9 Best and Cheapest Online Tax Services of 2021: Compare Free State and Federal Returns

We’ve compared the most popular platforms to find seven price points that fit into your budget.

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As someone who’s been working since before I could drive, taxes have become a part of everyday life. I never felt comfortable filing my own taxes, though. It seemed intimidating. I didn’t want to mess anything up and have the IRS come looking for me.

While my fears weren’t very rational, many people share similar thoughts, which meant going through a local tax professional to file. According to a recent survey by the National Society of Accountants (NSA), the average cost of professional tax preparation is $261. This is around what most tax preparers charge you for a 1040 tax form with itemized deductions and a state tax return.

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Today, with online tax software more popular than ever, it’s not a huge ordeal to tackle your own taxes. Based on my years of working with tax software, below are the best online tax services I’ve come across.

Note: Many of the best online tax services are running discounts and sales in the months leading up to the tax filing deadline: Thursday, April 15 2021. Click through the links to see special promotional pricing.

1. Best Value: TaxSlayer

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Credit: TaxSlayer

Pricing ($0-$47): 

Supported tax forms: All tax situations

Free features: Free federal tax return and state return filing, active military federal filing, free tax tools

For those looking for value, top to bottom, TaxSlayer is our choice for overall value in tax software. It offers an easy-to-use interface that makes filing taxes online a breeze.

TaxSlayer has a Simply Free version that handles most simple tax situations and includes State filing too. It also offers a Classic version, which adds access to credit, deductions and all income types for $17.

At $37, TaxSlayer Premium takes it a step further, with live chat support and priority phone and email support as well. For active members of the military, TaxSlayer allows you to file federal returns for free. This includes all tax situations and forms.

Customers can prepare and file online or through TaxSlayer’s sleek mobile app. Download the app to set up tax return status notifications and other updates.

TaxSlayer guarantees you’ll get the maximum return possible, as well as 100% accuracy. You will be hard-pressed to find a better value than what’s offered by TaxSlayer.

2. Best Free Option: FreeTaxUSA

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Credit: FreeTaxUSA

Pricing ($0-$14.99):

Supported tax forms: All common tax forms and many less-used tax forms

Free option: Free federal tax filing

FreeTaxUSA is an online tax preparation software for federal and state returns. Federal returns are free to file, and all tax situations are covered, including filing jointly, homeownership, itemized deductions, dependents, investments, and more. Self-employed tax filings are free as well.

This free online tax service also allows you to import last year’s return from another service, like TurboTax, H&R Block, or TaxAct. FreeTaxUSA guarantees to get you the maximum refund with 100% accuracy.

Customers receive support in the form of a searchable help section and email support. If you opt for the Deluxe Edition, you’ll receive chat support, as well as unlimited amended returns. The real draw is access to Audit Assist, which supplies support from audit specialists if you find yourself subject to an IRS audit.

Note that Audit Assist doesn’t cover state returns. Audit specialists don’t represent you. They only provide information to help you through your audit. Still, that’s not bad for a $6.99 fee. You can find more extensive audit support from other tax software providers, but you’ll also pay a lot more for that service.

3. Best Free Audit Support: Credit Karma Tax

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Credit: Credit Karma Tax

Pricing: $0

Supported tax forms: All common tax forms

Free features: Free federal tax return and state return filing, audit defense

Launched in 2017, Credit Karma Tax is the new kid on the tax service block. Credit Karma Tax is an online tax service offer free federal and state filings for most common tax situations. The free service supports several filing statuses, including:

  • Single
  • Married filing jointly
  • Married filing separately
  • Qualifying widower with dependent child
  • Head of household

Credit Karma also supports some forms for self-employment tax situations, like 1040 schedule C, schedule E and schedule SE. Credit Karma customers have access to Smart File, the company’s streamlined filing process designed for ease of use. Smart File includes an option to upload your W-2 information via photo. You can also import your prior-year return from other services like H&R Block, TurboTax or TaxAct.

Credit Karma stands behind its free service with a guarantee of 100% accuracy and that you will receive the maximum refund possible. Customer service for Credit Karma Tax is limited to email support through its website.

This tax software also features free audit support for qualifying Credit Karma Tax members. Audit support includes features like reviewing documents, consultations, written correspondence with tax authorities and attendance at conferences or hearings on your behalf.

4. Best for Simple Returns: Jackson Hewitt

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Credit: Jackson Hewitt Tax Service

Pricing ($25+):

  • Simple Returns: $25 for federal, $49 for federal and unlimited state returns

Supported tax forms: All tax situations

Free features: Free simple returns with no dependents

One of the oldest tax services in America, Jackson Hewitt doesn’t just offer help at brick-and-mortar office locations and inside Walmart stores. It also provides online filing help.

Jackson Hewitt has easy pricing: It’s $49 for federal and unlimited state returns, or $25 for federal returns only. The service makes it easy to download your W-2, and there is a 100% accuracy guarantee. The step-by-step process keeps it simple, perfect for those just starting to DIY taxes online.

5. Best for Complex Returns: TurboTax

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Credit: TurboTax

Pricing ($0-$120): 

Supported tax forms: All tax situations

Free features: Free federal tax and state return filing, free tax tools

TurboTax is one of the most recognizable online tax software companies in America. They’ve been providing service online for a long time, and it shows.

Filing your taxes is simple with TurboTax, which allows you to snap a photo of your W-2 using a mobile app. The Free Edition includes free federal and state filing.

Where TurboTax shines is with customers with more complex tax returns. The Deluxe Edition helps maximize tax deductions and credits, while the Premier Edition includes investments and rental properties. Cryptocurrency and robo-investing are even covered with its Premier offering. Plus, you can easily import your investment income automatically with TurboTax.

Both premium versions and the Self-Employed version come with on-demand one-on-one support from tax specialists. Customers also get personalized tax tips based on how they answer questions through the filing process.

Before you file, TurboTax always runs a comprehensive review of your return, ensuring nothing gets missed. For complete and quality service, TurboTax has you covered.

6. Best for Experienced Tax Filers: Liberty Tax

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Credit: Liberty Tax

Pricing ($44.95): 

Supported tax forms: Form 1040, 4562, 8829, 4136, 4684, 4835, 8839, 8853, Schedule A, B, C, E, F, K-1

Free features: Import of past tax returns from competitors, free double-check service (in person)

Liberty Tax is another tax preparation service known for its in-person tax help, with over 3,000 locations across the U.S. They also offer online tax software for customers who don’t want to DIY their taxes from home.

Liberty Tax has three online offerings— Basic, Deluxe and Premium. With a price point of $44.95, you can find much better bargains than Liberty’s Basic version for simple returns through other companies on this list. If you’re an experienced tax filer, though, Liberty Tax is a solid choice.

There’s not a lot of hand-holding with Liberty or extra support features you may find with other top online tax software. If you know what you’re doing, you won’t miss those features. Plus, you always have the option to hand off your tax return to your local Liberty Tax branch if you get in a bind. Liberty’s website if full of free resources, like withholding and mileage calculators, income tax tables and other helpful tools.

7. Best Accuracy Guarantee: TaxAct

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Credit: TaxAct

Pricing ($0-$64.95):

Supported tax forms: All tax situations

Free features: Free federal tax and state return filing, free tax tools

TaxAct has you covered, no matter your tax situation. There’s a free version that includes simple returns and premium offerings for those with more complex tax situations, from credits and deductions to investments and rental properties. There’s even a self-employed version for freelancers and independent contractors.

You can’t talk about TaxAct without mentioning its $100K Accuracy Guarantee. Most online tax software services have guarantees, but not to this extent. TaxAct guarantees their software is 100% accurate and will calculate the maximum possible refund for customers. If there’s an error in the tax software that causes you to receive a smaller refund or larger tax liability than you get from another tax service, TaxAct will pay you the difference, up to $100,000. You’ll also receive any fees paid to TaxAct for filing services.

If you are audited by the IRS and end up paying penalties or interest because of a software error, TaxAct reimburses any penalties and most audit costs, up to $100,000, plus TaxAct software fees. Certain limitations apply, but it’s great to know that TaxAct stands behind their product like this. You can file taxes with confidence, knowing that TaxAct has your back.

Read our in-depth TaxAct review.

8. Best for Live Support: H&R Block

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Credit: H&R Block

Pricing ($0-$144.99): 

Supported tax forms: All tax situations

Free features: Free federal and state filing, free tax tools

H&R Block is one of the oldest tax preparation services, founded in 1955. Over the past 60+ years, it’s developed into a world leader in the industry.

Besides visiting a local H&R Block tax professional, you can also file your tax return online with H&R Block. With several different options and price points, H&R Block has something for every person, no matter their tax situation.

On top of free and Premium tax filing services, customers can receive online support from a tax specialist through Online Assist. This could be help from a tax expert, enrolled agent, or a CPA. Online Assist is available as an add-on to every filing option. There is a fee for adding this extra support, but it’s perfect for people who need extra help as they work through their tax return.

Online Assist provides unlimited expert one-on-one help, simplifying the process. You can confidently file your tax return, knowing everything is accurate, and every possible deduction was included.

9. Honorable Mention: e-file.com

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Credit: E-File

Pricing ($0-$34.49):

Supported tax forms: All tax situations

Free features: Simple federal returns and expert support via email

If you’re one of millions of Americans who will file a simple return this year, then you’re better off using another service that allows truly free filing. Online tax preparers like FreeTaxUSA or H&R Block’s Free Edition allow people with dependents, HSA and student loan interest to file both federal and state for free. While e-file does offer free federal filing, its so-called Free edition charges $21 state tax returns.

However, e-file is worth considering if you’re shopping around for an online tax preparer that offers lower cost deluxe and premium features for more complicated returns.

Which Tax Preparation Service Is Right for You?

With the help of online tax software preparation services, like those mentioned above, you can file your own taxes like a pro. Many services allow you free account access to start, only paying once you actually file. Why not take advantage of the convenience and support found with online tax software? You’ll gain a better understanding of the entire tax filing process and save money at the same time.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the most affordable tax preparation services for e-filing?

Outside of Liberty Tax, all of the tax services listed above offer free e-filing services for at least simple federal tax returns. Credit Karma, H&R Block, TaxAct, Turbo Tax and Tax Slayer also offer free state filings in some tax situations.

What is the cheapest tax software that offers audit support?

Credit Karma Tax offers free audit support services for members who have their tax returns audited. Services are provided through a partnership with audit specialists Tax Protection Plus. The program offers free support like consultations, document review and collection, written correspondence with taxing authorities and representation at any conferences or hearings with taxing authorities.

What is the best free filing tax software service?

The best free tax filing service depends on your tax situation and specific needs. Almost all of the tax services on our list offering some form of free tax filing. Credit Karma Tax is the only option listed that includes free audit support. Review each service’s features and supported forms the find the right one for you.

Is it worth it to pay someone to do your taxes?

If you don’t have experience filing your own taxes or have a more complicated tax situation, it might be worth it to pay a tax prep service to do your taxes. Many online tax services have created filing processes that are easy to understand and use no matter your level of experience. Some even incorporate mobile-friendly technology as an extra perk. One option is to try filling out your tax return through one of these inexpensive programs and if you get stuck, then turn to someone else for help. In some cases, you can pay for premium support through online tax services.

Do I qualify for free taxes?

Free tax filings are usually limited to more common tax situations. If you have a more complicated tax situation, there’s a good chance you’ll need to pay to file your federal and state taxes. Qualifications vary from one tax service to the next. Take time to research all of the free tax filing options to determine your eligibility.

Are the cheapest tax services good for small business?

Small business owners should examine their specific tax needs to determine if using the cheapest tax service makes sense. If your business falls in the realm of self-employment, it could be a smart move. It’s more important, though, to find a tax service that covers your tax situation and offers extra services beneficial to a business.

Who is responsible for mistakes on your tax return?

If you hire someone else to do your taxes, they could be liable if they make mistakes that result in an audit. If you use an online tax service, do your homework to find out who is responsible if there are mistakes made. Many of the services listed above come with accuracy guarantees. Ultimately, it’s up to you to go over your return before it’s filed to ensure accuracy.

While we work hard on our research, we do not always provide a complete listing of all available offers from credit-card companies and banks. And because offers can change, we cannot guarantee that our information will always be up to date, so we encourage you to verify all the terms and conditions of any financial product before you apply.

Kevin Payne

Kevin Payne is a personal finance, credit card, and travel writer. He is the family travel and budget expert behind FamilyMoneyAdventure.com. Kevin lives in Cleveland, Ohio, with his wife and four kids. His work has appeared on several websites, including FinanceBuzz, Credit Karma, Millennial Money, Club Thrifty, Student Loan Planner and Slickdeals.

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