Consumer Reports: Which tax prep is right for you?

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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.

Consumer Reports tested online versions of both shortly after their release in December. 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.

The basics

With either, you can import W-2s, 1099s and other income documents from thousands of employers and financial institutions. Consumer Reports notes that 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 inputs into their online programs.

H&R Block Deluxe

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

• Navigation and design. You'll need a valid Social Security number to begin, a minus if you're just trying the program. A federal refund ticker appears once you enter your income; a state ticker appears once the program has enough info.

• 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 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. CST (9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends). If you get an IRS letter, audit support is free.

• Health-care law tools/advice. You can upload your 1095-A, a proof-of-insurance document provided by employers. But Consumer Reports found no mention of IRS Forms 1095-B and 1095-C, which many taxpayers will receive for the first time in 2016. (Unlike 1095-A, those don't need to be included on returns.)

Turbotax Deluxe

• Additional fees. 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. Consumer Reports 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. TurboTax experts are CPAs and enrolled agents. Live advice and general support are available from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. Pacific Time seven days a week. Audit support costs $39.99.

• Health-care law tools/advice. Consumer Reports 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.

Opinion

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.

To learn more, visit ConsumerReports.org.


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