Tick. Tick. Tick.
Yes, the clock is ticking toward April 18 — tax filing day this year — and if you are among the millions of Americans yet to file your taxes, it’s time to stop procrastinating and get to work. But don’t fret; it could be worse.
Twenty years ago, you’d have been running to the library to find the necessary forms, make copies, pull out your documents and calculator, then read through the complicated tax booklet to try to understand the forms. All on a deadline.
With tax preparers likely booked at the 11th hour — they completed nearly 56% of all electronically filed returns in 2021 — you probably are on your own. But thanks to the internet and a variety of tax software available, the 169 million tax returns filed annually never have been easier to prepare.
Less than two weeks before the filing deadline, just 81.37 million returns have been received by the Internal Revenue Service, meaning a lot of Americans are left to search for the best and most cost-effective filing method for their needs.
Here are some ideas of places to turn to file your taxes. And, the good news: Depending on the complexity of your returns and your income, as well as the service you use, you might not owe a dime for filing your federal and state taxes.
TurboTax, from software developer Intuit, has four levels of products to suit all circumstances: free, deluxe, premier and self-employed. The free plan is just that — free, if you have what the company calls a “simple” tax return. The others begin at $59, $89 and $119 for federal returns (state returns are additional except with free plans).
Like the other tax-prep software, TurboTax will walk you through the process, asking a series of questions along the way that will help you select the plan that is right for you and also trigger your recollection about income and prospective tax deductions.
If you have questions, you can pay an additional fee for help from a tax expert, with the “free” federal tax return moving to $79 (state additional) and the others also rising in price. If you want to hand off the mess and have a TurboTax pro prepare your return, the service begins at $199, with the price increasing as the difficulty level rises.
Like TurboTax, Tax Act also offers the free, deluxe, premier and self-employed options. The free option applies only to federal returns; you’ll pay extra for a state return. The deluxe ($46.95), premier ($69.95) and self-employed ($94.95) packages also don’t include state returns.
For filers who used Tax Act before April 7, they had the option of consulting with an expert for free. The expert assistance now costs from $49.95 to $79.95, depending on the plan level your taxes require.
Tax Act also has a full-service option, beginning at $99.95 to have a tax pro prepare your return. That’s for a simple return, with a federal return for a self-employed filer costing $279.95.
While this service lacks the big name of the others so far on the list, it offers something they don’t: free federal tax preparation, no matter how complex your taxes. Whether you’re self-employed, have investment or rental income or can claim one of more than 350 credits or deductions, you won’t pay for a federal return. State returns cost $14.99.
If you hit a snag and need personal attention, the upgraded deluxe plan costs $6.99. You’ll get to move to the front of the line for a live chat with a tax pro who can answer your questions.
Brothers Henry and Richard Bloch began offering tax preparation services to the clients of their United Business Services in Kansas City in 1955, giving birth to the well-known H&R Block. While it retains about 12,000 retail locations around the world, H&R Block also offers online tax prep.
Filing simple returns — federal and state — is free. Upgraded plans for more complex returns range from about $55 to $115, plus $45 for state returns.
Cash App Taxes
Formerly called Credit Karma Tax, Cash App Taxes allows you to file your taxes — of any complexity level — either from your phone or computer keyboard. The company promises its service is completely free, for both state and federal taxes, and without any hidden fees or surprise charges.
The company, however, doesn’t offer the same personal touch and support that others do. You’ll have to rely on Cash App Taxes’ library of answers to frequently asked questions if you need help.
The Bottom Line
Even with all of this online help, you might find you’re missing a document or just run out of time. If that’s the case, you can file for an extension by April 18, and the IRS will give you six months to get your return in. You can file through your online software, the IRS free file site or by printing Form 4868 from its website and mailing it in.
Remember that an extension for filing doesn’t give you an extension to pay. You still should make your best effort to estimate the amount of taxes you owe and make payment now to avoid possible penalties.
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