When I first started freelancing, I had no idea how it would affect my taxes. When tax season rolled around and I started preparing my returns, I was shocked — not just at the amount of money I owed to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), but also at how much tax preparation software cost.
It was $150 to prepare my federal return, an expense I hadn’t planned for.
I’m not alone in facing sticker shock when it comes to taxes. The National Society of Accountants reports that filing a federal and state return — without itemizing deductions — costs $176, on average. That bill can be an unpleasant surprise during an already stressful period.
However, accurate and effective preparation doesn’t have to be expensive. Some of the best tax software programs available in 2018 offer affordable, user-friendly features.
6 best tax software programs that cost $50 or less
1. Free File: Free (income restrictions apply)
According to the IRS, 70 percent of all taxpayers can do their taxes for free. However, many don’t realize what services are available and unnecessarily pay for tax preparation.
The IRS operates Free File, a program you can use to file your returns if you make $64,000 per year or less. Free File operates like big-name software programs, prompting you to enter certain information to ensure you get every deduction and tax credit you deserve.
You can use Free File to submit both your federal and state returns, and you can even pay your tax bill online.
2. CreditKarma: Free
If you’re ineligible for Free File, there’s another service that’s completely free. In January 2017, Credit Karma launched a new online tax preparation service you can use to file your federal and state taxes without paying a dime, regardless of your income.
Credit Karma’s tax preparation software helps you navigate through each stage of the process, asking you questions about your finances and life changes during the tax year.
However, Credit Karma isn’t for everyone just yet; there are still some restrictions on who can use it. If you need to file multiple state returns or file for part-year residency, you’ll have to use another service.
3. TurboTax: $0 to $150
TurboTax is one of the best tax software programs out there. It’s easy to use and intuitive. Even if you’re filing for the first time or have no idea how to file taxes yourself, TurboTax makes the process simple.
If you have a simple tax situation — you only have income to report and don’t itemize deductions, for example — you can use the powerful software for free to file your federal and state returns. As an added benefit, TurboTax offers expert assistance to answer your questions as you complete your return.
However, if your taxes are more complicated, you might need one of TurboTax’s premium options. If you itemize deductions on your taxes, have side hustle income, own rental properties, or are self-employed, you’ll need to upgrade. Depending on your situation, a federal return could cost anywhere from $39.99 to $149.99. State returns are an additional fee.
4. H&R Block: $0 to $75
Like TurboTax, H&R Block is a big-name company that offers free federal and state filing for some. If you have a simple return, you can take advantage of that program. However, if you need to file a more complicated return, its prices start at $34.99 for federal taxes.
If you qualify for a free return or can use the lower-tier version, H&R Block offers powerful resources. The company allows you to easily import previous years’ returns, even if you used one of its competitors to file them.
You can use your phone to speed up the process, too. Just snap a picture of your W-2 and the H&R Block platform will automatically fill the necessary forms.
H&R Block allows you to track your tax refund in real time, so you can plan how to use it before it arrives.
5. TaxAct: $0 to $35
Like some other companies, TaxAct has a free filing option for some taxpayers. However, it offers affordable options even if you don’t qualify for the free version.
If you itemize deductions, own a home, or have investments to report, you can file a federal return for as little as $17.50. Filing a state return is an additional charge, but you could file your federal and state return for just $54 in total.
6. eSmart Tax: $0 to $45
If cost is the most important factor, eSmart Tax should be one of your top choices. The company offers some of the lowest prices out there for both federal and state returns.
If you have a simple tax return, you can file your federal and state return for just $29.99. Even if you have more complicated finances, you can file your returns for about $50.
Just because it’s cheap doesn’t mean it isn’t effective — eSmart Tax guarantees accurate calculations. If the IRS finds fault with the math and charges you a fee or penalty, eSmart Tax will reimburse you for those expenses. The company also offers free live support to help you navigate through the process and answer any questions you may have.
Preparing your tax return
Tax season is just around the corner, so it’s a smart idea to start preparing for it now. Research the best tax software programs out there, identify which is right for you, and get organized to make filing your returns as pain free as possible.