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It’s that time of year again, and whether you are preparingrnto write Uncle Sam a hefty check or you are anticipating a fat refund, it’srnclearly in your best interest to make sure that your tax returns are completernand error free, and that they contain all the deductions you’re entitled to.rnFortunately, Americans who do their own taxes have more software choices thanrnever before, and for lightweight returns there are even free options available.rnWhile I don’t claim to know which application is going to put the most cash inrnyour pocket (the applications should theoretically deliver the same results), Irncan provide you with a rundown of some of the available choices.
Although this article provides a brief description of fivernfree tax applications, it’s worth mentioning that the IRS actually offers its ownrnfree tax filing service, called FreeFile.
Note: This gallery is also available as an article.
TurboTax Federal Free Edition
The software asks you some questions and uses yourrnanswers to complete the underlying forms (which are not immediately exposedrnduring the interview process). Unfortunately, Intuit has included nag screensrnin the interview process to try to get you to upgrade to the commercialrnversion.
TaxACT Free Federal
The nice thing about TaxACT Free Federal is that you can usernit to complete both simple and complex returns. Not so nice is the fact thatrnthe software occasionally nags you to upgrade to the Deluxe Federal version,rnwhich allows data to be imported and contains some extra calculators, reports,rnand things like that.
One especially helpful TaxACT feature is the ability tornimport a PDF copy of your previous year’s return. This makes it convenient tornenter basic information (name, marital status, etc.) without having to do itrnmanually.
TaxSlayer Free Edition
As with some of the other apps, TaxSlayer uses an interviewrnprocess. But oddly enough, when I clicked on certain navigational links withinrnthe interface, I received error messages telling me that to ensure that the taxrnreturn data was saved properly, I had to use the buttons at the bottom of thernpage. It was really frustrating to have navigation links I couldn’t use. I canrnonly assume that they aren’t really links, but rather progress indicators.
One thing I did like about TaxSlayer is that it provides anrnonline tutorial and a browser compatibility test. Both of these are handyrnbecause they allow you to make sure that you have got all your ducks in a rowrnbefore you get too far into your return.
H&R Block Free
H&R Block Free is another online tax preparation site. It includesrnall the basics for simple tax returns, but it lacks access to forms such asrnSchedule C, Schedule C-EZ, Schedule D, Schedule EIC, and Schedule SE.
One good thing about this app is that it doesn’t require yournto create an account right away. This means that you can explore the softwarernwithout the hassles of account setup. The software also allows you to importrnyour previous year’s return from H&R Block, TurboTax, or TaxACT. And oncernyou start your return, the software tells you what you might need next (such asrnsocial security numbers and birthdates of family members).
H&R Block Free
H&R Block uses a simple interview process to ask for therninformation it needs. In working through some of the screens, I didn’trnencounter any nag screens, although it is possible that some may exist.
Another thing that struck me about 1040.com is that it didrnnot seem to be as limiting as some of the other free options. The site’srninitial screen indicates that the free version can be used only if you’rerntaking the standard deduction, yet I was able to access Schedule C and screensrnrelated to mortgage interest deductions. It’s possible that the software letsrnyou get all the way to the end of your return before telling you that you havernto upgrade to the paid version. I tried to complete a “sample return”rnto find out, but the software would not allow me to use a bogus social securityrnnumber.