When it comes to tax software, TurboTax is the most ubiquitous name out there. Almost everyone I know who files their own taxes is using this software in 2019.
Does TurboTax really live up to the hype? Let’s find out. It’s time for the ultimate TurboTax review.
TurboTax Features for 2019
Wondering what you’re paying for when you choose TurboTax? Here are some of the most exciting perks TurboTax is offering this year:
TurboTax Live is an optional add-on to your TurboTax plan. For an extra fee, you receive guidance from professionals every step of the way. There are three huge benefits to purchasing TurboTax Live.
First, you receive on-demand help from Certified Public Accountants (CPAs) and Enrolled Agents (EAs). If you don’t use TurboTax Live, you still have on-demand help, but just from TurboTax specialists, not CPAs or EAs.
Second, you can access these CPAs and EAs all year. A lot of tax companies have extended customer service hours from January to April, then cut back after tax season. Not TurboTax! You have unlimited help from tax experts year-round with TurboTax Live.
Finally, these CPAs and EAs do a final review of your tax return before e-filing. This can calm your nerves about finally sending off that tax return you’ve toiled over.
So, is TurboTax Live worth the extra money? If you think your tax situation will be complicated this year, then it could be worth the investment.
Alex Ramsey, a graduate assistant at the University of Georgia, is a big advocate for TurboTax Live. His permanent address is in California, but he’s a student in Georgia.
“When I had a question about how to declare my state of residence, I was able to video chat with an official CPA who went through my taxes with me and found the form I needed,” Ramsey said.
Ramsey said it only took about an hour for someone to respond back after he requested a meeting, and that TurboTax kept him informed throughout the process.
“This was great, as I was very concerned about which form to use,” he said.
Snap a Photo of Your W-2
Simply download the TurboTax mobile app and snap a photo of your W-2. The app will input all your information from that photo. You don’t have to type out all of the information from your W-2.
Unfortunately, the W-2 is the only form you can do this with. It won’t work with a 1099.
Import Past Tax Information
If you used TurboTax the previous year, you can access that information, which makes the process even faster. If you used a different tax software in 2018, just upload a PDF of your information to use as a reference when you type out your information.
Yes, TaxAct and H&R Block have this feature, too. The big difference? TurboTax lets you see last year’s tax information even if you use the Free Edition. Those other companies make you upgrade to access last year’s tax return.
Are you getting audited by the IRS? It’s a scary feeling, to say the least!
TurboTax provides Audit Support for clients who are being audited and need guidance through the process from a tax professional. This service is available for every TurboTax plan.
TurboTax has already provided a lot of information for common audit questions, so you may not even need to talk to one of their tax experts.
Audit defense is different from audit support. With audit support, you just receive professional advice. Audit defense means TurboTax will legally represent you should you get audited by the IRS.
Audit support is automatically included when you sign up for TurboTax, but you’ll have to pay extra for audit defense. TurboTax uses MAX Defend and Restore for audit defense, and it will cost you $39.99.
Is audit defense even worth the purchase? Can’t you just represent yourself?
“A taxpayer that chooses to represent themselves in front of a tax agency has, in my opinion, a high likelihood of losing because they do not fully understand tax law nor the logistics of an audit,” Ben Rugg, CPA, said when we asked for his TurboTax audit defense review.
That’s why he thinks taxpayers ought to have some sort of protection in the case of an audit.
“This is especially important for self-employed taxpayers or small businesses, because their rate of audit is higher than that of other taxpayers,” he said.
Note on prices: Tax software providers frequently update prices during tax season. We have provided ranges to give you an idea of what to expect. Reference the TurboTax site for current prices before filing.
TurboTax Software Packages and Prices
The Free Edition
- Cost for federal: $0
- Cost for state: $0
This basic version is free for both state and federal tax returns. While this may seem obvious, some tax software companies advertise a free edition but still charge you for state returns.
The Free Edition is for simple tax returns, meaning the only tax form you’ll need is the new 1040 form the IRS put into place in 2019 (it has essentially replaced the 1040A and 1040EZ).
The Deluxe Edition
- Cost for federal: $30 to $40
- Cost for state: $39.99
This is TurboTax’s most popular online tax plan. You can itemize your deductions with Schedule A, which helps you receive tax breaks for being a homeowner and for donating to charities.
The Premier Edition
- Cost for federal: $60 to $80
- Cost for state: $39.99
This choice is great if you own investments or rental property. TurboTax Premier helps you fill out Schedule D, which reports your investment income.
The Self-Employed Edition
- Cost for federal: $90 to $120
- Cost for state: $39.99
This software is for people who work for themselves and have filled out a 1099 tax form. This includes side gigs like driving for Uber or freelance writing.
TurboTax Self-Employed helps you calculate your personal expenses that are associated with your work, such as gas mileage, a work space or a laptop. TurboTax will help you fill out your designated form, which is Schedule C.
If you want the TurboTax Live feature, you’ll end up paying a good bit more. The free version will no longer be free. It’s then referred to as the Basic Edition, which provides all the same services as the Free Edition with the addition of the Live feature. It will cost $49.99 for a federal return and $29.99 per state.
If you want to add on the TurboTax Live feature to the TurboTax Deluxe, Premier or Self-Employed Editions, you’ll pay $80 more for federal returns, but the cost of state returns will remain the same.
The Pros and Cons of TurboTax
What are the benefits of using TurboTax? What are the drawbacks?
The Pros of Using TurboTax
It has a ton of features. Audit support, audit defense and TurboTax Live are just a drop in the bucket when it comes to TurboTax’s features.
Their ItsDeductible feature helps you track your donations over the course of the year and calculate how much they’re worth. The My Analysis and Advice feature gives you tips on how to get the highest tax state and federal refund possible. You even have the option to pull up explanations for why certain things are the way they are.
It’s easy to use. TurboTax’s interface is extremely user-friendly. It tracks where you are in the tax preparation process and marks parts you need to come back to later.
Unlike competing software, you can jump around from page to page instead of going in order. This is helpful if you need to find the information for one page but don’t want the process to come to a crashing halt while you track down the answers.
TurboTax’s interview-style questions simplify the process and put a lot of filers at ease.
It even gives you the “green light” when everything is complete and you’re in the clear to submit.
The Con of Filing with TurboTax
The cost: Unless you sign up for the Free Edition, the main con of using TurboTax is the cost. The financial burden becomes greater if you sign up for TurboTax Live and audit defense.
For example, if you add TurboTax Live and audit defense to the TurboTax Free Edition, you’ll actually end up paying $119.97 ($49.99 federal + $29.99 state + $39.99 audit defense.)
On the more expensive side, if you add TurboTax Live and audit defense onto the TurboTax Self-Employed Edition, you’ll pay $249.97 to e-file your taxes. Ouch!
In 2017, the average taxpayer could expect to pay $273 to have their taxes filed by a CPA, according to the National Society of Accountants. So, even if you bought TurboTax’s Self-Employed Edition with TurboTax Live and audit defense, there’s still a good chance you’ll end up paying less than if you filed using a CPA.
However, you’ll end up paying more to file with TurboTax than with one of its competitors.
TurboTax vs. H&R Block vs. TaxAct
Many users who have left reviews consider TurboTax easier to use than H&R Block because it allows you to jump around in the tax preparation process instead of going in a certain order.
When it comes to competing with TaxAct, TurboTax is easier to use simply because it has so many features. TaxAct doesn’t have all these extra add-ons, which is probably why it’s significantly cheaper.
The table below compares these three online options by cost (federal and state filing), level of support offered and available tools.
Please note: Prices vary during tax season based on timing and special promotions; as we get closer to April 15, expect prices to go up. The table reflects pricing at time of publishing.
Another (not so) fun fact: The fee for filing state tax is for a single state. If you worked in multiple states or moved from one state to another in 2018, you will have to pay more than once to file with all necessary states.
|Price ranges provided. Tax software prices will fluctuate throughout tax season.|
|Costs for Federal||Free: $0
Deluxe: $22 to $50
Premium: $38 to $70
Self Employed: $60 to $104
Tax Pro Review: $119
|Free Edition: $0
Deluxe: $30 to $40
Premier: $60 to $80
Self Employed: $90 to $120
Basic+: $10 to $15
Deluxe+: $30 to $48
Premier+: $40 to $58
Self Employed+: $60 to $78
|Costs for State||Free: $0
All other plans: $36.99
|Free Edition: $0
All other plans: $39.99
All other plans: $39.95
|Level of Support||Ask a Tax Pro service (unlimited chat and screen share), price varies by package; Tax Pro Review for $119.99 federal and $36.99 state filings; free 24/7 tech support; brick-and-mortar locations for assistance, but that comes at a fee.||TurboTax Live Basic for $89.99 federal and $29.99 state (essentially is the free version of TurboTax but with on-demand video access to an actual tax professional, who provides a final review); video tutorials; in-app chat; etc.||Minimal, but increases with higher-tiered packages; ranges from online FAQs to phone and in-app chat, though reviews of these support options aren’t kind.|
|Tools||Can pay for Tax Pro Review; has good in-app tools (like W-2 import, a searchable database and links to important information).||Most user-friendly interface on the market; basic in-app tools (like W-2 import, chat/interview experience for filling out, etc.)||Basic in-app tools (like W-2 import and calculators); improved over previous years, but still rudimentary.|
TurboTax Review: Should You Use It?
TurboTax is arguably the best tax software out there. If you’re willing to pay a little but don’t want to drop a ton of cash for a tax professional, TurboTax could be for you.
However, if budget is a higher priority than bells and whistles, you may want to e-file with one of its competitors.
Worried about the price? Not sure which plan is for you? Here’s a tip: Start with the TurboTax Free Edition and add on if you find out you need to. You don’t have to start with the right online tax plan from the very beginning!
Laura Grace Tarpley is a freelance writer and editor at FluentU. She spends her free time playing with her puppies, Tuna and Gumbo. Follow her on Twitter @lgtarpley.
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