CNET First Look
Tax app showdownWe did our taxes six times while evaluating the best do-it-yourself tax prep app. Here's what we found.
>> Nobody likes tax time, me included. But since we must, here's what you need to know about three programs; Turbo Tax, TaxACT and H&R Block At Home. I'm Jessica Dolcourt from CNET looking at tax apps for 2009. Whether you fill out your forms online or on the desktop, the form is the same no matter which app you go with. But there are major differences among the software itself. TaxACT, for instance, is the least pricey, but it also contains the most legal jargon and the least amount of help files. We got the same results calculating a relatively straightforward return, but the support files were inadequate when we had questions. Also, TaxACT is weak on importing tax data. It will import your previous year's tax return if you have that in a PDF format. TaxACT will also import your W2 information for only one payroll provider. But it does not import investment data from banks and brokerages. TaxACT is much better suited to people who feel comfortable with tax prep and who don't anticipate needing a lot of extra help. Moving on, there's also H&R Block At Home, which was known as TaxCut last year. H&R Block updated its program interface and added the ability to import financial data for the very first time. This program is known for including good live support features with the cost of the software, like live chatting, and offering tax review and audit services that tie in with the H&R Block retail stores. However, we still found it to be a little less straightforward than Turbo Tax, and it imports financial data from fewer companies. H&R Block is a good choice for taxpayers who are looking for more human guidance. Turbo Tax was our winner. It's slightly pricier than H&R Block's apps, but it offers simple, clear language and can import 1099 data from the biggest pool of institutions. There are comprehensive help files and a communitydriven form that can help answer questions. There's also an app that can help create form letters in the event of an audit. A new addition this year called Flags lets you bookmark pages in the tax return to come back to later. On the downside, the summary screen you see after each section gets in the way of flow. Also, the automated online help assistant, Tina, isn't very helpful at all. Turbo Tax was the most complete tax app we tested, but live support will cost you more. There's one more decision you have to make, and that's doing your taxes online or on the desktop. As a general rule, online packages include one free federal efile with additional efiles and state returns costing more. The higher price download package usually includes five free federal efiles and also usually includes one state return. If you file online, the software company stores your encrypted tax return. If you buy the desktop app, you store the return on your own computer. In general, we find the download apps to be better for families and the online forms to suit individuals and Linux users. For more information, including rated reviews, check out www.cnet.com/taxguide. I'm Jessica Dolcourt, and we've been looking at TaxACT, Turbo Tax and H&R Block At Home for 2009.