While it’s typical to put off filing your taxes for as long as humanly possible, filing them on time is still something you should do if you don’t want to risk paying late penalties or exuberant interest costs on top of what you might owe. You can even potentially lose your refund after three years if you refuse to file in a timely fashion.
However, you don’t have to opt for a personal accountant if you have a straightforward return. Filing online is quick, accurate, and yields a return directly to your bank account within 21 days, as opposed to the typical six weeks associated with paper filing. Plus, if it’s down to the wire, e-filing your taxes is far more convenient.
Below are our favorite methods for e-filing your taxes, so you can nab your return without ever leaving the comforts of your bed. For a look at more dedicated accounting software, check out our favorites.
Important 2020 update: The deadline to both file and pay federal income taxes has been extended to July 15, 2020. The IRS encourages low-income taxpayers and others who don’t generally file tax returns to wait so that it is easier to set up an “Economic Impact Payment” for them. The IRS Free File site (listed below) is a good place to go to receive continuing updates on this situation.
Credit Karma Tax
Last year, Credit Karma announced that it had purchased the AFJC Corporation, expanding Credit Karma’s outreach from credit score analysis to tax filing. The first version of Credit Karma Tax features a clean, navigable interface with a horizontal toolbar at the top of the screen. This divides the process into three distinct sections — Basic Info, Federal Taxes, and State Taxes. Like the other services on this list, Credit Karma Tax also handles an an array of standard forms and schedules (i.e.,W-2, 1040, 1099-MISC).
One of the main drawbacks to the service is that does not allow you to upload your tax data from a rival service. Also, while the tried-and-true tax services have years of experience fielding digital “help desk” questions, this is Credit Karma’s first time around the block. It is easy to become lost or confused when trudging through the semantic tempest that is the U.S. tax system, and many of the other tax services do a better job of conveniently hyperlinking or defining the more complex jargon, thus minimizing error potential and you’re need to scour the web for additional info.
Yes, there are a few kinks in the first version of Credit Karma Tax, however, unlike many of the other services on this list, Credit Karma Tax includes free state filing. For years Credit Karma has made money using its credit service to suggest credit cards and loans to users for a commission. This new tax apparatus gives Credit Karma more insight into an individual’s overall income to more aptly match a person with a lender, and, by extension, leads to more commissions.
Overall, the fact that Credit Karma is completely free — the service doesn’t even take a cut of your return — and fairly easy to use makes it the most convenient resource for people looking to file their tax returns online.
IRS Free File
The IRS’s Free File option is incredibly direct and fast, and it keeps on slowly improving over the years to make it easier for the average taxpayer to use. Currently, the site offers two sections of free forms, one for those with an income of $69,000 and below, the other for those above that threshold. The below $69,000 option is particularly good because the IRS can help you choose the best filing options and link you with the right service. Free File is available through pretty much all major tax filing services (including those on this list), so you can use your preferred service while still filing for free. For the above $69,000 crowd, the IRS has you stay on a more limited Free File portal that gets you access to all forms you need along with some tips on what to do.
TurboTax stands its ground as the premiere site for filing your taxes online. It’s a great option for both personal and small businesses, and you can even file your federal taxes for free using its IRS e-file system (state will cost you). The free edition contains many major forms, from the W-2 to the 1040EZ, with ample guidance and direction if you feel completely overwhelmed. The more advanced packages come bundled with step-by-step instructions and handle more intricate deductions such as home mortgages and various business expenditures, but can cost you more than $100 depending on what you plan to do with them. Regardless of which package you opt for, though, TurboTax features one of the sleekest interfaces around and robust support for importing W-2 and 1099 forms. Tax experts also provide expert advice when need be, as does the active user community
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H&R Block is another solid alternative for e-filing your taxes online, but it doesn’t offer as in-depth help as some of it online competitors. Like TurboTax, the free edition also offers a vast array of forms and schedules. The software becomes more comprehensive and effective the higher up you go in price, bringing in step-by-step instructions and expanding the schedule lineup, but the site can prove cumbersome at times due to poor navigation tools. Each tier still supports data import and deduction guidance, though, along with an extensive refund program that allows you to put a portion or all of your refund on an Emerald Card. With this option, your refund will be available within 21 days.
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TaxACT’s best selling point is its rock-bottom pricing, which sadly, comes at the expense of advanced features and cleanliness. It’s a bit more barebones than some of the more popular competitors, but both the free and paid editions offer almost the same set of features, including your standard forms and schedules (i.e. 1040, 1040A, 1040EZ). Opting for the premium versions will grant you access to more features — such as tax data from prior years, donation assistance, and robust phone support — but the free federal edition is still worthwhile if you’re exempt from paying state taxes. The service’s lackluster interface and navigation leave much to be desired, too, yet it still touts an extensive library of video and text assistance that spans an array of common tax issues regarding penalties and law. TaxACT also allows you to file your tax return out of sequence, which is rather nice if you want to skip a particular section and come back to it later.
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TaxSlayer is another affordable option, but it’s pretty limited in its capabilities and scope. The service isn’t very conversational, particularly given the user interface is sorely outdated and lacks any sort of comprehensive context, but it remains one of the more inexpensive packages and boasts support for an excellent range of IRS forms (i.e. W-2, 1040, Schedule EIC). The service also provides email and phone support regardless of which package you choose, though, you won’t be able to pull last year’s data or talk with a tax professional unless you opt for one of the higher-tiered offerings. The built-in guidance will be enough for users filing a simple return, even if the help menu does often provide non-pertinent information and link out to a host of other sites, providing new or returning users a basic means for filing their taxes without consulting elsewhere. Still, the service is in dire need of a more inclusive walkthrough for some of the more complex operations — one more appropriate for businesses and small entrepreneurs.
Web Mobile Apps
eSmart Tax is Liberty Tax’s online tax software, and it’s very scalable while also making filing easy. The service can import tax data from large employers or rival tax software like TurboTax, so you can easily get all the info you need electronically. There’s a good combination of chat, email, community, and office support if you run into any complications. Three primary tiers, starting at $45, offer different services, adding extra tools for investments and home offices as you scale up. There’s also a “smart bundle” that professionals can buy that offers audit assistance, five-year storage of documents, and other extras.