TurboTax review: Not the cheapest online tax software, but good for complex situations

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  • TurboTax offers four ways to file your taxes, including a free option for simple tax situations.
  • TurboTax is pricey, but it has a good user experience with the option to upgrade for expert help.
  • Self-employed filers who use QuickBooks will find TurboTax especially valuable.

While many people dread tax season, I find it to be an exciting time of year. I get a flurry of forms and documents telling me how much money I made over the course of a year, and I fill in the pieces of the puzzle that summarize an entire year’s finances in one place.

But unlike my favorite 1,000-piece puzzle, the puzzle of my taxes comes together on my computer. And I don’t do it alone. I have used TurboTax for my own taxes several times, and suggest the same to many others.

TurboTax is the biggest and most popular tax preparation software, handling a solid 30% of electronic filings, according to a report from Moody’s.

Here’s a look at how TurboTax works, how much it costs, and who it’s best for.

 
TurboTax
Editor’s rating4.6 / 5
Review summary

TurboTax is the most expensive option for filing taxes online, but offers a high-quality user interface and access to experts. It’s especially valuable for self-employed filers who use QuickBooks integration.

Cost of DIY filing

$0 – $120

+$50 per state return

Details
  • 4 ways to file taxes
  • Completely free option for simple tax situations at any income level
  • Mobile-friendly
  • Upgradeable for instant access to a tax expert
Free version coversW-2 income; unemployment income; retirement distributions; interest and dividend income; earned income tax credit; child tax credit

Who should use TurboTax?

For most tax situations, TurboTax does a great job of covering your needs. I’m a self-employed freelance writer with a mortgage, bank interest, investment accounts, and other complexities, but I feel confident doing my taxes myself with TurboTax.

TurboTax isn’t the cheapest, but you get what you pay for. That’s good customer service, intuitive forms and interfaces, and confidence that you got an accurate tax refund with the maximum cash in your pocket.

However, some people with simple taxes may be satisfied with cheaper options, and some people might just feel more comfortable paying an accountant to do their taxes for them.

You might like filing with TurboTax if you:

  • Qualify for $0 federal and state filing 
  • Have a complex tax situation and need help navigating deductions and forms
  • Want step-by-step guidance
  • Want to apply for a 0% interest tax refund advance loan (available through February 15)
  • Want the ability to upgrade for instant access to an expert
  • Use QuickBooks to keep track of business expenses

 

You might not like filing with TurboTax if you:

  • Are looking for a low-cost option
  • Are a college student or student-loan borrower looking for a free option

How much does TurboTax cost?

TurboTax costs more than other tax-preparation services. Packages beyond the free version can run at least $100 total for a federal and state return.

TurboTax online offers four different ways to file your taxes, depending on your unique tax needs. With all versions except desktop computer software, you can start and enter your information for free. You only pay at the end when filing your federal and state tax returns.

 DIY online filing

DIY + expert access

Full-service expert

Computer software
Federal return cost$0 – $120$50 – $200$130 – $290$50 – $120
State return cost$0 – $50$0 – $55$45 – $55$45
Federal + state$0 – $170$50 – $255$130 – $345$95 – $165

Prices do not include any discounts.

Cost of DIY options and what they cover …

  • Free Edition: $0. The Free Edition covers W-2 income, unemployment income, retirement distributions, limited 1099 interest and dividends, the earned income tax credit (EITC), and the child tax credit (CTC), but doesn’t allow itemizing your deductions. If you want to claim student deductions or credits, this package isn’t for you.
  • Deluxe: $60. Intuit advertises this as the most popular version of its software. It includes everything in the free edition plus the option to itemize your taxes and enter mortgage interest. You can also claim student deductions and credits with this package.
  • Premier: $90. Investors, including rental property owners, will want TurboTax Premier. This version even allows you to auto-import your investment data directly from many popular banks and brokerages.
  • Self-Employed: $120. If you own a business, including a side hustle, you’ll want TurboTax Self-Employed. It covers credits and deductions related to businesses including rideshare drivers, freelancers, and other small businesses. This includes a free subscription to QuickBooks for expense tracking, or easy integration if you already have an account.

Extra fees will apply if …

  • You need state filing. If you live in one of the majority of states that require you to do state income taxes as well, you’ll have to pay an additional $50 per state. If you lived or worked in more than one state, you may have to pay for multiple state returns.
  • You upgrade to TurboTax Live. For a premium price, you can pay for instant, live access to a tax expert. The all-in cost is between $50 and $200 for a federal return.
  • You opt for TurboTax Live Full Service: For about double the cost of filing yourself, you can hire a tax expert to take care of it all for you. The all-in cost is between $130 and $290 for a federal return.
  • You pay TurboTax from your refund. If you’re expecting a tax refund, TurboTax will ask if you want to use part of it to pay for its tax prep services. It sounds more convenient than pulling out a debit or credit card on the spot, but beware: a $40 processing fee applies.

Note: TurboTax has two free filing options. The version outlined above has no income restrictions, but includes a limited number of tax forms. There’s another free version offered through the IRS Free File portal, which covers all tax forms for people with incomes below $39,000. In addition, all active duty military and reserve personnel are eligible to file their federal and state returns for free.

How does TurboTax work?

TurboTax packages up the things most people need to file their taxes. While some people with very complex or unique situations may feel more comfortable with the direct assistance of a tax professional, the majority of tax situations are easily covered by TurboTax.

TurboTax offers online and desktop versions of its software, with different prices depending on your tax filing needs. You can also log in and work on your taxes with the TurboTax mobile app for Android and iOS devices.

Like other tax programs, TurboTax is driven by a series of questions and answers about your household, income, and opportunities for deductions and credits. In addition to answering these questions, you’ll need to add information from your employer, other income sources, and 1099, 1098, W-2, and other tax forms that may show up in your mailbox or inbox.

What do you get with TurboTax?

  • Guidance for important tax forms. TurboTax tells you what you need to enter to do your taxes based on your unique circumstances. Get step-by-step guidance and directions for most tax forms.
  • Mobile version. Work on your taxes on the mobile or web versions, or switch back and forth. This isn’t available for the desktop version.
  • Easy tax form import and upload. Import many tax forms directly from banks and investment companies. With the mobile app, you can take a photo and upload supported forms. You can also upload your tax return from last year.
  • Detailed help resources. Help and support resources that answer most questions about your taxes with simple and easy-to-follow advice.
  • Option to upgrade for live support. Pay extra and you can talk to an expert at any time in just a few clicks, or hand off your documents to a professional who can do everything for you.
  • Multiple ways to get your refund. You can get your federal refund deposited into your bank account, sent as a check, or loaded onto a prepaid debit card. TurboTax also offers refund advance loans at the beginning of tax season.
  • Tax return storage: TurboTax will store your finished tax returns in your account for up to seven years.
  • Accuracy guarantee: TurboTax will pay IRS penalties and fees related to calculation errors. If it’s determined that you entered information improperly, the guarantee does not apply.
  • Access to Credit Karma’s new checking account: The Credit Karma Money Spend account isn’t widely available to the public yet, but TurboTax users can sign up after they file. The account is fee-free and has no minimum deposit.

Is TurboTax reliable and safe?

TurboTax keeps your information secure with data encryption. It also requires multi-factor authentication every time you log in to verify your identity.

One of the biggest complaints about TurboTax is the ease with which it attempts to upgrade users to the next-tier product. A 2019 investigation by ProPublica found that Intuit, TurboTax’s parent company, was deliberately hiding its free filing services from Google and other search engines. As of this writing, TurboTax’s free file options are clearly advertised.

TurboTax may not have the best reputation, but it’s a leader in tax preparation services for a reason. Millions of people come back to TurboTax year after year because they can easily and successfully file their tax return. If you follow the directions provided and enter the numbers on your income forms correctly, you should end up with accurate taxes just as if you went to a more expensive professional tax preparer.

Are there any downsides to using TurboTax?

Some of TurboTax’s product support and customer service lines that are included in the cost of prep for the lower-tier products are not as helpful as they could be. The best way to get specialized help is usually to upgrade to a more expensive TurboTax Live package.

Overall, TurboTax is the most expensive way to prepare your tax return online, unless you qualify for the free option. While the platform’s features justify the cost for some people, it’s not the best choice if saving money on tax prep is your priority.

Additional reporting by Tanza Loudenback.

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