Shoppers won’t only find deals on TVs, smart phones, and cookware in stores this holiday season. They're also getting an early chance to purchase do-it-yourself tax software for tax-season 2019. Desktop, downloadable, and some online versions of major DIY tax-prep brands are now available for purchase, and at a discount. 

Buying tax software doesn't sound like as much fun as shopping for a new smart speaker or camera. But if playing around with the software now leads you to make money-saving year-end tax moves, you could file early enough to have a refund by mid-February when payments on your holiday credit-card bills are due.

What's Available Now

Here's what's being offered from the major brands and the Internal Revenue Service:

• H&R Block's downloadable software is now available at the company's website; the desktop version can be purchased at major online and walk-in retailers. H&R Block currently has a deal with Amazon to give users a 5 percent "refund bonus" for putting some or all of their tax refund on an Amazon gift card. For instance, a taxpayer expecting a $3,000 refund could get $150 extra that way. H&R Block says its online version, which requires users to prepare their taxes online through their computers' server, is expected to be available after Dec. 5.

More on Taxes from Consumer Reports

• TaxAct’s downloadable product is slated to roll out this first week of December. The TaxAct mobile app will be available at the same time, a spokesperson told us. The company will publish updates throughout the month; the official "launch" of TaxAct will be in early January.

• TurboTax's online and downloadable products are now available, as is TurboTaxLive, which provides real-time advice from CPAs and enrolled agents. For the first time, TurboTax Premier, for investors and folks owning rental property, has a feature to account for gains and losses from cryptocurrency transactions.

• TaxSlayer's online product is currently available. The mobile version is expected in early January. (TaxSlayer doesn't offer downloads or CD-ROM versions.) TaxSlayer's Ask a Tax Pro service for live tax advice from an expert is now available for paying customers between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Eastern Standard Time now. The company says it will extend those hours once tax season begins.

• The IRS has a page dedicated to getting ready for tax season 2019, including information on finding your 2017 adjusted gross income, which you'll need to complete any DIY tax product. (In January, the IRS's FreeFile, which offers free, online DIY tax prep for households with estimated 2018 AGI's below $66,000—about 70 percent of the U.S.—will be available.)

Regardless of when you first start using your DIY tax software, you'll get free updates until you file. (With downloads and desktop versions, you'll need to connect online periodically so the updates can be uploaded.) So there's little risk to getting started early, and a number of benefits.

See How New Tax Law Will Affect You

The new tax software will help you determine whether to itemize your deductions or file using the standard deduction given the many changes of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. If you've always used the standard deduction, that's unlikely to change on your 2018 return. But if you have itemized in the past, it may now be advantageous to switch.

Under the new tax law, the standard deduction nearly doubled for 2018, to $12,000 for singer filers (up from $6,350) and to $24,000 for married couples filing jointly (up from $12,700).

As a result of that and other major changes, an estimated 29 million people who itemized in the past will find they'll get a bigger refund or owe less to the IRS by using the standard deduction for 2018, says the Tax Foundation, an independent tax policy research organization based in Washington, D.C. That means 90 percent of Americans will now use the standard deduction, up from about 70 percent in 2017.

This year, TurboTax's TaxCaster feature will compare your tax situation this year and last year so that you can clearly see whether it's better to continue to itemize or to now take the standard deduction. 

Identify Last-Minute Tax Moves

If you still benefit from itemizing, you might want to take some last-minute steps to ramp up those deductions. Tax software may be able to identify those opportunities. 

And if you find you're on the borderline between taking the standard deduction and itemizing, shifting some deductible expenses to the current year could make itemizing more beneficial, notes Joseph Conroy, a certified financial planner at Synergy Financial Group in Towson, Md.

"For instance, making extra mortgage payments prior to the end of the year would entitle the taxpayer to claim interest for this tax year," he notes.

You could also increase your charitable contributions. Generally, they're still fully deductible.

"Consider bunching multiple years of charitable donations into one donation this year to help you exceed the standard deduction," advises Eric Bronnenkant, head of tax for Betterment, the online financial advisory service.

You can contribute directly to a charity or to a donor-advised fund, which lets you get a tax break now, but time your disbursements however you'd like.

You also could schedule medical procedures before year-end. For 2018 only, eligible medical expenses can be deducted when they exceed 7.5 percent of your adjusted gross income. In 2019, those expenses will have to exceed 10 percent of AGI in order for them to be deducted.

Find Out Whether You're Withholding Enough

Getting a head start now on your taxes will let you know whether you need to have your employer adjust your withholding for December. 

Most taxpayers earning a salary have seen a small jump in take-home pay due to the tax law's generally more generous tax rates. If each taxpayer on your return has one job, you file using the standard deduction, and have filled out your W-2 forms correctly, you're probably having the right amount of federal tax withheld in accordance with the new tax law.

But DIY software can determine whether you need to withhold more in December or ask your employer to withhold less. If you work more than one job, for instance, the software can flag how much extra tax has been withheld because you're paying the government twice for Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. You can ask your employer to withhold less through year-end.

The software also can identify if you'll need to increase your withholding. That could happen, for instance, if in the past you reported lots of federal tax deductions that you can no longer take. The deductible portion of your state and local taxes, for instance, is now capped at $10,000 per household. 

“In my experience, the No. 1 reason people pay too much in taxes is that they didn’t withhold enough or pay enough in estimated taxes," notes Seth Babb, director of consumer products for TaxSlayer.

Get a Price Break Now

The DIY tax-prep services and some retailers often offer price breaks to early birds. Toward the end of tax season, those discounts can disappear.

TaxAct locks in your purchase price at the point you start using its online product. Even if you end up filing through TaxAct late in the season, you won't pay more for the product.

Intuit, which produces Turbotax software, is offering $10 off of all its desktop and downloadable products now. And Amazon is offering even bigger discounts. For instance, the PC- and Mac-download versions of TurboTax Deluxe Federal and State 2018 is $49.99 on Amazon vs. Intuit's $79.98. The mega-retailer is also offering all purchasers of TurboTax Deluxe, Premier, and Home & Business versions a free one-year subscription to Quicken Starter Edition 2018.

On the H&R Block site, you can only purchase the software download, not the desktop version. The download of H&R Block Deluxe Federal and State 2018 is $44.95 at the company website, $10 off its regular price. On Amazon, you can only purchase the desktop version; it's just 4 cents more.

Downloadable and desktop versions have one major advantage over the online versions: You can do up to five different tax returns with each product you buy. That can be useful if you want to do your adult child's or aging parent's return in addition to your own.

And regardless of when you buy your tax software, all of the companies let you update your version free if there are changes made by the IRS and state tax authorities. This is true no matter what form your tax software takes, whether it's a downloaded, desktop CD-ROM, online, or mobile version.

One Reason to Wait Before Buying

Buying a download or CD-ROM version of tax software means it's more than likely you'll use that brand to prepare and file your return. You've paid for it, after all.

That's not true, though, for online and mobile versions of tax software. You can try each one without paying. In fact, in those cases, you pay only when you're ready to file.

CR has found that each major brand has its own benefits and drawbacks. So if you're interested in comparing how several different brands treat your tax situation, you might want to wait until all the major brands have their online versions available. Because they're free to try, you can play around with them at no risk. (All the software companies say they adhere to the IRS's security guidelines to prevent identity theft and fraud.)         

Keep in mind that better deals may surface later in the tax season. In past seasons, we've noticed discounts on TurboTax products for clients of Fidelity Investments and USAA, the insurance company, and for union members through the union benefits site UnionPlus. 

Just don't wait till the last minute to purchase a product. Most brands increase their prices two to three weeks before the tax deadline, which next year is Monday, April 15.