Intuit’s TurboTax family of personhas a history of excellence that goes back more than 25 years. This year’s product line continues that tradition. TurboTax packs a lot of substance as well as style into its products. It offers thorough coverage of tax topics in an easy-to-follow interview format, and its support is top-notch.
Intuit continuously refines TurboTax to make it as fast, friendly, and comprehensive as possible. The latest version continues to be proactive in dealing with the financial ramifications of COVID-19, offering help with related issues like unemployment and stimulus payments.
Additionally, TurboTax has emphasized three versions of its app this year to respond to taxpayers’ needs. First, TurboTax Premier supports advanced features for investments, particularly. Second, TurboTax Self-Employed has been improved to better serve microbusinesses and , seeing as there are more of them since the start of the pandemic. The Self-Employed version now looks for more than 500 tax deductions, some of which are industry-specific. Third, TurboTax Live Full Service matches taxpayers with a dedicated tax expert who prepares their returns based on uploaded documents, and this version provides more personal, accessible services than before. The matching process is more targeted, and the pool of tax professionals has grown.
Note that we haven’t yet assigned a rating to TurboTax, as we are still in the process of evaluating its competition. Don’t worry, we’ll return to this preview well before tax time!
How Much Does TurboTax Cost?
Intuit is offering a new service with a very tight deadline for filers with simple 2021 returns. If you file by February 15, 2022, you can use TurboTax Free Edition, TurboTax Live Basic, or TurboTax Live Full Service Basic for free. The offer is limited to taxpayers who will claim the standard deduction and have no more than these tax situations: W-2 income, limited interest and dividend income, the Earned Income Tax Credit, child tax credits, and the student loan interest deduction.
TurboTax’s prices for DIY federal returns have dropped by a dollar for the 2021 tax year, though the cost of state returns has gone up, making them now $50 each. The company is once again offering its Free Edition (free federal and state for 1040 filers; includes support for the W-2 form, the Earned Income Credit, and child tax credits).
TurboTax Deluxe currently costs $59 for federal taxes. It adds Schedule A, letting you figure out whether you’ll itemize or take the standard deduction. You’ll need TurboTax Premier ($89 for federal taxes) if you have to report investment income and rental property. This version has been improved for 2020 to meet the more sophisticated needs of investors. TurboTax Self-Employed ($119 federal) lets you record income and expenses on a Schedule C and includes special guidance and features for self-employed individuals—along with a year’s subscription to QuickBooks Self-Employed. State returns cost $39 for those three versions.
When looking at prices for filing a tax return with other services, TurboTax remains the most expensive one we’ve seen.and (formerly Credit Karma Tax) are still totally free for federal filing (FreeTaxUSA charges $12.95 for state), though they lack the usability and support that makes TurboTax so exceptional. , which has traditionally been TurboTax’s closest competitor, charges $49.99 for its Deluxe Online version ($36.99 per state filing). Deluxe is $24.95 ($44.95 per state filed.
Many tax websites, including TurboTax, start the tax season with low prices that increase as the filing deadline gets closer, so these prices are expected to change. Our review is based on deal pricing. Increases usually start in March.
TurboTax Live and Full Service
TurboTax Live is a slightly different animal, one that Intuit introduced three years ago. It connects you to a tax expert via video chat. This person can see your screen if you allow it and they do a line-by-line review of your tax return. You can communicate with them all year long, so they can help with tax planning during the offseason.
The Live edition of TurboTax comes in eight tiers, though they’re split into two major groups: Live and Live Full Service. Which one you choose depends on what types of forms you need to file and how much help you might need. Here I summarize the Live Deluxe and Live Deluxe Full Service to give you an idea of what they include and how much they cost.
TurboTax Live Deluxe costs $119 ($49 per state filing) at this writing, but it may go up. Though TurboTax Live is a standalone offering, you can add it on even if you’ve already started preparing your taxes using any product in the TurboTax line (at different prices for each). So essentially, you get a person who looks over your completed return. H&R Block offers a similar service that allows you to communicate year-round with a certified public accountant, enrolled agent, or H&R Block tax expert.
TurboTax Live Full Service ($249 for the Deluxe version and $49 state, as of this writing) connects you to a tax expert who prepares your return for you, based on tax documents that you provide them by uploading to the site. The preparer goes over it with you when it’s done, answers any questions you have, then has you e-sign and e-file your return. Tax advice is available year-round. Again, H&R Block has a similar option, and again it costs less than TurboTax.
A Familiar Format
Many personal tax preparation services still use a format similar to the one Intuit introduced for its desktop software products in 1993. And with good reason: It works beautifully, saving time, easing frustration, and dramatically reducing errors. Instead of shifting your attention between the Form 1040, related forms and schedules, IRS instructions, and third-party reference books, you go through the tax preparation screens one at a time in a logical order.
Though TurboTax originated this trend of using a wizard-based approach to tax preparation, the practice has evolved substantially over the years. The service alternates between stepping you through a Q&A and displaying a list of available tax topics. You provide an answer, click a button to advance to the next screen, and keep answering and clicking until the service says you’re done. Next, it combs through your return, lets you fix any problems, and helps you file or print the finished product after you pay for your federal (and state, if needed) returns.
All this time, you never have to look at an IRS form or schedule, because TurboTax and its competitors complete them for you in the background. What you do see is expert help in the form of simply worded explanations of tax concepts throughout the process.
A Unique Personality
Every tax preparation service has a personality of its own, made up of its tone, user interface, and skill at guiding you through its process without confusion.
TurboTax’s personality is on display from the start, even before you start filling in dollar amounts. It takes a conversational and friendly tone. You may like this friendliness, especially if you’re nervous about your taxes or this is your first time using a tax prep site. Other users may just want to get on with it. In any case, the extra chumminess isn’t overdone, nor will it slow you down (usually).
Getting Started With TurboTax
Once you create an account or sign in with an existing one, TurboTax helps you select the correct version for your 2021 taxes. It displays several life situations that might affect taxes (owning a home, having children, selling stock, paying off student loans, etc.) and recommends the best solution for you. Once you’ve entered the site, it asks how you did your taxes last year and helps you import that data from TurboTax or another personal tax preparation website. Then, it asks you a second time to indicate which life situations apply to you. Finally, you get a list of the topics you identified as well as the tax documents you’ll need for each, which is very helpful. It also supplies tax tips for some topics.
If you’re using TurboTax for the first time, you have to provide answers to the site’s questions about your personal background, including your address, Social Security number, and occupation, along with several other queries about you and others on the return. If you’ve used TurboTax before, the information appears automatically. If you’re new to the site, you can automatically fill in some of that data by scanning the barcode of your driver’s license or state ID.
When you come to issues that may be confusing, like filing status and dependents, TurboTax Deluxe asks questions and provides extra guidance, just as sites likedo. As you finish, you see a summary of your personal information. The service also asks whether you want to subscribe to MAX Defend and Restore, which includes full audit representation, priority care, and help with identity theft monitoring and identity restoration for $49 for the tax year.
At this point, you’re ready to move on to the meat of the site: entering your income, identifying your deductions and credits, and taking care of other tax-related situations. TurboTax, like some competitors, tries to streamline and accelerate data entry where possible. For example, you can import W-2 data if your employer supports this option or upload a copy of your W-2 to automatically fill in the details. Reporting interest from a Form 1099-INT is similar. You can upload a copy of the form or you may be able to import the information directly from your bank. Where these options aren’t available, you click through related clusters of questions. Other times, you fill in blank fields.
A Clean, Lean Look
TurboTax has pared down its user interface considerably over the years. It looks great and provides access to the tools you need. A vertical navigation bar on the left divides the site into My Info, Federal, State, Review, and File. It also has links to other tax tools, including an outline of the site’s content and a searchable alphabetical list of tax forms and schedules. Here you can flag a page if you want to remember it for later. You can access this same information from the main screen, similar to the bookmarks in TaxAct.
I expected to see these links featured more prominently since they’re important. As it is, you have to click the Tax Tools link at the bottom of the left vertical pane and then click the barely visible Tools button beneath it. I recommend you familiarize yourself with these areas, as they’re likely to come in handy.
The bulk of the screen is reserved for the site’s actual data-gathering questions and answers. Two icons (Search and Help) in the upper right open a pane that slides over from the right side and thankfully does not obstruct your view of the current page. More on Search and Help later. Another link opens a screen containing information about upgrading to TurboTax Deluxe Live.
Providing the Details
TurboTax Deluxe takes a path similar to the one you’d take if you were working your way through Form 1040. It first asks about income, then deductions and credits, then other tax situations. As you move into the income section, the site asks questions about income you might have. If you answer yes to some of these questions, you get kicked to a more expensive version of TurboTax.
Next, it displays a list of all the income topics that might apply to you. If you think anything is missing, you can ask to see the whole list, including Wages and Salaries, Unemployment, and Interest and Dividends. Click the Start button next to one of these (like Other Common Income), and a multiscreen wizard opens that provides more information, asks questions, and provides blank fields or multiple-choice lists for your answers.
When you’re finished with one income type, you click Done to go back to the income list. The Start button next to the topic you just completed changes to Edit/Add, which allows you to go back and make changes. Once you’ve visited all the entries that apply to you, you click Wrap up Income to move on.
The other two main sections of TurboTax (Other Tax Situations and Deductions & Credits) work the same way. If you make your way through your tax return sequentially, answering all the questions, you shouldn’t get lost, even if you have to use the Back button occasionally. You can always use the Topic List if you have to return to a section you already visited.
TurboTax encourages you to provide more thorough documentation than some competing sites, such as Cash App Taxes, and that could be a lifesaver if you’re ever audited. When you enter charitable donations, for example, it asks you to select things such as the type, the recipient, amount, and frequency.
TurboTax is the only tax preparation website we’ve reviewed that walks you through the process of recording a cryptocurrency sale, though the tools were not ready to go as of our initial testing time. H&R Block says it will also let you record cryptocurrency profits, but none of its tools were ready in the preview version either.
Help From Intuit
Before the days of online tax prep services, there was one advantage to using the actual IRS instructions to do your taxes: They were comprehensive. They may have been difficult to understand if you weren’t a tax preparer, but the answer to your question was in there somewhere.
You really couldn’t expect personal tax prep websites to be so all-encompassing. They’d collapse under the weight of all that tax code. But the explanatory content on these sites has been revised and expanded so many times over the years that it’s usually easy to understand. TurboTax does an especially good job at being clear. TurboTax often provides brief and simple explanations of tax topics while asking you questions. Many hyperlinked words and phrases open windows containing additional detail.
Often a question mark or Learn More link opens context-sensitive help in the right vertical pane. Sometimes, TurboTax even guesses that you might have a question and provides related FAQs. Competing sites work similarly, but TurboTax and H&R Block Deluxe are the best at this. H&R Block, in fact, changes the content of the right vertical pane every time you open a new screen, so what’s displayed there is always context-sensitive. In TurboTax, you have to click a link to get it to change. It’s a critical difference between the two sites.
When you click the question mark link at the top of a page, the TurboTax Assistant opens in the right pane. It’s an interactive tool that lets you enter a question and see links to corresponding FAQs and other site-related information. It converses with you in a friendly manner and walks you through your query until you’re satisfied or need to call Intuit. H&R Block Deluxe has a similar tool, as well as phone support, where both English and Spanish speakers are available to help.
Though the TurboTax Assistant might meet your needs, I found it faster to click the Search link and enter a phrase or question. The vertical pane that opens articles and FAQs might answer your question and might not because it doesn’t seem to prioritize the best or most commonly sought answers. Much of the content comes from Intuit itself, but some of the responses come from TurboTax’s online community. This means that the answer could come from Intuit staff, but it might also come from a non-professional who was visiting the community. In some cases, these responses clutter up the list of search results, which doesn’t happen in H&R Block Deluxe.
There’s another help feature that I like a lot: On many pages, you see the phrase “explainwhy” [sic] after you’ve completed a section. Click it, and TurboTax explains briefly what led up to a particular answer, based specifically on your situation.
Checking Your Work
When you’ve come to the end of your data-entry chores, TurboTax Deluxe’s final review, called Smart Check, examines your return for accuracy. If it finds any errors, it helps you correct them. TurboTax Deluxe also transfers pertinent data into your state return and tells you about any additional entries you need to make there. I was unable to test these features in the preview version. The last step is to pay for the product and e-file your taxes.
Many Security Layers
TurboTax security specialists work with the IRS and state revenue departments to prevent fraud. This dedicated staff is constantly monitoring the site and performing internal checks and external tests. Stored data is always encrypted, as is your return when it’s transmitted to the IRS and state agencies.
The site supports multi-factor authentication and Touch ID on its smartphone app. You can see a history of your logins and the devices used to access your account, and you’re always notified of any unusual activity on your account, like a password change, payment method update, or login from a new device.
Taxes on the Go
It is possible to prepare and file your income taxes from your smartphone. TurboTax and competitors like H&R Block make that possible. The TurboTax preparation and filing app is available for both iOS and Android. They offer the same tax topics that are available on the browser-based version, so you can prepare and file even a complex return using them.
I didn’t see a real-time dollar amount representing aor payment obligation in the app. The homepage displays a list of the site’s main content areas so you can navigate to where you’re going easily. Internal informational and data entry screens are easy to understand and use, and an icon at the bottom of the screen takes you to a storage area where you can upload your tax documents for safekeeping. I found it more convenient to complete a tax return on my desktop, of course.
Help is lacking on both apps, at least in the preview editions. You can use the TurboTax Digital Assistant and click on hyperlinks within the Q&A, but you can’t use the Search tool found in the browser-based version. When you click links, though, you get both an answer and a set of related Q&As. Neither do the mobile apps include the desktop versions’ navigation tools. You have to use the Continue and Back buttons to get where you’re going or go back to the home screen and select one of the apps’ section directories.
Intuit offers two other mobile apps. One is TaxCaster. You enter a few details about your financial life to get an estimate of your tax refund. The other is ItsDeductible, a tool you can use year-round to record your charitable donations. At tax time, you can sync those details with TurboTax.
Try Before You Buy
If you’ve been using a different service to prepare your taxes, there’s something to be said for sticking with what’s familiar. Learning to use a new tax website can take time—and time is money. But if your tax situation has become more complex or you simply want to see if another site could save you money because it might dig a little deeper and make your tax preparation more pleasant, we recommend TurboTax. Choose whichever version fits you best, as they’re all great. It won’t cost you anything to create an account and run your return through its paces because you only pay at the very end.
TurboTax provides an outstanding user experience that improves every year. When you consider its entire family of products, its tax topic coverage is comprehensive enough to satisfy most taxpayers, and its onsite help rarely leaves a question unanswered. If it does, TurboTax Live and TurboTax Live Full Service can bring in professional help. You can’t walk into an office and sit face-to-face with a preparer like you can with H&R Block, Jackson Hewitt, or Liberty Tax, but Intuit’s virtual support options make it unnecessary for the vast majority of filers.
We’ll update this preview of TurboTax Deluxe to a full-fledged, rated review after we’ve had a chance to examine all the competitors in this space.
While you’re thinking about your money, read our roundup of the. If you run a small business, we have you covered with the .