This story is part of Taxes 2022, CNET’s coverage of the best tax software and everything else you need to get your return filed quickly, accurately and on-time.
The tax deadline for most Americans — April 18 — has come and gone, but that doesn’t mean your tax return is necessarily late. Some Americans affected by disasters like wind storms, tornadoes and wildfires have deadlines of May 16 or June 15. And if you filed a tax extension on time, you’ve got until Oct. 15 to complete and file your tax return.
For those taxpayers who don’t have extensions and are currently late on their 2021 taxes, you should file your tax return as soon as possible. You’re losing out on money if you’re owed a tax refund, and tax penalties and interest will grow if you owe the IRS.
Whether you have a bit of breathing room or not, there’s no good reason to procrastinate. The best tax software of 2022 can handle all the complications that the IRS can throw at it and leave you satisfied with your maximum refund, or at the least a correct amount that you owe.
TurboTax, H&R Block, Cash App Taxes, Jackson Hewitt, TaxSlayer, TaxAct and FreeTaxUSA all make our list of best tax software this year. Read on to learn more about features, experience and prices to decide which could work best for you.
Best tax software
TurboTax by Intuit is our clear front-runner for good reason. The software combines tax expertise and an easy user experience with an accessible interface.
TurboTax guides you deftly through the process of completing your tax return, never asking for information you’ve already given or that doesn’t apply to your tax situation. When questions arise, information is quickly at hand.
Four TurboTax products — Basic, Deluxe, Premier and Self-Employed — cover the range of taxpayers. We recommend the Deluxe level at $78 for most filers if your taxes are even slightly complicated, but if you know you don’t qualify for most deductions or credits, stick with Basic for free.
Expert support from TurboTax Live can supplement any of the TurboTax products, as can TurboTax Audit Defense. TurboTax’s comprehensive benefits come with a higher price tag than other tax software, but peace of mind could be worth the cost.
Learn more in our full TurboTax review for 2022
- Free to $89 for federal
- Free to $39 per state filing*
- Free to $199 for TurboTax Live
- Free to $389 for TurboTax Live Full Support
*Up to $49 per state return with TurboTax Live and Live Full Support
H&R Block compares well with our top pick, TurboTax, and it shines in its Free Online version, which covers simple returns as well as deductions for student loans and tuition fees — a perfect fit for filers without complicated tax situations who also want educational tax breaks.
While not as smooth as TurboTax, H&R Block features a well-designed, interview-style system that helps users sidestep potential mistakes. Help screens and FAQs are comprehensive, though not as easy to access.
H&R Block’s Online Assist — an add-on that costs $40 for Free Online and Deluxe and $60 for Premium and Self-Employed — provides virtual tax assistance from a professional online, including screen sharing to show exactly where you’re stuck.
A nifty photo capture lets you quickly upload your W-2 to H&R Block and get your tax return rolling. Its online software also lets you upload files like multiple 1099 forms, schedules A and C, gifts to charity and medical expenses, among a list of many items.
One big appeal of H&R Block is the existence of brick-and-mortar offices. If you decide midway through your online tax return that you’d rather not do it yourself, H&R Block has about 9,000 offices across the US to set up an appointment or drop off your taxes for a professional to complete.
Learn more in our full H&R Block review for 2022
- Free to $85 for federal
- $37 for state
- $39 or more for live support
*Get unlimited help from live tax experts starting at $39 and an additional fee for state taxes.
Cash App Taxes — formerly known as Credit Karma Tax — debuts this tax season with a fully free tax preparation option that doesn’t skimp on available IRS forms and schedules. It provides users with one federal and one state tax return, completely free, with accuracy and maximum refund guarantees.
The lack of file importing and an unusual desktop login process might discourage some users from trying the service, but once you’re into the software it works like most programs: A simple, interview-style process collects information about your tax situation and uses it to populate IRS forms.
Because you’ll need to enter your information manually, we recommend Cash App Taxes to tax filers with a few forms and relatively simple tax situations. Cash App Taxes also has restrictions that might exclude some taxpayers: No multiple state returns, no foreign income and no option of married filing separately in community property states like California or Texas.
Cash App Taxes also lacks professional tax support, making it best for users confident in handling their own taxes. The software also requires the installation of the Cash App mobile app on a tablet or phone — veteran users of the payment service who already have the app installed should give it a look.
Learn more in the full Cash App Taxes review for 2022
TaxSlayer offers no-frills tax preparation at reasonable rates — its full-featured software will entice filers on a tight budget. Its free version may be too restrictive for most users, but the top Self-Employed tier includes tax advice from a pro with self-employment expertise for much less than competitors.
TaxSlayer offers four levels of service — Simply Free, Classic, Premium and Self-Employed — that range from free to $48. Simply Free is restricted to filers with less than $100,000 in taxable income and includes one free state return. The other paid tiers of TaxSlayer charge $37 for each state return.
TaxSlayer’s Self-Employed tier, our top pick for freelancers and gig workers, provides tax preparation support from a tax professional versed in self-employment taxes, as well as all the service features of the other plans, at $85 total for federal and state returns.
The interface and help content of TaxSlayer may not be as polished as other top competitors, but its bargain prices for self-employed filers make it an attractive option for those comfortable completing their own tax returns.
Learn more in the full TaxSlayer review for 2022
- Free to $55 for federal
- Free to $37 per state filing
While not quite as intuitive or flashy as TurboTax or H&R Block, Jackson Hewitt’s price of $25 for one federal return and unlimited state returns is tough to beat. Unlike most competitors that offer different tiers of service depending on your tax situation, Jackson Hewitt Online lets you file for one price, regardless of how complicated your taxes are.
Jackson Hewitt Online offers free IRS audit assistance and a Lifetime Accuracy Guarantee® to protect against unexpected penalties or interest. Its stripped-down service comes with some drawbacks, though. Its website lags behind competitors — there’s no option to upload files or tax forms — and it’s also light on support.
Along with self-service tax preparation for $25, Jackson Hewitt Online also offers a “file online with a tax pro” option for $99. You start your online return, sync up with a tax professional, and then upload the rest of your IRS forms and documentation for the agent to complete your tax return.
And if you want more one-on-one attention, you can file at a participating Walmart location starting for $59 or visit one of its offices to file with a tax pro (prices vary depending on your filing situation and state of residence).
Learn more in our full Jackson Hewitt review for 2022
- $25 for federal and unlimited state filing; starting at $59 to file at Walmart with a tax pro
TaxAct offers straightforward income tax preparation — its major distinction is its $100,000 Accuracy Guarantee and Maximum Refund Guarantee, which promise to get you an accurate refund and the maximum allowable by law. If it fails to do so, TaxAct will refund you up to $100,000 to cover the difference between your actual and potential refund, your software costs and any associated legal or audit costs.
It doesn’t have quite the feature set of top competitors, but TaxAct offers comparable service at a discounted price. Its standout feature is a Deduction Maximizer that reviews your completed return for possible tax deductions you may have missed. TaxAct’s professional tax assistance service Xpert Assist is also available for free for taxpayers who file before March 31, 2022.
Learn more in the full CNET review of Tax Act 2022
- Free to $80 for federal
- $40 to $55 per state filing
- Free to $60 for Xpert Assist
FreeTaxUSA is mostly free, except you’ll need to pay to file state taxes. It offers options for importing previous tax returns and filing an amended tax return. The Deluxe version includes priority live chat, customer support and access to its tax specialists and audit service. These tax professionals should be able to address all your specific income tax return questions — from what paperwork you need to how to understand an audit notice and write a response to the IRS.
Learn more in our full review of FreeTaxUSA.
- Free for federal
- $15 per state filing
- $7 Deluxe version
Can I file my taxes for free? What’s the catch?
There are two main ways to file your taxes for free. The first is through the IRS’ “File Free” program, which includes private companies that provide their services for free in partnership with the IRS. To qualify, you need to earn less than $72,000 in adjusted gross income.
The second is through the free programs of non-alliance members, like Intuit’s TurboTax and H&R Block. These private services offer free products for those with simple filing situations, and as long as you don’t have complications like investment income or rental property income, you can stick with the free products all the way through filing.
Note, however, that Intuit and other companies will often try to upsell you on other products throughout the process. Before signing up for a higher-tier product you hadn’t planned on, make sure you really need it.
Which tax software is free? (Is it really free?)
Almost all of CNET”s best tax software selections for 2022 include free options for simple tax returns. However, some of those free options only include your federal tax return — you’ll occasionally need to pay extra to file state tax returns.
TurboTax, H&R Block, TaxSlayer and Cash App Taxes all provide free tax-filing services that include one federal tax return and one state tax return. FreeTaxUSA’s basic plan is free for federal and $15 for unlimited state returns, whereas TaxAct’s free plan requires $40 per state tax return.
Be careful to check for restrictions before you start the process of using free tax software at any of the providers. For example, TurboTax’s Basic plan only allows simple tax returns with 1040 forms — no unemployment income, stock sales or any itemized deductions like mortgage interest. H&R Block’s Free Online adds a few more forms like Schedules 1 and 3, but you’ll still need to take the standard deduction. TaxSlayer Simply Free doesn’t allow taxable income over $100,000.
Even Cash App Taxes, which earns CNET’s award for Best Free Tax Software, doesn’t cover absolutely all tax situations. While it does include advanced tax forms for self-employment, rental property, stock sales, small business income and the child care credit, it doesn’t allow for foreign earned income, the health coverage tax credit or income from an estate or trust (Form K-1).
When are taxes due this year?
Federal tax returns for 2021 are due this year on Friday, April 18, 2022. (Washington DC celebrates Emancipation Day on April 15.) Residents of Massachusetts and Maine get an extra day — their tax returns are due April 19 because they celebrate Patriots’ Day on April 18.
Some taxpayers in Colorado, Kentucky, Illinois and Tennessee who live in areas affected by natural disasters have an extended tax filing deadline of May 16. You can see which counties are included in the extension on the IRS disaster relief page.
Unlike last year, filing deadlines were not extended in 2022 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We’ll keep you updated if tax deadlines change at all this year.
What is a ‘simple’ tax return?
When you file only a single W-2 from an employer, it’s considered a simple tax return. With a simple return, you won’t be itemizing deductions, claiming investment income or rental property, reporting freelance income or claiming business expenses like a home office.
Companies like Intuit and H&R Block explain the added complexity commensurate with their higher-tier products, so if you aren’t sure, double-check their lists before purchasing. You can also start filing with a free return in most cases and upgrade your service level if needed.
When should I pay extra to get live assistance from online tax software?
The beauty of well-designed tax software is that most filers won’t need to pay extra for expert help. All of the answers you need should only be a few clicks away, and if you need technical assistance (help with the software, not tax-related issues), support should be easily accessible.
If you find yourself constantly wanting to speak with a human tax expert or if you know your tax situation is complicated, you may be better off selecting tax software with tax expert support or simply hiring a CPA, or certified public accountant, on your own.
How much does it cost to hire a CPA? Is it worth it?
According to the 2020-21 Fees Practices Survey released by the National Society of Accountants, working with a CPA for your tax filing will cost $200 to $500, depending on the complexity of your return — how many schedules and extra forms need to be completed — and where you live. Each additional schedule, for things like rental income or investment gains, could cost around $100.
If you have self-employment income, itemized deductions, investments or other complicated tax situations, the extra cost is likely to be worth it. It can also be easier to send off your forms to an expert and know they’ll take care of everything. Remember that the extra amount you’re paying in fees could get you a better return, making the upfront cost a smart investment.
Keep in mind, however, that it depends a lot on your individual filing situation, your withholdings and your tax bracket. As good as many software programs are, a human expert is often the way to go.
Methodology: How we select the best tax software
CNET reviews tax software by comparing products across a set criteria. We use the software to prepare personal tax returns, examine tax products’ terms and offers, communicate with software representatives to resolve questions about products, compare feature sets, and analyze software for its effectiveness in common tax situations.
We consider the features and functionality of the tax preparation software, the user experience, the software interface, website performance, quality of help and support, and the value based on price. We are also looking for and evaluating specific features, including file importing or photo capture of forms, number and type of available IRS forms and schedules, contextual help, desktop and phone/tablet compatibility and syncing, professional tax assistance, maximum refund and accuracy guarantees, live support and security protections.
More tax software advice
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