return and file it electronically with the IRS.
But taxpayers looking for more convenience, such as the ability to import data from last year's return, will need to pony up some money. TaxAct is the leader when it comes to pricing. The Deluxe Federal Edition of TaxAct costs $12.95, and it allows you to import the previous year's TaxAct data.
TurboTax offers four premium online versions, including Basic for $34.99 up to Home & Business for $99.99. Paying more gives consumers a bit more guidance in filing out their returns as well as the ability to store last year's returns online on Intuit's servers. The best value is likely to buy the software on disk in a store. TurboTax also offers four products that range in price from $69.99 to $159.99, but they all include state filing, which the online versions charge extra for.
Generally, H&R Block At Home and TurboTax are priced very similarly. Some higher-price offerings might be worthwhile, especially if a taxpayer's return is complicated.
H&R Block, for instance, has a $99.95 offering. That premium service not only includes the top version of the software, but the fee also includes the ability to have the return looked over by an H&R Block tax professional.
Consumers who buy this package also get assigned a tax professional to work with if there's an audit.
--Beware the costs to file state returns. All the tax-preparation software programs offer free federal filing, knowing that the real money is to be made with the state filing. It's critical to consider the additional costs associated to get access to the modules of the software and websites to prepare state returns. There's also an extra cost to electronically file the state returns.
For instance, a typical user of TurboTax may opt for TurboTax Online Deluxe for $49.99. But the cost for the state module is $39.99, bringing the total cost to $89.98.
Consumers can get the state module for free if they buy TurboTax Deluxe on disk for $69.99. But there's an additional fee of $19.99 to file the state return electronically.
Cost-conscious consumers can avoid the $19.99 filing fee by just printing the return and paying for postage.
Using TaxAct Ultimate Bundle, the total cost is $19.95, which includes electronic filing for federal and state returns.
Meanwhile, H&R Block Deluxe costs $49.95, and the $39.95 cost for a state return brings the total cost to $89.90.
--Consider personal taste. Given all the variables in individual tax situations, it's often a matter of taste and situation that will determine which product will be best.
TurboTax is the market leader, and the interface is pretty slick. But TaxAct is one of the few to offer a downloadable free product that can be installed.
While the options are plentiful, the good thing is that it doesn't cost anything to try any of them. It's not a bad idea to test drive the software programs' online versions to see which one suits you best.
H&R Block comes at the design as a tax company, not a software-development firm, giving it a different feel, says Sandee Astrachan, lead product manager at H&R Block.
The bottom line is, despite the overly complicated web of versions and fees, doing your own taxes using software is very possible and will save money.
"People don't have to pay a lot to do their taxes," TaxAct spokeswoman Jessi Dolmage says.
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