The Best & Cheapest Tax Software: Top Tax Prep Comparison for 2021

The tax season start date (Feb. 12) and deadlines have been announced by the IRS, and if you haven’t started filing your taxes already, you’re probably starting to look around for the best and cheapest tax software prep program online to e-file with for 2021.




If you’re locked in to a particular tax prep software that you love, this may be an easy decision for you: find the right software version for your tax situation this year, pay the cheapest price you can (promo links below to help with that goal), and e-file ASAP. If you haven’t filed your own taxes, or are looking to switch programs, finding the best and cheapest tax software program online can get tricky.

For starters, the features in the paid versions of various programs often don’t align – even if they have the same name (e.g. “Deluxe” or “Premium”). You’ll want to review what forms are covered and meet your personal filing needs, based on how complex your filing is. And with “free versions”, the forms each program covers can be very limited, mostly focused just on simple 1040 filing only, without coverage for atypical forms. best & cheapest tax software

Additionally, no two tax software programs have all of the same features. Tax expert advice and support differs (or is not offered at all), audit protection differs, in-person support (if needed) differs, data import differs, and so on.

So, what I’ve tried to do in this tax software comparison review is give you a quick and easy cost comparison breakdown of all federal and state filing costs, key feature comparison, limitations, and even a few special links with the largest available discounts (in the “Link to Best Promo Discount” row below and the “discount coupon promo codes” section below that), so that you can get the cheapest tax software prices (or even free offers) available.

Here’s my comparison of the best and cheapest tax software prep programs available online:

Comparison of the Best & Cheapest Tax Software Prep Programs Online:

H&R BlockTurbotaxTaxSlayerTaxActCredit Karma TaxFreeTaxUSA
Link to Best Promo Discount:Get 20% off H&R Block hereGet $20 or $30 off TurboTax here (varies by version)Get 35%+ off TaxSlayer hereGet 20% off TaxAct hereCreate a free Credit Karma Tax account hereGet a discounted FreeTaxUSA State return here
Cost of Federal Returns (Standard Prices):Free: $0
Deluxe: $29.99
Premium: $49.99
Self-Employed: $84.99

"Online Assist" (live tax expert supported) versions:
Basic: $39.99
Deluxe: $69.99
Premium: $109.99
Self-Employed: $139.99
Free: $0
Deluxe: $65
Premier: $95
Self-Employed: $125

"Live" (live tax expert supported) versions:
Basic: $55
Deluxe: $125
Premier: $175
Self-Employed: $205
Simply Free: $0
Classic: $17
Premium: $37
Self-Employed: $47
Free: $0
Deluxe: $24.95
Premier: $34.95
Self-Employed: $64.95

Xpert Help (tax expert supported) versions:
Free+: $35
Deluxe: $74.95
Premier: $94.95
Self-Employed: $139.95
$0Free: $0
Deluxe: $6.99
Cost of State Returns (Standard Prices):Free: $0
Deluxe: $36.99
Premium: $36.99
Self-Employed: $36.99

"Online Assist" (live tax expert supported) versions:
Basic: $0
Deluxe: $36.99
Premium: $36.99
Self-Employed: $36.99
Free: $0
Deluxe: $50
Premier: $50
Self-Employed: $50

"Live" (live tax expert supported) versions:
Basic: $0
Deluxe: $55
Premier: $55
Self-Employed: $55
Simply Free: $0
Classic: $32
Premium: $32
Self-Employed: $32
Free: $4.95
Deluxe: $44.95
Premier: $44.95
Self-Employed: $44.95

Xpert Help (tax expert supported) versions:
Free+: $4.95
Deluxe: $44.95
Premier: $44.95
Self-Employed: $44.95
$0 Free: $12.95
Deluxe: $12.95
Comparison of Features Per Version:Click here then "Compare Filing Options"Click here then "More Details"Click here then "Compare Products"Click here then "Compare Products"Review Credit Karma Tax here (1 version)Click here to review
Free Federal Available to:All filers, limited scopeAll filers, limited scopeAll filers, limited scopeAll filers, limited scopeAll filers, limited scopeAll filers, limited scope
Free Federal Scope Limited To:Basic/simple 1040 filing. See description for details.Basic/simple 1040 filing. See description for details.Basic/simple 1040 filing. See description for details.Basic/simple 1040 filing. See description for details.Basic/simple 1040 filing, does not cover some formsAll forms
Free State Available To:All filers, limited scopeAll filers, limited scopeAll filers, limited scopeAll filers, limited scopeAll filers, limited scopeN/A
Free State Scope Limited to:Basic 1040, with few additional formsBasic 1040, with few additional formsBasic 1040, with few additional formsBasic 1040, with few additional formsMost, but does not cover some formsN/A
Ability to Have a Tax Pro Review Your Return Online:Yes, with "Tax Pro Review" versionsYes, with "Live" versionsNoNoNoNo
Office Locations:YesNoNoNoNoNo

The Cheapest Tax Software Prep (& Free Tax Software Prep):

If your goal is strictly to find the cheapest tax software available, I recommend:




  1. H&R Block
  2. TurboTax
  3. TaxSlayer
  4. Credit Karma

Each have at least 1 version that offers free filing for both federal and state returns. The scope of these free tax prep offerings can be limited, however, as it usually only covers a simple 1040 filing, with W-2 income and a handful of added forms. For example, Credit Karma’s program does not cover many forms. H&R Block, TurboTax, and TaxSlayer allow you to start with the free version and upgrade later to a version that covers what you need, without having to re-enter all of your information.

free tax software

I really don’t recommend jumping at something just because it is “free” on the surface. Make sure you do your homework to find the best fit. Here’s just a sampling of what the “free” versions of tax software often do not cover:

  • Child Tax Credit
  • HSA contributions/withdrawals
  • Itemized deductions
  • Mortgage interest deductions
  • Charitable contributions
  • Investment income
  • Landlord rental income
  • Self-employment income
  • Business income

The IRS FreeFile partnership (see more in my cheap or free ways to e-file post) also connects to you many of the free versions I highlight in this article, but they typically have state, age, and income restrictions (e.g. TurboTax and FreeTaxUSA requires that your AGI be below $39K) and can also be limited in the forms that they cover. If you have a simple return, the free versions in this article are just as good, don’t come with the restrictions, and are easily transferred to upgraded versions, if needed. Of course, you could always try to go the Free Fillable Forms route too, but I would not advise it. ;-)

Tax Software Discount Coupon Promo Codes

If you’re looking to pay for whatever tax software is the best fit or you’ve used before, here are some discount coupon promo codes to utilize, in order to get the best price if you need to upgrade to a paid version later on in the filing process. I have affiliate partner relationships with a number of these tax software programs, and they have provided me with special discounted pricing to offer to my readers that is the best you will be able to find anywhere, automatically applied by using the links below (for a limited-time only).

  1. H&R Block
  2. TurboTax
  3. TaxSlayer
  4. TaxAct
  5. Credit Karma
  6. FreeTaxUSA
  7. Liberty Tax
  8. eSmartTax
  9. E-file.com

The Best Tax Software Prep:

Cheapest is not always best – particularly when it comes to something as essential as filing your taxes.

If you have a more complex return and want the most robust programs and support, the best tax software options are

  1. H&R Block
  2. TurboTax
  3. TaxSlayer
  4. TaxAct

All offer:

  • the broadest feature sets of all tax programs
  • they cover up to every possible form, with upgraded versions
  • data imports
  • prior year returns
  • accuracy guarantees
  • audit support (usually as an add-on)
  • live chat support
  • the ability to have a tax expert personally review your return (at H&R Block and TurboTax only, for an added charge)




And if things get real crazy, H&R Block even has office locations for in-person reviews and support. You can also check out my free guide on how to do your taxes to get your basics squared away in preparation for filing your return.

Happy tax filing to all!

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