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Tax-prep software review: H&R Block Deluxe vs. TurboTax Deluxe

We evaluate these DIY programs for their ease of use and value

Published: February 2014

If you're among the 41 percent of American taxpayers brave or cost-conscious enough to do their own taxes, you've got plenty of tools at your disposal in the form of free and low-cost tax-prep software.

This year H&R Block and TurboTax, two leading do-it-yourself tax-prep software products, have attempted to simplify so users of their guided interviews don’t have to do so much clicking. In early January, we tested online and CD-ROM versions of both, inputting information from a hypothetical family of four. (You can also download the products: hrblock.com and turbotax.com.)

We tried the online versions free; with both you pay only when you file. All prices are as of early February; you might be able to find lower prices with online coupons, or through your bank, investment company, employer, or other source. Prices also may increase late in the tax season.

—Tobie Stanger

 

H&R Block Deluxe

TurboTax Deluxe

Common features

You can import W-2s, 1099s, and other income documents. Use guided interviews or skip around. A refund box ticker updates what you’ll get or owe. Both programs guarantee accuracy of their calculations. Audit support and a searchable database of Q&As.

 

Price

CD-ROM: $39.99 for five federal returns and one state return. Online: $29.99 for one federal return, $36.99 for one state return.

CD-ROM: $59.99 for five federal returns and one state return. Online: $29 for one federal return, $36.99 for one state return. (Might increase after March 22.)

Navigation and design

Online, we didn’t have to register right away, so we could play around with the program until we felt comfortable. We needed fewer clicks to get through some sections, especially in the beginning when inputting personal information.

Having to register right off the bat was annoying. But we appreciated the program’s uncluttered design. Pluses: The program estimates your state and federal refund at the same time. And you can access the “Questions” box on every page and quickly search for an answer or ask a question via e-mail.

Human help

H&R Block experts are CPAs, enrolled agents, tax attorneys, or tax preparers who have at minimum completed its tax-prep training course. The expert answered a tax question in a timely way but the response required follow-up.

TurboTax experts are CPAs, enrolled agents, and tax attorneys. But free expert advice was only available to online and mobile users. The expert answered a tax question in a timely, comprehensive way.

Valuing donations

(This feature gives dollar values of donated items. Our test used items in excellent condition.)

DeductionPro: Of a dozen items we entered, most were valued somewhat lower than with ItsDeductible (at right). But this program had some categories that ItsDeductible didn’t have, such as elliptical trainers ($61.57).

ItsDeductible: It took fewer clicks to arrive at item values. Most valuations we saw were higher than with Deduction- Pro. We liked that it didn’t include the price of a used child car seat, a safety risk.

Explanations

Bulleted points made for easy reading in pop-up boxes. Block explained some items quite well, including what defines a full-time student and who’s a dependent. Easy-to-access Q&As on every page provided useful and sometimes unusual facts. (For example: Yard-sale income usually doesn’t have to be reported.) But we found explanations of where to input data from Form 1099-MISC quite confusing.

Explanations were worded for simplicity. Minor explanations often were the most useful. For example, we learned that just having a mutual fund with foreign stocks doesn’t mean that you have an “interest in a foreign bank account,” so you could skip that section. A big plus was the option to print out long explanations from pop-up boxes.

Bottom line

The CD-ROM’s simple design and navigation makes it a good choice for a tax DIY novice. It’s a better value than the TurboTax version, especially due to its free advice offer.

We liked the online version of this product better than its CD-ROM version, and better than H&R Block online. Small investors or those with home-based side businesses don’t need to pay the recommended $20 or $45 extra to upgrade.

 

See our Income Tax Guide for more advice and tips on preparing, filing and saving on your income tax return.

Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the March 2014 issue of Consumer Reports Money Adviser.
   

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