This is a sponsored post in partnership with TaxAct, and is provided for a general audience. It is not intended to act as professional financial advice. All views expressed are solely my own and based on my own experience.
Financial True Confession Time! Those are always fun. Y’all know how I did my taxes up until two years ago, the year of our lord 2015? By hand. That’s right.
There was one year when I paid an accountant, but every other year of my adult life I did what my dad’s always done: got the forms — which, kids, used to involve going to a public library or post office to collect them, then sometimes going back when you forgot to get everything you needed, back before you could print them off the internet — then sat down with a pen and filled them out.
There were a couple of reasons I did this: first of all, I’m very cheap, and the tax preparation software I looked at always seemed really expensive. And second, I had a hard time trusting that electronic filing actually…worked. Would I have my identity stolen? Would the company really transmit my forms to the IRS, or would everything be lost somewhere in the ether?
However, after an almost-disastrous incident involving some serious stupidity on my part, a letter from the IRS asking for the $800 they thought I owed them (due to a transcription error I made), a frantic phone call about that, having to file an amended return, etc, etc, etc, etc, etc, I decided it was finally time to get serious about taking the math out of my own hands and putting it into someone else’s.
In January 2015, I started doing research into my options. The software I could install on my computer still seemed too expensive and clunky to me. Plus, my adjusted gross income was and is low enough that I qualified for Free File. I also needed to file two sets of state income taxes, since I’d moved during 2014, and to file self-employment forms since I’d had freelance income during 2014. So I wanted something reliable and easy to use, but robust enough to handle all that.
The Free File company I ended up going with, based on online reviews I read as well as their suitedness to my situation, was TaxAct. I wasn’t sure how that first experience was going to go. But it ended up being so positive that I was almost glad to start the process over again with TaxAct this year!
In the remainder of this post I’m going to describe my experience with TaxAct, using screenshots. Like I said in the header, all views are my own, here, and so are these screenshots of my actual tax filing experience this year 🙂
Pro #1: Easy to use, friendly design.
TaxAct has a clean, modern design that doesn’t feel like you’re sliding into some shady business that will get shut down by the IRS before the end of the year. Aside from not seeming shady, the good design also makes the process of filing pretty pleasant and relatively foolproof. Gone are the days of squinting at tiny IRS forms! Instead, I just answered a series of questions from TaxAct. It was very easy to skip a step if I didn’t have the right form yet and go back later to update/amend answers. (There’s a handy “bookmark” feature that lets you indicate that you want to come back to a specific topic, or you can just go back to it manually.)
These two screenshots show what the basic interface is like. “Basic Info” asks about your personal info, and “Life Events” helps you understand the tax implications of marriage, work transitions, etc. “Federal” and State” lead to well-laid-out menus where you can work further on topics that apply to you, like education or investment income, and move quickly past the items that don’t apply to your situation. Meanwhile, as you answer more questions and provide more data, the graphic at the top right is continuously updated with TaxAct’s best current estimation of what you owe or are owed. And, as you can see, Help is always available in the sidebar to the right of the screen.
It’s not too annoying to fill the forms out, by the way — and substantially easing the pain is that once you input your Federal W-2 info, for example, TaxAct will offer to import that data into your state return, so you don’t have to enter it twice.
Pro #2: Available as an all-online service (and imports previous years).
I suppose people might have different opinions about this, but I loved not having to download and install yet another piece of software. It was simple to make a TaxAct account and save my work as I went (it took me about a month to finish the whole process since I started before I had all my paperwork together). Then this year, I was able to just log back in and import all my basic data from the previous year, including things like my employer’s name/address. Super easy.
Pro #3: Impressively comprehensive & handles complex situations easily/accurately.
Like I said, I had a pretty complex (for me) tax situation for tax year 2014. I moved mid-year for work, so I had two state returns to deal with and a moving-costs exemption to claim on my federal form. I also had royalty income and freelance income to declare, student loan interest to deduct, and a couple other little twists and turns.
Probably my favorite thing about TaxAct ended up being how smoothly the system dealt with all this. It walked me through all the tax-relevant situations that might come up in a person’s life, asking things like if I’d had a kid during the year (no) and if I’d moved for work (yes). Then the “yes” question got followed up as it asked for the relevant financial data. The system didn’t blink at my royalty income (although I did have to consult the help section for a clarification/explanation at a couple of points.)
TaxAct also handled my two state returns smoothly (and both of them were free.) In fact, it ended up getting me several hundred dollars of additional refund because it knew Indiana state law so well. (There was a fairly obscure point about county taxation related to my having moved into the state…. I couldn’t understand what was going on at first, but once I figured it out I ended up calling the department of revenue just to double check. Even the DOR helpline guy didn’t know the answer off the top of his head! But he researched it and sure enough TaxAct had been correct in its interpretation. I’m sure I would have missed it if I’d still been filing by hand.)
Pro #4: Some Cool Help Features.
I mentioned above that I really liked that Help topics were always sitting there to the right of the window I was working in. And I loved seeing my refund information change as I worked so I quickly got an idea of roughly where I stood.
The coolest “help” feature, though, is probably the Review feature.
As you can see, before you actually file your return, TaxAct goes through it. If you get a “red” because of incomplete/inconsistent info, you have to go back and fix it. (This would have solved my $800 over-charge before I even filed, had I used it back then!) It also tells you if it’s kind of confused or if it thinks you might have missed an opportunity for tax savings. I felt a lot more secure having gone through this process — I always try to be careful/conscientious when it comes to tax filing, but it’s easy to mis-transcribe a number or put something in the wrong place. TaxAct’s review feature made me feel like the chances of my human error screwing things up were much lower than with my pen and paper method.
By the way, you can also print out a preview of your forms before you submit, and I highly recommend doing that just to triple-quadruple-quintuple check.
Potential Con #1: Not available in all states. Their website currently lists available forms for only 44 states. Obviously, check to make sure yours is on there!
Potential Con #2: Phone Help. I don’t think this is a dealbreaker at all. But FYI, if you have a question you can’t answer via one of the help articles, free help is only available via email, and it could take a day or two to get an answer. Phone help is included with all the paid versions. So if you’re the kind of person who needs instant answers or someone to walk you through something on the phone, you probably want a more service-intensive package…or just to hire an accountant 🙂
Potential Con #3: Data Security. They have an extended discussion on their website about data security. In my highly inexpert opinion, they don’t seem like more of a risk than anyone else to whom you give sensitive data like your Social Security number. But there’s always something kind of scary to me about doing that online. I’m now willing to take that risk, though, in the service of not having to pen-and-paper it anymore!
In conclusion: TaxAct is one company I’m really glad to be giving my return business to. As it were. 🙂 Good luck filing your own taxes this year!