So most people should check out IRS Free File if your income is ≤$72,000. It’s a partership between the IRS and tax software companies; the companies agree to support at least some (if not all) common forms (but can also set an AGI below $72,000 for their editions). These are the forms/schedules Free File editions can support. You can browse offers here.
And note since the 1040 became “postcard size”, a lot of the questions simply moved from the 1040 to three new schedules (1-3), and some tax programs charge extra to use these now. That’s why some things that were usually free before 2018 (adjustments, like student loan interest) may now be part of a pay edition.
For reviews, I’ve used the following – note prices here are for federal only; state is going to typically add $15-$35. Prices should include e-file for each return.
The ever-popular TurboTax is easy to use, has app support (multiple apps for self employed, tracking, etc), and includes live support. Reviewing and updated figures is easy, and you can import PDF’s of W-2’s. Intuit owns them, and they can pull information (like investment returns) from 300 different brokerages. They are about the most expensive, though. I use them every year as a double-check (fill out all forms, don’t actually file)
- Free which includes W-2 income, “limited” interest or dividends, standard deduction, Earned Income Credit, Child tax credits, unemployment income on 1099-G
- Deluxe: For itemized deductions ($40)
- Premier: For people with rental or investment income ($70)
- Self employed: For self employed ($90)
My go-to for most of the last decade, although it used to only be half the cost of TurboTax. If we baseline TurboTax at 10, TaxAct is like an 8. Software is good, but it can be hard to review and change things, as they like to lock you into ‘streams’ of Q&A. They also have PDF upload and can link to some investment sites (Robinhood and Bettermint, but not Vanguard, Schwab, Fidelity)
- Free – W-2, Unemployment, Child Tax Credit, Earned Income, Stimulus
- Deluxe – Itemized deduction, student loan interest, child & dep care, HSA ($25)
- Premier – investments and property income ($35)
- Self employed – $65
We use the TaxSlayer at our IRS/VITA tax volunteer branch, and it’s similar to their commercial version. Perfectly serviceable, and the pricing is very attractive now. Online Q&A is similar TurboTax. Overall, just bit simpler/less flashy, which isn’t a bad thing.
- Simply Free – W-2, unemployment income, student loan interest
- Premier – Covers “all tax situations”, no restrictions ($17)
- Premium – Priority phone and email support, and chat ($37)
- Self employed – $47
FreeTaxUSA – I used this one year, and I liked it; just not quite as friendly as the top two choices here, but if you have simple taxes, I’d say this is fine. Free edition includes everything, Deluxe includes support ($7).
Manual (free fillable forms) – I also used to file manually, but that was before the internet was really a thing. I don’t see much reason to do it now, other than to save money.
CPA: Last year I had a significant financial and tax situation involving eminent domain, so I used a CPA for the first time. It’s difficult to assess – he used my inputs, and we talked strategies, and I was hoping for more ‘wizardry’ I guess in terms of his ideas. Although in the end, the strategy we used resulted in significant tax savings, and at the very least, I liked having him at least sign off on what we did, although I don’t remember who came up with the main crux of it.
- If you have time, your taxes with two different programs. If your refund is off by more than $1, you made a mistake somewhere (assuming not self employed, software can handle amortizations differently). Even being a tax nerd, I find I usually have a mistake my first try. The IRS can and will correct typos (mismatch on a W-2) but why wait for them?
- After your first year, doing taxes with a product is half the work – they all remember last year’s information so there’s less typing. Also, some places offer PDF import of previous years’ 1040 (TurboTax, TaxAct does this I know).
- If you don’t own a business or have a specific big tax event, a CPA is not needed. But, if you’re clueless about taxes, and are not diligent with answering the software questions, it may be worth doing once just to make sure you know if you qualify for something like an education credit. Big credits out there for education (AOTC, LLC, student interest deduction), energy (lots of state credits here, too), low income (Earned Income), etc.
this comment heavily borrowed from my same one last year, but updated/cleaned up, and I sought out unemployment information as that applies to many more people
Disclaimer: This content does not necessarily represent the views of IWB.