TurboTax Deluxe 2012 is the best tax preparation software for most people, according to experts. It helps you navigate through typical tax issues, and free expert help is just a phone call or web chat away. Reviewers unanimously find TurboTax simpler to use than other brands. For complicated tax situations such as multiple stock sales or rental property income, you'll get more in-depth guidance from TurboTax Premier 2012 (*Est. $75) . TaxACT Online Ultimate 2012 (*Est. $20) covers all the same topics but with less handholding.
Better than other brands. TurboTax really outshines its rivals here. It's so easy to use; Macworld's Jeffery Battersby gives it a perfect rating. "TurboTax remains the only reason I'm willing to file my personal taxes on my own," he says.
First, TurboTax imports tax data better than competing brands. In Tim Gray's test of the Premier version for The New York Times, "all of the unchanged data from 2011 -- names, addresses, federal ID numbers, even descriptions of business expenses -- popped into the right places on the 2012 forms. Even the names of the charities we support carried over. The software also imported my wife's W-2 and all of the information on our investments. All I had to do was key in details for a few local banks and update the amounts we'd given to charity." Deluxe has the same importing capabilities.
Next comes the Q-and-A, and experts say TurboTax does this better, too. Questions are easy to understand. You can skip around if you like, says About.com's Shelley Elmblad, unlike H&R Block's software that forces you to answer questions in order.
If you hit a snag, TurboTax offers the best built-in tax help, or you can chat with a tax expert online or by phone; it's free and unlimited all year. TaxACT offers unlimited free email and phone help, too. With H&R Block At Home Deluxe 2012 (*Est. $50) , you get one free chat or email session with an expert.
With simpler questions, you might find extra tax breaks. Any decent tax software will do the math correctly, experts say. But you can still wind up with different tax bills or refunds from various brands. Experts unanimously find TurboTax's Q-and-A the easiest to understand, which can help you give accurate answers.
In a test for a CBS News affiliate, three taxpayers tried all three major software brands' free versions. One woman got $60 more back from the state with TurboTax because the program helped her understand that she qualifies for a renter's credit. She found the renter's question unclear with TaxACT Free Edition 2012 and H&R Block's free software didn't even ask. Paid versions offer more guidance, which can help users answer the questions correctly.
Covers most people's tax situations. TurboTax offers cheaper and pricier versions, but Deluxe hits the sweet spot, guiding you through the tax topics that most people need. Home mortgages, childcare, student loans, medical expenses and retirement income are all covered. Like its rivals, TurboTax Deluxe includes a donation assistant. You type in items you gave to charity such as clothes and housewares, and the program tells you how much they're worth, then adds them all up. It's an easy way to make sure you deduct the proper amount, reviews say.
However, TurboTax charges $60 extra for Audit Defense. If you buy it before you're audited, TurboTax will handle your correspondence, schedule and attend appointments, and defend your return for seven years. TaxACT's similar service costs $40 while H&R Block's software includes it for free.
Boxed and downloadable versions of TurboTax Premier include federal software and one free download of state software. Five free federal e-files are included, but state e-filing costs $20. If you need only one federal e-file, you can save some money by doing your taxes on the secure website; TurboTax Deluxe Online 2012 (*Est. $30) charges $37 extra for state software and e-filing.
All TurboTax versions are compatible with Windows and Mac. Most, including Deluxe, are compatible with iPad, Android, Kindle Fire and Chromebook for the same price as the regular online versions.
Review Credibility: Excellent As usual, TurboTax is the Editors' Choice for tax software here. Yakal tests and recommends TurboTax Deluxe over the Premier version, finding it easier to use than other brands. Premier offers more guidance for investments and rental properties, but she points out that you can still enter that type of data in Deluxe. And if you don't have any of those, you don't need Premier.
Review: TurboTax Deluxe Online (Tax Year 2012), Kathy Yakal, Jan. 25, 2013
2. The New York Times
Review Credibility: Excellent After testing all three major tax software brands' premier versions, Gray prefers TurboTax. TaxACT works fine, he says, but TurboTax imports more information from last year's return. He finds installing the H&R Block software problematic.
Review: Three Programs, Two Ways: Test-Driving the Tax Software, Tim Gray, Feb. 9, 2013
Review Credibility: Excellent TurboTax for Mac outscores H&R Block At Home software here, earning a rare 5 stars out of 5. Battersby says TurboTax is "the best, easiest to use tax filing product on the market," and it's what he personally uses to file his taxes.
Review: Review: TurboTax 2012 for Mac, Jeffery Battersby, Feb. 28, 2013
Review Credibility: Very Good About.com's guide to financial software tests fewer types of tax software than other experts. After thorough evaluations of both TurboTax and H&R Block At Home, Elmblad prefers TurboTax. It's easier to use, she says, although H&R Block At Home does include free audit support.
Review: TurboTax 2012 Tax Software Review, Shelley Elmblad, Not dated
5. KMAX (Sacramento, Calif.)
Review Credibility: Very Good This Sacramento, Calif., CBS affiliate asks three people with simple tax returns to try the free versions of all three major software brands. One gets an extra $60 back in her state refund from TurboTax because it was the only program that asked about her renter's credit in an easy-to-understand way. Another gets a $9 bigger state refund from H&R Block At Home, but doesn't know why.
Review: Call Kurtis: The Great Tax Test: Which Tax Preparer Gave the Biggest Refund?, Kurtis Ming, Feb. 21, 2013
Review Credibility: Good TurboTax Deluxe gets 4.2 stars out of 5 in more than 1,200 user reviews here. Most award it a perfect 5 stars, although some wonder why a product listed as "Federal + E-File + State" charges extra for state e-file.
Review: TurboTax Deluxe Federal + E-File + State 2012, Contributors to Amazon.com, As of March 2013