Anyone can prep and e-file federal taxes free with TaxACT Free Edition 2012. It features every e-fileable form the IRS accepts and can handle even complicated tax scenarios. It's easy to use, guiding you through the usual tax software Q-and-A, but there's little handholding or added features. If you have simple taxes or you're a confident filer, you can't get any cheaper than free.
Simple question-and-answer format, but little guidance. TaxACT Free walks you through the same type of Q-and-A as paid tax software, only without as much built-in guidance for tricky tax topics. "It's as competent, easy-to-use and comprehensive as TurboTax in many ways," says Kathy Yakal at PCMag.com. In fact, TaxACT almost wrests her Editors' Choice award away from TurboTax Deluxe 2012 (*Est. $50) .
Like TurboTax, TaxACT Free lets you skip around in your return and bookmark sections for later. If you get stuck, you can e-mail a tax expert for free, and it's unlimited. You don't get the paid version's excellent built-in Tax Tutor to explain complicated tax laws, changes and pitfalls, however. And if you want to call a tax expert on the phone, it costs $8 for a year of unlimited calls. That's free with paid TaxACT programs.
You'll also have to type more data into TaxACT Free because it doesn't import as much as the paid versions. "I imported personal info from a PDF of last year's return," says a tester at TechSupportAlert.com. "Helpful, but not a huge labor saver. I would have been more impressed if the numbers were imported also."
Math is guaranteed, but other brands may give different totals. TaxACT Free guarantees its accuracy, just like all good paid tax software. If the math is wrong, TaxACT will pay any tax penalty and interest to the feds, but experts say these programs never make math mistakes. Still, different tax prep software can give you various totals. In some tests, questions aren't clear and people type in the wrong numbers. Sometimes the program doesn't ask the right questions.
In one test, a Sacramento TV reporter asks three viewers to do their taxes with free versions of TaxACT, TurboTax and H&R Block At Home software. One man gets a $25 smaller federal return from TaxACT, the brand he usually uses, but it's not enough to make him switch. While the other two testers find discrepancies with the other brands, experts find no discrepancies with TaxACT Free. Just like paid tax software, it double-checks your return, flagging mistakes so you can correct them right on the screen without burrowing back through your return.
Fewer extras than other tax software. TaxACT Free is exactly the same program as TaxACT's paid versions, just without all the bells and whistles. "There's no catch," says Yakal. "It just happens to be free." It includes every e-fileable federal form, so you can file even complicated returns. It "only lacks some extras found in the paid version, such as an import tool, donation tracker and calculators, none of which I even used in my evaluation," she adds.
If you need the extra conveniences -- or state prep/e-file that costs $15 with the free version -- it makes sense to step up to TaxACT's Online Deluxe 2012 (*Est. $10) or Online Ultimate 2012 (*Est. $20) , which is Deluxe bundled with state prep/e-file.
TaxACT Free isn't completely bare bones, however. It includes Dependent Assistant to help you determine if you can claim someone as a dependent, Stock Assistant to enter stock data fast and summarize your investment income, a FAFSA worksheet to help you fill out that federal college financial aid form and DocVault, a free app that lets you snap photos of your receipts, invoices and more to store them until tax time. Audit Defense is available for another $40; if you buy it when you file, TaxACT will send a tax pro to represent you in case of an audit.
Most free tax software is online-only, but TaxACT lets you download the software for free so you can work on your taxes offline. You can order it on a free CD, too, for $6 shipping and handling, but it isn't Mac-compatible. The online version works with Windows, Mac and iPad.
Review Credibility: Excellent Yakal tests the paid version of TaxACT, but says the free app is just as capable minus some help features, and "should be your first stop when you're getting ready to endure your annual tax ordeal."
Review: TaxACT Deluxe Online, Kathy Yakal, Jan. 25, 2013
2. KMAX (Sacramento, Calif.)
Review Credibility: Very Good This Sacramento, Calif., CBS affiliate newscast asks three viewers with simple taxes -- single, no kids -- to do their taxes with the three big software brands' free versions. TaxACT Free Edition gives one man a $25 smaller federal refund, but it's his usual brand and he says it's not enough to make him switch. Others get smaller refunds from TurboTax and H&R Block free software, so there's no winner.
Review: Call Kurtis: The Great Tax Test: Which Tax Preparer Gave the Biggest Refund?, Kurtis Ming, Feb. 21, 2013
Review Credibility: Good TaxACT Free Edition is the best way to file your taxes for free, says this tester after running common tax scenarios through 10 free tax programs. It beats free versions from H&R Block At Home, Jackson Hewitt Online, TaxSlayer and more. TaxACT Free is fast, easy to use and downloadable while others are online-only, and includes every e-fileable form the IRS accepts while others omit important forms. It even includes a helpful FAFSA worksheet for people applying for college financial aid.
Review: Best Free Income Tax Filing Software and Service, "okrick", Feb. 1, 2013
Review Credibility: Fair "With TaxACT you can easily prepare a simple or complex federal return free," and it wins a Silver Award here. Testers find TaxACT accurate and easy to use, just slightly behind the Gold Award-winning TurboTax. This echoes other sources' findings and the write-up is thorough, but this site's Authorized TurboTax Affiliate badge and prominent ads for TurboTax diminish its credibility.
Review: TaxACT 2013, Editors of TopTenReviews.com, Not dated