Taxes can be complicated if you do them yourself or costly if you use a qualified tax preparer. That's why more and more Americans -- 40 percent, according to recent Intuit estimates -- are turning to do-it-yourself tax apps, which promise ease, affordability, and security.
We've checked out tax preparation and filing apps, and our top three picks are so intuitive, navigable, and instructional that you can use them confidently on your phone or tablet. But if you're dead set on doing your taxes on your desktop, we have you covered for that, too.
Mobile tax apps
TurboTax Tax Return App makes filing as easy as possible, guiding you through each section of your return. TurboTax will recommend the appropriate product for you, based on whether you were single, had a job, worked side jobs, and so on. Use the Federal Free Edition for simple 1040EZ and 1040A, Deluxe ($34.99) to maximize deductions, Premier ($54.99) if you have investments and rental property, and Self Employed ($89.99) if you are self employed or own a small business. Your state return will cost you $36.99.
TurboTax saves you time by importing your W-2 for your federal and state returns -- just snap a photo or enter an import code found on your W-2. You'll be asked to verify the captured info, which we found to be accurate.
Then enter your deductions. TurboTax makes sure you've considered every possible deduction for a maximum refund. When it's time to file your state return, TurboTax will ease your workload by transferring as much info as possible over from your federal return.
Finally, you can review, pay with a credit card, and file from the app. You'll need your IRS electronic filing PIN from last year's return, but TurboTax makes this easy to retrieve in the app.
TurboTax is also secure, starting with encryption of your data. During registration, you must provide your phone number, which TurboTax will use as an additional authentication method if you ever need to log in from another device. You can set up fingerprint ID or a four-digit app PIN for an extra layer of security.
H&R Block Tax Prep and File 2016 returns can also import your W-2 via photo and EIN code (not as precisely as TurboTax, in our tests). The app can also transfer your info from your federal return to your state form and can recommend the appropriate product for you. The options are affordably priced: H&R Block More Zero (free), whereby six in 10 taxpayers can file no-cost state, plus complimentary federal 1040EZ, 1040A, or 1040 with Schedule A returns, Deluxe ($24.99) for getting the most deductions, and Premium ($38.49) for self-employed filers and rental-property owners. State returns cost anywhere from nothing to $36.99.
H&R Block Tax Prep and File 2016 can also import last year's return from any preparer to expedite this year's. If you run into any problems, H&R Block offers audit support. On the security front, H&R Block Tax Preparation also provides data encryption and multiple ways to authenticate your account.
This year H&R Block introduced Tax Edge (iOS) for freelancers and contract employees who already use Everlance and Hurdlr to track and report income and expenses. The invite-only app (for now) will scan and import your earnings data from your 1040, collect relevant documents, and guide you toward achieving your maximum refund.
Credit Karma (Web)
Credit Karma, best known for its free credit reports, now offers free tax preparation and filing. After you answer some basic questions, start entering your earnings, deductions, credits, and additional tax info. Once done with your federal return, you'll begin inputting info for your state return. After Credit Karma reviews your returns, choose your payment or refund option, and the app will file for you. As a security precaution, Credit Karma will log you off after a brief period of inactivity. The only downside to this entirely free software is that you can't import your W-2 directly, and you don't receive as much guidance when answering questions.
For those who prefer to do their taxes on their desktop, we recommend TurboTax for its excellent guidance, built-in security features, and affordable pricing. H&R Block, LibertyTax, TaxAct, and E-file.com are also options worth exploring.