The best tax software of 2021

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Tax season will be here soon enough, and having the best tax software to help you file can save you time — and from making costly errors.

We reviewed the top providers to find the best tax software to help you this tax-filing season.

Bankrate’s picks for best tax software:

  • Best for beginners: H&R Block
  • Best for complex returns: Jackson Hewitt
  • Best for freelancers: TaxAct
  • Best tax software overall: TurboTax
  • Best free tax software: Credit Karma Tax

Best tax software for beginners: H&R Block

Costs:

  • Simple federal and state returns: Free
  • Deluxe for more complicated and self-employed returns: $39.99 for state and $49.99 for federal returns
  • Premium for rental property owners and investors: Starting at $44.99 for state returns and $69.99 for federal
  • Self employed for business owners, freelancers and rideshare drivers: Starting at $44.99 for state returns and $104.99 for federal returns

If you don’t know the difference between a W-2, Form 1040 and a 1099, a tax software platform that guides you from start to finish is probably your best bet. H&R Block guides you through the process, making sure you’re not missing any important sections as you go.

Getting started is simple. H&R Block will ask you some questions to help determine your filing status and will explain concepts as you follow along. If you’d prefer to jump back and forth, the clearly organized sections are listed on the left or displayed as a simple menu bar at the top. You can import a photo of your tax forms to avoid wondering exactly what information you need to type in. And if you get stuck, you have several support options:

  • Live chat 24/7.
  • Phone support for paid plans.
  • Live, on-screen help via Tax Pro Review or Online Assist.
  • Visiting an H&R Block location.

Best tax software for complex returns: Jackson Hewitt

Costs:

  • Free Plan for federal and state returns with standard deductions for wages under $100,000: Free
  • Premier Plan for itemized deductions and income over $100,000: $49.95 for federal filings, plus $36.99 for state returns

Some circumstances call for more than a simple guided software platform. Owning multiple businesses or having to file returns that include capital gains from investments and real estate income are just a couple of examples.

Jackson Hewitt’s online software provides a number of tools such as calculators to determine depreciation, earned income tax credits and other complex calculations. Once you’re done, you can drop off the completed filing off at one of the nearly 6,000 locations (many are located in Walmart) so a tax professional can review it before you file.

Jackson Hewitt provides a Lifetime Accuracy Guarantee — you’ll be reimbursed for any liabilities the tax professional missed. In addition, a Jackson Hewitt tax specialist will handle your case on your behalf if you get audited.

Best tax software for freelancers: TaxAct Self-Employed

Costs:

  • Self-Employed Plan with year-round planning resources and income management: $74.95 for federal filings, plus $40 for state returns

Freelancers have special tax requirements to meet, such as self-employment taxes — and a whole lot of tax deductions. Some of the best tax software in this roundup have a self-employed or freelance version, but TaxAct’s version may provide the best value for the price.

With TaxAct, you’ll be able to enter all the deductions you have and review them using the Deduction Maximizer, which makes more suggestions based on your industry. Another freelancer-friendly feature lets you plan how your tax liability could change based on different scenarios. Best of all, TaxAct has a money-back guarantee which will compensate you up to $100,000 if there are errors on your tax return.

Best tax software overall: TurboTax by Intuit

Costs:

  • Free edition for simple state and federal tax returns: Free
  • Deluxe version including tax credits and deductions: $60 for federal filings, plus $50 per state return
  • Premier version for investors and real estate transactions: $90 for federal, plus $50 per state return
  • Self-employed version for itemized deductions and income/expense declarations: $120 for federal, plus $50 per state return

In our research, the best tax software overall is TurboTax. It’s comprehensive, yet simple enough to handle all types of tax-filing profiles from small business owners to beginner filers to individuals with non-standard tax deductions. And if you use Quickbooks software, TurboTax can be integrated for a seamless tax-filing experience.

TurboTax beats its competitors when it comes to live support. You’ll have a number of options for help if you’re stuck through phone support, the TurboTax community or live chat. You can also pay an extra fee to speak with a certified tax professional through live video chat for help and to have your tax return reviewed before you submit it.

In addition, the platform is always up to date with the latest changes. TurboTax is one of the few tax filing software companies providing free COVID-19 assistance with the CARES Act program that provides individuals and businesses with stimulus money. Using the Aid Assist tool will help you or your business determine if you’re eligible for stimulus checks and funds from Paycheck Protection and any other associated programs.

Best free tax software: Credit Karma Tax

If you don’t mind investing some time for DIY tax preparation, Credit Karma Tax is completely free. You’re probably familiar with Credit Karma’s free service that monitors your credit and helps you build it along the way. If you have an account, you can also file your taxes for free.

One important thing to note: Credit Karma is selling its tax business to Square. This follows the Justice Department’s ruling requiring Credit Karma to divest its tax business in order for Intuit’s acquisition of Credit Karma to proceed. (Intuit operates TurboTax.)

“For the upcoming tax season, Credit Karma Tax will stay on the Credit Karma platform but under Square’s direction, while Square transitions the business to its Cash App,” according to a Credit Karma spokesperson.

A Square spokesperson added: “For now there is no change to customers’ current experience with Credit Karma Tax. We’ll provide further updates to our customers as we begin work on the integration.”

Written by
Cynthia Paez Bowman
Personal Finance Contributor
Cynthia Paez Bowman is a finance and business journalist who has been featured in Bankrate, Business Jet Traveler, MSN, CheatSheet.com, Freshome.com and TheSimpleDollar.com. She regularly travels to Africa and the Middle East to consult with women’s NGOs about small business development and works with select startups and women-owned businesses to provide growth and visibility.