We all dread that time of the year when we have to put life on hold, take out the calculator, put on a 20th pot of strong coffee and ready our fingers for some serious hair-pulling action. Yes, it’s tax filing season. All across the USA people are sat in their living rooms, in the backs of stores and in office blocks trying to calculate their taxes. It’s an anxious time of the year because mistakes can be disastrous and – let’s face it – most of us aren’t accountants. Well thankfully help is at hand via the wonder of the World Wide Web. We’ve compiled an in depth series of reviews that outline the ins, outs and crannies of the best tax filing services available online. So put the coffee on hold for a moment, take your hands out of your hair for just a few minutes, and let us help...
What is an online tax filing service?
That isn’t a stupid question, really. In its most basic form an online tax filing service asks you a few questions about your income and expenditure. That is to say, it asks you how much you earn and whether you have any costs that you may be able to remove the tax from. The service then works out how much tax you should be paying using a series of calculations (dependant on current tax rates) and lets you file the results with the IRS. You then simply pay that amount and hay presto, you’re done! (For another year)
A few sites will offer this service for free, although it can depend on your situation, such as whether or not you claim child benefits or have a retirement income, and so on. As your situation becomes more complex, so your taxes become more complex. If you were, for example, a single parent receiving benefits whilst renting out accommodation in the USA and abroad, and running a small business, playing the stock market and donating to charity, not only would you be incredibly tired but your taxes would also require more calculations than most. The online system is, however, relatively similar, in so far as you are asked for financial information and the online service does those complex calculations for you.
That is perhaps enough about “what an online tax filing service is” for now. You’ll discover more for yourself as you check out our reviews and the various websites available. Now let’s think about how our reviews are presented and the sort of things they discuss to help you make a decision as to which site might be right for you. We look at several important factors using a star ratings system, which gives a clear visual impression of how good or bad a site is in a particular area, but we also provide an “editor’s verdict” which gives you a written account of what the site might be like to use, and its various pros and cons. We’ll discuss each area now, in turn:
Security Options and Data Protection
The information you’re providing on these sites is incredibly private and important. You will want to make sure that the services you’re using are secure. None of those we have reviewed will be a liability, based on the information they have provided about their security options, but you may decide that you prefer a site where you can regularly save your progress online (in case your computer has a problem), or one which has been certified by the IRS. Check out what options the site has available for backing up and storing your information for future use.
Variety of Tax Filing Services Offered
If you have a particular tax need, dependant on your situation, you’ll want to make sure that the site you’re using can cater towards that need. Finding out what forms you need to fill out (these change depending on whether you’re single, married, filing with your partner or separately, whether you claim benefits, whether you are retired, have a small business, employ people overseas and more...) is very important, and checking how the site might be able to support your applications is a good way to make sure that you’ll receive the help you need.
This section deals primarily with “extras”. That is to say, what particular services are available that help you to file your taxes? Does the site offer calculators? Is there any advice for first-time business owners? Can you post questions on a forum? Are there timetables/calendars or alarms to help remind you about when you should be doing your taxes? We provide an extensive list of these, so do check them out before making any decisions. They can make all the difference between a standard and an exceptional service.
Ease of Use / Navigation & Ease of Joining / Registration
This may be quite self explanatory but if an already-difficult process such as tax filing is made more complicated by a site that is difficult to navigate, then it will only exacerbate things. The best sites offer a lot of information in a user-friendly way that is accessible without causing a headache. The more information you can get before registering, the better.
This one really is important for tax returns. If you’re stuck on what to do or make a mistake then you’ll need to know how to go about fixing it. The best support offered will be a live chat (either audio or text chat) because it allows you to seek assistance from a professional whilst you are filling out your forms. Email correspondence and FAQs are fine, but sometimes you need an immediate answer or a voice to guide you in the right direction.
Value for Money
Well this speaks for itself really. You’ll notice, however, that some sites which offer a free service as well as paid services, don’t always get great scores in this section. The reason is that although they offer a free service, their paid options might be better value elsewhere. Whatever your budget though, you’ll be likely to find a site that suits your needs.
Well that’s all. Do take the time to read through our reviews and take a look at some of the tax filing sites on offer. Okay you can put the coffee back on now. Decaffe.