CNET First Look
2010 tax prepIt's that time of year again, and we want to make your tax-filing experience as pain-free as possible. Check out this video overview of the online tax prep solutions for the 2010 tax season.
We hate to be the bearer of bad news but it's that time of year again--tax season, and it literally makes me sick. As simple as it might be, filing your taxes is unavoidable. The good news is that with the plethora of online and desktop tax prep solutions, most of you can avoid hiring an accountant. Even better, every web-based program offers a free federal e-file if your tax needs are simple. I'm Jasmine France, senior associate editor for CNET.com and I'm here to give you an overview of the variety of software options available for the 2010 tax season. More specifically, we're going to go over the 4 best-known solutions, TurboTax, H&R Block, TaxACT, and CompleteTax, and figure out which one is right for you. So let's start with the option that seems the most budget friendly on the surface, CompleteTax. This service offers 3 ways for you to file completely for free--one, if you lost your job over the past year; two, if you end up owing money, and, three, if you successfully import your 2009 return from one of the competitors. However, if you don't meet one of these criteria, TaxACT is actually the cheapest offering, plus CompleteTax has the most date interface of the bunch and it doesn't provide much in the way of tax term description or general help. Most users on a budget will be best served by TaxACT which has the lowest overall pricing, especially in terms of state filing. Whereas the competition charges about $30 for state, TaxACT only charges between $8 to $15. TaxACT provides a clearer interview process and now provides audit support for the 2010 tax season. It also offers a handy tool called Answer Center where you can find help for specific questions, access various calculators, and view tax-related documents. TaxACT doesn't offer as much hand holding as TurboTax or as much personalized care as H&R Block but it should be the top consideration if you have a solid understanding of your tax needs and don't anticipate any major issues with your filing. Of the 4 options, H&R Block provided the most enjoyable interview process with plenty of visual cues and clear explanation of tax terms. H&R Block also offers the most generous customer support including one free tax topic discussion with an expert. If you want professional help without the expense of a full-on accountant, H&R Block is the choice for you. Finally, we come to TurboTax which can be the priciest option depending on your needs. TurboTax offers a slick interface with lots of links and descriptions for various tax terms. In fact, the interview process is overly detailed in places so TurboTax may be an annoyance if you want to fly through your filing. However, TurboTax lets you import practically everything, from last year's return to W-2s to investment information to quick end data, plus the service paired up with mint.com this year so if you use Mint, TurboTax can automatically import interest income, and if you only need to file a 1040EZ, their SnapTax, a mobile app that lets you simply take a photo of your W-2. In other words, if you hate data entry, TurboTax is the solution for you. So there you have it, tax prep for 2010. It's a lot of information to take in, I know, so here's the breakdown. Consider CompleteTax only if you fulfill one of the free filing requirements and would otherwise be comfortable filing by hand. Log on to TaxACT for an inexpensive experience that lets you fly through the tax filing process. Check out H&R Block if you're after personal attention and a user friendly interface, and get on board with TurboTax if you're a mint.com user who hates data entry. If you want more detailed information on any of these options, head to download.com to check out our full reviews. I'm Jasmine France for CNET.