H&R Block’s branded tax preparation software might not have quite the brand recognition of TurboTax, but depending on what package you choose, it may well enable you to save money while retaining all the features that you need. In this software review, we will run down the key characteristics of what H&R Block does and why it deserves some consideration this year as you start to think about filing your taxes.
H&R Block Pricing
The price for the software is, like other tax preparation tools, divided into different tiers depending on which forms you need to use to file. There are also some add-on services that we will cover later. The free tier is available for use with the 1040, 1040A, or 1040EZ. The federal filing is free, but it will cost $29.99 to file a state return. At this tier your filing will not be saved for the future.
The middle tier expands your options to include the Form C-EZ and itemized deductions. The federal return costs $54.99 and the state costs $39.99. This tier is a good option if your work falls under the C-EZ form, rather than the 1099 or any of the business forms, because it provides better value for this specific form than most other providers.
The top tier costs $79.99 for federal and $39.99 per state. It covers more or less everything that you would need. Most notably, if you run a small business, this is the tier you want. Despite being the priciest it tends to be less expensive than other tiers that offer the same things.
There is also a desktop version of the software that is not cloud-linked. It is more or less the same, but it costs $89.95 and offers the 1099 and some other, more advanced forms. Think carefully about what forms you will need to ensure that you do not wind up spending more than you need. Aside from the 1099, H&R Block tends to lead the industry in value.
The process of importing all of your old information and crucial inputs is a key part of any tax prep package, because it is one of the most onerous parts of the process. It is therefore very important that it is easy and fast to move all the necessary data into your software’s environment.
H&R Block is just about as good as the rest of the options when it comes to importing, which is very good. They are all able to import tax data from the previous year from any of the competing software platforms. That makes it easy to transition to H&R Block if you were previously using TurboTax, Tax Act, Tax Slayer, or a different platform.
Note that if you are a returning user of H&R Block and you used the free version last year, that information might not be available anymore. The free version does not make a backup of your completed forms.
If you have used tax software before, the interface for importing data should be familiar to you. With enough information to get it started, it should be able to bring over all or most of the key entries depending on the source. It is always possible to enter the information manually, but this is time-consuming for all but the simplest forms. The good news is that the high quality of importation tools means that after you do it by hand the first time, you can usually rely on importing for subsequent years.
The various H&R Block tax software tiers might have different forms supported, but they have a common pool of features to help you along the way. Along with the aforementioned ability to import tax data from other software platforms, you can upload some of the most common forms by taking a photo of the physical form. The software will scan the appropriate entries and fill them in.
If and only if you are using the cloud version, you can also log into your account and work on the paperwork from any computer or device. This is quite handy if you wind up working at the office and at home, for example, or if some of your references are spread across different computers. If you have the desktop version, this is not possible because the forms are stored on the physical computer.
The process is full of available help files. Important terms usually have links that you can click for more information, or you can search for them in the included database. That is important if you run across any term that you are not sure of or that you have not seen before. There are also longer articles for common questions that come up, and that is also searchable. The bottom line is that you should always be able to find more information about any tax topic from within the software where you are still working on your filing.
Online and In-Person Support
In addition to the extensive online help system, H&R Block offers something that TurboTax cannot match: the ability to walk up to an H&R Block office near you and get help in person. Pretty much all of the mainstream tax programs have online help, forums, or a chat, but the idea of being able to sit down with a tax professional and ask questions is unique.
Keep in mind that you do need to pay to use the in-person help- these are real tax professionals and their time is valuable. You can ask your local office for rates. If you have taken the middle or upper tier of service, you get access to an online chat if you have detailed questions and you cannot find the answers in the online database. For more specific help on your filing, there is a paid service where someone online will examine your return for mistakes for you to see if there is anything you missed.
It feels a little unusual to charge customers for help, but keep in mind that the online resources are quite extensive and should be able to deal with most questions before you have to consult with a person. Some people just feel more comfortable knowing that someone has examined their forms, though, and for them some of the paid service is money well spent. If you don’t use it, then you can save money and you will still know that it is there if you need it.
Advantages Over Other Options
In comparison to TurboTax and the rest of the field, the two key advantages that H&R Block has are its superior value on a per-form basis and the access to more personalized support if you are willing to pay for it. In terms of interface, design, and ease of use, it is about the same as the rest.
Keep in mind that the pricing for tax software can change from year to year, and it often does. Don’t assume that your preferred option is always the best value. It only takes a minute to check the equivalent tier at the major competitors just before you start, and as long as you aren’t using the free version of H&R Block you will be able to import or export your past returns to and from any other software.
The amount of support you need depends on how complex your taxes are and how experienced you are at doing them. That might be one of the biggest strengths of the H&R Block format: if you know what you are doing, you won’t have to pay very much, and the option to pay for extra support is always available. The value is still good and you will appreciate the flexibility.
H&R Block has made a heavy investment in marketing over the past couple of years to make known their online product. The software is more than just marketing, however, and demonstrates real value to the user. It’s possible that H&R Block is under-pricing its software in the hopes of driving more customers to use the in-person advice they offer, but it’s still quite a deal, especially if you never pay for the support.
All in all, if you are considering tax software for this year, you should at the very least give H&R Block a look. Look up what forms you need to file and how many states you need to file in. Then compare the price of doing that in H&R Block to the other primary options, and you will see the difference. The user experience is going to be quite similar to what you are already used to, and there won’t be a problem with getting all the necessary data into the system.
It does feel strange to switch to different software if you are already accustomed to one system, but in reality all of them use the same math and accounting rules and deliver essentially the same results. Like auto insurance, the biggest factor is usually how much you pay for it, and for now H&R Block is the leader in the industry when it comes to cost. This is all for people who are filing taxes in 2017 and 2018. It may change in the next year after that if H&R Block decides to increase their prices again. If so, as long as you didn’t use the free version you will be able to export your return to whatever service you want to use instead.