If your tax return is complex, TurboTax Premier 2012 is probably the best tax software for you, reviewers say. It's simpler to use than cheaper brands, and expert help is just a free phone call or web chat away with no limits. Premier is the TurboTax version that walks you through complicated tax scenarios such as investments and rental properties. For simpler returns, TurboTax Deluxe 2012 (*Est. $50) or TaxACT Online Ultimate 2012 (*Est. $20) are all you need, according to reviews.
Easiest tax software you can buy. This is where TurboTax really outshines the competition; experts unanimously find it the simplest tax software to use. Jeffery Battersby at Macworld calls TurboTax the "easiest to use tax filing product on the market." The New York Times' Tim Gray adds that TurboTax Premier makes doing taxes "as simple as such a time-eating task can be."
It's a breeze from the start in Gray's test. TurboTax Premier smoothly imports more of last year's tax data, compared to H&R Block At Home Premium 2012 (*Est. $45) and TaxACT Online Ultimate 2012. "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," Gray says. "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."
Like other programs, TurboTax uses a Q-and-A format to guide you step by step, but reviews say its questions are especially easy to understand. And unlike H&R Block's software, which forces you to answer questions in order, TurboTax will let you skip around, a flexibility that About.com's Shelley Elmblad particularly appreciates.
TurboTax also offers the best built-in tax guidance. Explanations are "clear, simple but thorough," says Kathy Yakal at PCMag.com. Still stumped? You can chat with a tax expert online or by phone, for free. "When I had a question about recording tax-exempt interest, I clicked on the help link, and TurboTax offered a choice between a call and an online chat," Gray says. "Within seconds, I was e-chatting with Marilyn G., and she pointed me to the right spot on the return. We were done in less than five minutes and I paid nothing extra."
Like TaxACT, TurboTax's expert phone and chat help is free year-round. H&R Block's software includes one free chat or email session with an expert.
Easy-to-understand questions can help you answer correctly. You won't get math errors from any of the major tax software brands, experts say, but different brands can still calculate various refunds or tax bills. They consistently find TurboTax's questions easiest to understand, which could help you answer them accurately.
In one test, a Sacramento, Calif., CBS news affiliate asked three people to do their taxes with each of the three major software brands' free versions. One tester got a $60 bigger state refund from TurboTax because the program asked her about renter's credit in a very easy-to-understand way. TaxACT Free Edition 2012 asked, but the question wasn't clear. H&R Block At Home Free didn't ask at all. Paid versions give more guidance, which can help users get the right answers.
Guides you through rental property and investments. TurboTax Premier costs more than TurboTax Deluxe because Premier adds guidance for investments and rental property. For example, its Cost Basis Lookup tracks and easily calculates your purchase price for stock sales, which is a notorious pain to do otherwise. It also shows how much you could save on taxes this year by opening or contributing to an IRA. It pinpoints more than 20 deductions for landlords -- such as advertising, travel and repairs -- and shows which depreciation method will get you the biggest tax break.
If you don't have rental property or many investments, though, Premier is overkill. Even if you do, you can still enter the same data into the Deluxe version, or even the much cheaper TaxACT Ultimate, says Yakal, but you won't get all the handholding. Audit Defense costs $60 extra with TurboTax. If you buy it before you're audited, TurboTax will handle the audit for you, scheduling and attending the appointments, handling all the correspondence and defending your return for seven years. TaxACT offers a similar service for $40. With H&R Block's software, it's 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 more. If you need only one federal e-file and don't mind doing your taxes via a secure Internet connection, you can save some money by using TurboTax Premier Online 2012 (*Est. $50) , but state software and e-filing costs another $37.
All TurboTax versions are compatible with Windows and Mac, and most are compatible with iPad, Android, Kindle Fire and Chromebook, for the same price as the regular online versions.
1. The New York Times
Review Credibility: Excellent Gray does his family's taxes with the premier versions of all three major tax software brands. Both TurboTax and TaxACT work more smoothly than H&R Block's software, he says, but TurboTax imports more information from last year's return.
Review: Three Programs, Two Ways: Test-Driving the Tax Software, Tim Gray, Feb. 9, 2013
Review Credibility: Excellent Year after year, TurboTax is PCMag.com's Editors' Choice for tax software. Compared to its TaxACT and H&R Block At Home rivals, TurboTax offers the clearest, most accessible and helpful tax guidance. Yakal tests the Deluxe version, which she says does nearly everything the pricier Premier version can do, just without the "more sophisticated help" for rental property and investments.
Review: TurboTax Deluxe Online (Tax Year 2012), Kathy Yakal, Jan. 25, 2013
Review Credibility: Excellent TurboTax for Mac earns a rare 5 stars out of 5 here, beating the separately tested H&R Block At Home. In this full review, Battersby calls TurboTax "the best, easiest to use tax filing product on the market."
Review: Review: TurboTax 2012 for Mac, Jeffery Battersby, Feb. 28, 2013
Review Credibility: Very Good About.com's guide to financial software doesn't test as many types of tax software as other experts, but Elmblad thoroughly evaluates both TurboTax and H&R Block tax prep software. As usual, TurboTax wins. H&R Block At Home includes free audit support, but TurboTax is easier to use, she says.
Review: TurboTax 2012 Tax Software Review, Shelley Elmblad, Not dated
5. KMAX (Sacramento, Calif.)
Review Credibility: Very Good In this test, three people -- all single, no kids, with simple taxes -- do their taxes with all three major brands of free tax software. One gets a $60 bigger state refund from TurboTax because the program asked about her renter's credit in an easy-to-understand way. TaxACT Free Edition asked about the credit, but the questions weren't clear. H&R Block's free software didn't ask at all.
Review: Call Kurtis: The Great Tax Test: Which Tax Preparer Gave the Biggest Refund?, Kurtis Ming, Feb. 21, 2013
Review Credibility: Good TurboTax Premier averages 4.2 stars out of 5 with more than 400 user reviews posted. More than half give it a perfect 5 stars, although some early users discover bugs in the software or can't get a response from TurboTax's customer service.
Review: TurboTax Premier Federal + E-File + State 2012, Contributors to Amazon.com, As of March 2013