Are you among the intrepid tax filers who prepare their own returns? Then you’re probably using H&R Block Deluxe or TurboTax Deluxe, two leading tax-prep products. They’re aimed at folks who itemize but don’t have complex investments or businesses.

For this tax-preparation software review, we tested online versions of both shortly after their release in December 2015. (You can do the same; you pay only when you file.) Each costs $34.99 to prepare and file a federal return and $36.99 for a single state return, though prices could rise later in the season.

TaxAct, another popular online tax-prep tool, had not been released at the time we did our tax-preparation software comparison.

The Basics
With either tool, you can import W-2s, 1099s, and other income documents from thousands of employers and financial institutions. You can opt to have the programs guide you or skip sections that don’t apply. Both offer a refund “ticker” that constantly updates what you’ll get or owe as you go through the program.

Got a tax question? H&R Block and TurboTax let you input queries or search their databases for answers. Both also offer advice from tax pros by phone. H&R Block offers unlimited, free advice to all users. Users of TurboTax Deluxe online and its higher-priced cousins get free advice, but users of the TurboTax Deluxe CD-Rom pay $19.99 for unlimited calls.

File by Phone
If you’re so inclined, the mobile versions of both apps let you prepare the “long form” (IRS Form 1040) as well as the “short forms” (1040-A and 1040-EZ) on your smartphone. As advertised, both apps automatically transferred our inputs into their online programs. 

CR's Take
H&R Block offers a few more free services than TurboTax, which could make it more attractive to do-it-yourself newbies. But TurboTax'€™s more generous charitable deduction valuations, for example, make it a better choice for seasoned DIY-ers.

Tax-preparation software can help you file your tax return.

H&R Block Deluxe vs. TurboTax Deluxe (online versions)

H&R Block Deluxe OnlineTurboTax Deluxe Online

Additional fees

A refund processing fee is $34.95 if you pay for H&R Block online out of your federal refund.

A refund processing fee is $34.99 if you pay for TurboTax out of your federal refund. Users of TurboTax Deluxe CD-Rom users pay $19.99 for live tax advice.

Navigation and design

You'll need a valid Social Security number to begin, a minus if you're just trying the program. We liked the movable explanatory pop-up windows. A federal refund ticker appears once you enter income; a state ticker appears once the program has enough info.

We liked the program's uncluttered design. Explanatory pop-up windows are bigger than H&R Block's. The refund ticker shows both federal and state refunds throughout the process. Pages are personalized, referencing your state. A search box is on every page.

Human help

H&R Block experts are tax attorneys, CPAs, enrolled agents, and preparers who have at minimum completed its training. Unlimited live tax advice from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. ET (9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends). If you get an IRS letter, audit support is free.

TurboTax experts are CPAs and enrolled agents. Live advice and general support are available from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. ET seven days a week. Audit support costs $39.99.

Features/explanations

We liked the option to upload documents into the cloud for later use. Also nice: At the start of every section (income, deductions, etc.) is a list of documents you might need.

The program offers clear explanations of big-picture topics, including videos on topics such as why a taxpayer might file for the standard deduction rather than itemizing.
Valuing donations
(Our test used items in excellent or like-new condition.)

Inputting charitable donations into the DeductionPro tool involves less navigation than with TurboTax's ItsDeductible tool. But of the 17 items we randomly chose to compare, most valuations were somewhat or significantly lower than with ItsDeductible.

Of the 17 items we randomly chose to compare using the ItsDeductible tool, most valuations were somewhat or significantly higher than with H&R Block's DeductionPro. We liked that it didn't include used car seats, which shouldn't be donated for safety reasons.

Healthcare law tools/advice

You can upload your 1095-A, a proof-of-insurance document. In search, we found no mention of IRS Forms 1095-B and 1095-C, which many taxpayers will receive for the first time in 2016.1 (Unlike 1095-A, those don't need to be included on returns.)

We liked the low-jargon guidance on health coverage related to the Affordable Care Act. TurboTax tells you what to do with Forms 1095-B and 1095-C, which many taxpayers will receive for the first time in 2016.

Mobile-version experience

Overall, we found the up-down navigation and "back" and "next" buttons at the bottom of screens easier to use than TurboTax's left-right swipe navigation.

We found that swiping screens left and right was not as easy a way to navigate as using H&R Block's "back" and "next" buttons. A well-designed feature: Pressing highlighted words flipped over the screens to reveal detailed explanations.

  1. Clarification: Using the search box in the Help Center turned up no mention of IRS Forms 1095-B and 1095-C.

Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the March 2016 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.