I Did My Taxes Three Times for You

I promised everyone here a post about taxes today, and here it is!

I have been using TurboTax for most of my tax-paying life, but decided to try out two other popular online tax programs—TaxACT and H&R Block at Home—to see if they were, A) easier to use, and B) better at calculating what I owed the government. Doing my taxes three times was totally boring and painful, but you know it’s true, everything I do, I do it for you. But I am actually really glad I did this, because the programs calculated different figures, and the differences in the calculations were actually a lot. 

Before I talk about the programs, a quick rundown of my tax situation: I had a full-time job for all of 2011, so I have a W-2 form from my old company. I also did some freelancing on the side, so I have several 1099-MISC forms. I paid a little more than $2,000 in qualified student loan interest, all of which is deductible and reported on a 1098-E form. I also contributed to a retirement account, and that money is also deductible.

My situation isn’t too complicated (no spouse, kids or mortgage) so I didn’t need to pay for the “deluxe” version of any of the programs I used, which were:

TurboTax
$34.95 for Federal Basic
$39.95 for State

TaxACT
$17.95 for both Deluxe Federal and State

H&R Block At Home
$34.95 for Federal Basic
$39.95 for State

The winner of the three? TurboTax. TurboTax all the way!

So, let’s start with the worst, which was TaxACT. There’s a reason why TaxAct is the cheapest of the three: The user experience sucks. It’s a pain to go back and edit information. It wasn’t clear about what I was supposed to do with my 1099-MISC forms. It doesn’t provide too much guidance. I’d only recommend this program to someone if they had a really simple tax situation, or if you’re willing to get annoyed every now and then to save the $57 you’d spend using one of the other programs. I actually didn’t finish using this program because I was too annoyed with it. Doing your taxes should be as painless as possible. This made it more painful.

H&R Block At Home is wonderful. The step-by-step guide makes it so any idiot can do his or her taxes. I actually really liked the interface more than TurboTax! It actually made me feel calm and relaxed throughout the entire process, which just took about an hour or so. After so many years of being a loyal TurboTax user, I would have chosen H&R Block At Home as my favorite of them all, but one thing prevented me from doing so: It told me I owed $861 in federal taxes, and $177 in state taxes.

When I used TurboTax, which is totally solid and familiar, it calculated that I owed $177 in state taxes, but $699 in federal taxes—a $162 difference. And although I don’t mind paying taxes—nay, actually like paying taxes—I filed my taxes using TurboTax to save myself $162. I’m a firm believer in paying every cent that I owe, but, no more, no less.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from doing this, it’s that it pays to do your taxes more than once — or it can save, at least.

 

[Ed. Note: TurboTax has sponsored things Logan and I have written before, but have nothing to do with this post. They just happened to end up as the program that saved me the most money.]

Photo Credit: Flickr/Photo Farmer

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12 Comments / Post A Comment

Trilby (#191)

I wonder why they came out differently. I’ve used TurboTax before and then this year H&R Block, and as you say the H&R interface is much better. TurboTax is a giant pain to use. If you have any situations that deviate from absolute standard– forget it! You are left to ask your questions of a user board and never get an answer.

Mike Dang (#2)

@Trilby Not sure! I double checked everything, which was really easy to do, but there was still that difference, so I filed with TurboTax. I’m definitely trying the two again next year to see if this happens again.

Amy (#193)

@Trilby, TurboTax actually has a really useful free “Chat with a CPA” feature! It took me a while to find it, but you don’t have to use the dumb user board.

@Mike, That’s disturbing that they were different!! How are you not itching to reconstruct everything in an Excel file so you can REALLY know where they diverged??

So, just to recap:

Number of times Mike has done his 2011 taxes: 3
Number of times I have done my 2011 taxes: 0

Weeeeeeeee.

florabora (#123)

@Logan Sachon
Number of times I have told people of similar situations (21-year old broke single college students mostly still dependents) how easy it is to do your taxes for the first time: 6
Number of times I have done my 2011 taxes: 0

I had only ever used TurboTax before this year, but got really frustrated with their ever-increasing (sometimes sneakily) fees. I filed my federal with them, still, but used an one of the free online systems the state of CA links you to for my state taxes. I even got a slightly larger refund!

liznieve (#37)

Or, if you’re lazy like me, you use H&R Block every year, because they save your info, and then just import your W2, probably forget some deductions / things you could totally get money for, but FUCK IT, you’re done in 15 minutes, and poof. $70 out of your return, but hey, you’re on the right side of the law again, and it feels good.

Tatiana (#194)

I’ve used Tax Act for the last 3 years! I like it because it’s cheap, and I guess because I’ve never used anything else it never really frustrated me. The interface IS a bit wonky, totally not intuitive, but I’m one of those people who is content with digging a little longer to save some moola.

Mike Dang (#2)

@Tatiana People should also know that you are a superstar with money, and don’t need the hand-holding the other two programs provide.

Tatiana (#194)

@Mike Dang Ha! Why thanks. I’m definitely getting better at this money thing.

Megano! (#124)

I use Turbo Tax (Canada, it’s like Intuit Turbo Tax?), and have for the past few years. It’s free if you’re a student, or make literally no money (wooooo!), and really simple to use. I did not owe or get a refund this year, but I am getting like $700 of tax credits, so it was worth the hour or so it took to do it.

I filed my taxes on my own for the first time this year and used Turbo Tax and LOVED. IT. Worth every penny because they saved me a shit ton of money that I had no idea about AND they knew what to do with my 1099-MISC, which is why I was on there in the first place. If I’d tried to do everything with just the forms from the government, I’d probably still be hauling through them and they would probably still be wrong.

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