TurboTax, you won’t be able to access real-time help. You can, however, ask questions and receive answers via email.
- Deluxe+ — $29.95 federal / $39.95 state: This is TaxAct’s least expensive plan for itemizers (Schedule A). You can also talk to a tax pro on the phone.
- Premier+ — $34.95 federal / $39.95 state: Property owners who earn income from rentals and investors with capital gains or losses to report will need TaxAct’s Premier+ level.
- Self-Employed+ — $49.95 federal / $39.95 state: Just like TurboTax and H&R Block’s highest plan, TaxAct’s Self-Employed+ plan helps freelancers, side hustlers, and independent contractors file.
Compared to TurboTax, and even H&R Block, TaxAct’s prices will catch the attention of anyone hoping to save money in fees.
At every level, TaxAct’s services cost less. If you plan to save as much money as possible by avoiding high fees, TaxAct may be for you.
However, if you plan to depend on customer service or expert tax help, you may not be as happy with TaxAct’s services.
TaxAct has improved in recent years but it still does not approach the level of customer care TurboTax and H&R Block can offer.
Who can save: Someone very familiar with tax preparation who just needs a simple conduit to the IRS will save with TaxAct.
TurboTax vs TaxSlayer
TaxSlayer offers another budget-friendly approach to online tax filing. You can save a lot in fees compared to TurboTax. TaxSlayer isn’t about only savings; the service also has a niche appeal to freelancers who have multiple sources of income.
TaxSlayer does things a little differently:
- Free: Like TurboTax and TaxAct, you can file a federal 1040 and a state return for free but not if you itemize or use Schedules 1-6.
- Classic — $17 federal / $29 state: Itemizers will need this level, and just about anyone — investors, landlords, and freelancers — could file with this plan.
- Premium — $37 federal / $29 state: Works like the Classic tier but the extra $20 gives you access to tech support and tax pros via chat.
- Self-Employed — $47 federal / $29 state: While the Classic and Premium tiers can handle returns for freelancers, the Self-Employed tier tacks on access to professional help designed specifically for self-employed filers.
- Ultimate — $57 federal / $29 state: With the Ultimate plan, you’ll get one-on-one help from a tax pro and extras like audit defense for three years and identity protection.
The majority of taxpayers who itemize can use TaxSlayer’s Classic tier, which could lead to significant savings over TurboTax and H&R Block.
Who can save most: Self-employed filers can get a lot for less with TaxSlayer. The software’s lowest paid level can handle most returns. If you’d like extra help, even the Self-Employed tier is a value.
Which TurboTax Alternative Should You Choose?
No company offers a one-size-fits-all approach to filing taxes. Yes, TurboTax’s online software leads the pack in user experience. Its questionnaire-based approach all but separates taxpayers from the nuts and bolts of tax forms.
TurboTax’s quick access to tax professionals in real time also sets it apart. If you’re looking for quality and simplicity and don’t mind paying for it, you should be happy with TurboTax.
Tax filers hoping to save on fees, though, can usually find adequate services from the other industry leaders. At times, other services will even provide better service at a lower price, for example:
- TaxSlayer’s Classic or Self-Employed tier for freelancers and independent contractors.
- H&R Block’s free filing even for 1040 Schedules 1-6.
- Any of TaxAct’s programs if you know exactly what you’re doing and won’t need help.
Whether you’re thinking about changing platforms, or whether you’re filing online for the first time, you’ll first need to assess your tax situation.
Knowing your needs will help you know whether you can file for free. If not, you’ll be able to identify which company’s paid plan can offer you the most value.