Not much tops the “least favorite things to do” list than taxes. Most of us loathe this time of year and some of us even fear it. We’ve heard the horror stories about confusing, extensive audits that were brought about due to a simple mistake someone made when filling out their tax returns. On top of this, there is an ever changing list of deductions, possible exemptions, and write offs that allow us to reduce our taxable income and, as a result, how much we ultimately pay in taxes. That is, of course, if we know they exist.

If you have ever looked at the US Tax Code, one thing will be apparent: It is complicated… very complicated with many, many pages of complicated financial and legal jargon that explain the subtle intricacies of our tax code. This is where you will find subtle and not so subtle changes to what can be written off, what is a tax credit, the rate at which certain types of income or assets is taxed, and so on. One of the more frustrating things to think about is that even if you dedicated your free time to become a tax expert (and who would want to do that?), it is likely to change by the time you have it down.

This is a good illustration of why people make a career out of understanding tax code. And really, perhaps more so than worrying about an audit, not knowing all the deductions or other tax breaks you might qualify for will literally affect your bottom line. Tax credits, write-offs, exemptions, and the like are used to reduce your taxable income, which will reduce how much you ultimately pay in taxes. Credits and write-offs you failed to claim are literally money lost from your bank account.

It would seem like the natural thing to do then would be to leave this to the professionals, and if it were free, more of us would certainly do this. However, a lot of us don’t have the means to warrant having a personal accountant who can do it all for us. This is why so many people have started to use online tax preparation software. It is an affordable way to save time spent filling out your taxes, improve the accuracy of your return, and, if you get a sophisticated enough suite of tools, there may even be deductible trackers that will ensure you take everything you qualify for.

What follows are some of the considerations you will need to make when choosing the best software for your needs. We then briefly touch on some of the best benefits of using tax preparation software. Finally, we will review H&R Block’s tax software, including details on the H&R Block Free e-File.

Some things to consider when looking into tax preparation software

Firstly, you are going to want to consider how much you can spend on a set of tax preparation software tools. This is not just a matter of deciding what is the max amount you are willing to spend, but also what you need. It makes no sense to buy the most complex, comprehensive tax preparation software suite if you are a single individual, with a single income, filing a basic tax return. For you, a more simple, basic program may suffice. A basic rule of thumb is that the more comprehensive the suite of tools, the more expensive it will be. This does not always pan out, of course, but it does most of the time.

Once you have set your budget, you can begin to look into potential options. Having a preset budget is a great way to keep you on track and to help guide your research. Not to mention, you won’t waste a bunch of time researching software tools only to find out that they are a lot costlier than you were expecting or willing to spend.

You will also want to consider what kind of user experience is important to you. Do you want a very intuitive interface? Do you want your forms to be accessible across platforms? These are special features that you will want to ensure that any product you are researching has. It is also helpful to consider how complex your finances are, as this too will help guide your choices. Some software suites are better suited to people with basic tax filings. Other software is designed with the business owner, investor, or self-employed individual in mind.

It is helpful to be aware of any lurking costs. It might seem like once you buy the software, everything else is included, but this is rarely how it works. With most basic software suites, you can file your federal tax return for free if you are filing a simple 1040A or 1040EZ form. There are other software suites that will let you file your federal taxes for free regardless of what kind of form you need to fill out. Most software programs have an additional fee for the filing of your state taxes, so you will want to be sure that you know what these costs are from the outset.

Benefits of tax preparation software

There are tons of reasons that people love and swear by online tax preparation software, but the most obvious perk is how much less time it takes to fill out your taxes online with the help of these programs, than it is to do it by hand. You don’t have to fill out endless forms by hand and ensure that it makes its way to the mailbox. On the same note, even if you pay someone to file your taxes for you, chances are you have to make an appointment and show up somewhere. With online tax preparation software, you never have the leave the comfort of your home and you can often have your taxes filed and submitted in under an hour.

Another benefit of online tax preparation software is that you are far less likely to submit an incomplete form or one that contains errors. When you fill out your taxes by hand, it is up to you to catch any potential mistakes before you mail it. With these programs, a lot of them will flag unfilled fields and won’t let you submit your taxes if there is a blank required field. It might not seem like much, but this little feature saves a lot of hassle.

Many of these tools also come with enhanced customer support which is incredibly helpful when it comes to the complicated world of taxes. Many of these programs come with extensive FAQ and help sections. Many of them come with step-by-step instructions. Additionally, many also offer unlimited email or phone support.

H&R Block tax software

H&R Block has long been a trusted and reputable name when it comes to tax-filing services.  They offer a comprehensive, inclusive suite of tax preparation tools that are easy to use and provide a wide range of help features. The software comes from a name that you know and trust, and they have created an interview-based prompting system that asks you questions as the means by which you go about filling out your tax forms. This makes it much simpler and straightforward than when you have to try to figure out what each field is asking for on your own.

In addition to a great interface that makes the process of filling out your taxes incredibly intuitive, there is also an extensive FAQ section, as well as various online help tools if you are still having trouble. You are also free to use email and phone-based customer service. Or, if you prefer, you can go to any of the 12,000 nationwide locations of H&R Block to get in-person assistance with any of your tax filing needs.

The range of help and customer support options are one of the reasons that H&R Block’s tax preparation software has been among the most popular and best-selling since it has been available on the consumer marketplace.

If you are filling out a 1040A or 1040EZ, you can even file your federal tax forms using this software for free. However, if you have a more complex or different kind of tax status, you will be charged a fee for filing state and federal taxes. It should be noted that one of the biggest pitfalls of this software suite is that it is one of the more expensive options. However, for those who want a lot of one-on-one assistance in the tax filing process, it is worth the extra cost.

With the paid version of this software, you can easily file even a complex tax return. Whether you have a wide range of assets, significant charitable giving, gambling earnings, rental properties, you own multiple businesses, etc., this premium version of the software has all the forms and everything you need to declare a wide range of different assets and incomes, as well as to account for a lot of itemization.

With a bit of research, chances are you can find online H&R Block coupons that will give you access to discount on your purchase of the premium software. It should be noted that while this software suite may be a bit more expensive than some other competing software, it is still less expensive than comparable versions of TurboTax, with the same level of features and functionality, including the ability for sole proprietors to easily file using the software.

Now, we should touch on pricing. If you are eligible for the free federal tax filing, the basic software costs $29.99. The deluxe package runs $54.99 with a fee of $39.99 for your state tax return. For the premium version of the package, which is well suited for those with highly varied assets or complicated finances, the suite costs $79.99 and your state tax return will cost an additional $39.99.

Conclusion

When it comes to those necessary but unpleasant parts of life, like taxes, easier is most certainly always better. Who, besides someone who earns their living this way, actually wants to file a tax return? And, not only is this a necessity of life, but failure to accurately or properly fill out your taxes can result in penalties, fines, and even the dreaded audit. We all know that it is an unpleasant reality, but there are ways to make it easier on ourselves and to help ensure that we fill out our taxes properly, accurately, while taking advantage of any credits or tax breaks we may qualify for.

Since most of us don’t have the means or need for a personal accountant, we have long been stuck with the burden of filling out our taxes on our own by hand. Thankfully, for the past several decades, there has been a steadily improving stream of tax preparation software tools that make it incredibly easy to quickly fill out and even file your state and federal tax returns. There are many different kinds of software suites that offer different levels of functionality and personal assistance, depending on the complexity of your finances and how many questions you might have.

Comprehensive software suites, like the H&R Block Advantage tools we briefly reviewed here, will allow you to take advantage of a wide range of help features, from an extensive FAQ, step by step help, and live customer service assistance when needed. With software tools like this, you can easily file even a complex tax return, with ease, from the comfort of your own home. The step by step question-based user interface is one of the easiest to use and navigate, and is a great choice for those who are beginners when it comes to this kind of software.

Whether you choose the H&R Block tax preparation software we review here, or you simply use this guide as a starting point for further research and shopping, we are sure that once you switch to an online tax preparation software program, you will never go back to filling out your taxes by hand.