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It's tax time. Are you tearing your hair out and biting your pen cap to a pulp over your stress-inducing tax forms? That's because, taxes, as their name implies, are taxing. Taxes are laborious to complete, and that's if you can even understand what you're doing. Even Albert Einstein, the Nobel Prize-winning theoretical physicist, himself, admitted that "The hardest thing in the world to understand is the income tax."

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Taxes, even the so-called "EZ tax return," can be complicated, if you do them yourself and don't know the current federal and state tax code. Or costly, if you use a qualified tax consultant for tax preparation. That's why during tax season more and more Americans -- 40 percent, according to recent Intuit estimates -- turned to do-it-yourself tax apps, promising ease, affordability, and security to e-file their 2016 taxes. Well, now it's time to file your 2018 tax return.

In anticipation of tax season, we've tested tax preparation and filing apps, and our top three tax apps are so intuitive, navigable, and instructional that you can use them confidently on your iPhone and iPad or Android devices -- no tax calculator or tax return estimator required. But if you're dead set on doing your income tax return on your desktop or want to file taxes online, we have you covered for those formats, too.

When can I file my 2018 tax return?

Unless you request an extension, Tax Day 2019 is Monday, April 15, 2019.

Where's my refund?

Tax refunds take about three weeks after the IRS has accepted your e-filed tax return.

TurboTax Tax Return App (Windows, Android, iOS)

The TurboTax Tax Return App for iPhone and Android makes TurboTax filing as easy as possible, guiding you through each section of your return. Even before you start, the Intuit TurboTax app will recommend the appropriate product for you, based on whether you were single, had a job, worked side jobs, and so on. Free income tax filing and a free tax return await with the TurboTax Free Edition if you are working with simple tax returns, such as the 1040EZ and 1040A. Use Deluxe ($39.99) to maximize tax deductions, Premier ($59.99) if you have investments and rental property, and Self Employed ($89.99) if you are self-employed or own a small business. Better yet, the Self Employed version now uncovers personalized industry-specific deductions. Your state return will cost you $36.99. Add TurboTax Live for live CPA or EA advice on demand and a final review.

Save the postage: After your TurboTax download, enter your TurboTax login, and just snap a photo to import your W-2 for your federal and state returns, respond to basic questions, and e-file securely from your phone via TurboTax Tax Return App. If you don't know some of the answers, the webapp or mobile app offers step-by-step TurboTax help. There have been even more improvements since TurboTax 2016, including a redesigned navigation with quick access to ancillary Intuit apps like Mint and TaxCaster.

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 your taxes from the webapp or mobile 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. You can also easily switch to your desktop at any point in the process and file using the online version of TurboTax.

You can also download TurboTax software for Mac and Windows for between $39.99 to $109.99, for five e-files with state included for every tier except Basic. Since TurboTax searches hundreds of tax deductions and credits to maximize your TurboTax tax refund, the tax filing fee will be well worth it.

Curious about your tax return status? Want to track your federal or state refund? Use TurboTax's refund tracker to track your refunds.


H&R Block Tax Prep and File (Windows, Android, iOS)

H&R Block Tax Prep and File for iPhone and Android can also import your W-2 via photo. The app can also transfer your info from your federal return to your state form and can recommend the appropriate product for you.

The online options are affordably priced: Free, which includes a free federal return and state return and supports 23 more forms and schedules required for filing than TurboTax Free, including Student loan interest, Tuition payments, Child and dependent care credit, Form 8880 "Saver's Credit" (simple form), Social Security, Unemployment income, Form 8965 health coverage exemptions, and State refund last year; Deluxe ($34.99) for getting the most deductions; Premium ($54.99) for freelancers/contractors, investors, and rental property owners; and Self-Employed ($74.99) for the self-employed and small business owners. State returns cost anywhere from nothing to $36.99. You can add Tax Pro Review for $49.99 to $89.99. Tax Pro Review is also available as a standalone product for $119.99, plus $36.99 per state filed.

Like TurboTax's app, H&R Block Tax Prep and File 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 Prep and File also provides data encryption and multiple ways to authenticate your account.

The 2018 edition enables you to import info from LinkedIn, Amazon, and Facebook; lets you keep in-app notes; and enables you to have your return reviewed by a tax pro with Tax Pro Review, for an additional fee. Finally, you can now get a 5 percent refund bonus if you direct some or all of your return as an Amazon e-gift card.

If you prefer to download your own copy of H&R Block software, then you can purchase it for Windows and Mac. Basic ($29.95) is best for simple tax situations, Deluxe ($54.95) is suited to homeowners or investors, Premium ($74.95) works for the self-employed or rental property owners, and Windows-only Premium & Business ($89.95) is great for small business owners.

All software products include five free federal e-files for your personal return and unlimited federal preparation and printing. One personal state program download -- a $39.95 value -- is included with all packages except for Basic.

H&R Block's 2018 free income tax calculator helps you easily estimate your refund or how much you'll owe, plus how you'll be impacted by the recent tax reform here.


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TaxAct Express (Windows, Android, iOS)

With TaxAct Express for iPhone and Android, you can also snap a photo to upload info from your W-2, but you can't complete as many forms as you can with TurboTax or H&R Block's apps, and you don't receive as much guidance for tax forms filling, in general. But you can count on email verification, security questions, and two-factor authentication (Touch ID and Face ID) prompts each time you log in. If you find the additional step of two-factor authentication annoying, select "Don't ask again on this computer."

We also loved TaxAct's color-coded alerts, which tell you where you may have gone wrong, and the app's great online pricing: Free for 1040EZ and 1040A filers with simple returns; $27 for Plus, which is great for homeowners, itemizers, and filers with investments; $39 for Freelancer, which works for independent contractors and self-employed filers; and $51 for Premium, which brings even more peace of mind. If you download TaxAct's desktop software, it's $15 to $76 for five e-files, and state returns are included for every tier except Basic.


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Joshua is an editor for CNET's He covers the mobile tech and apps that power our lives and interviews celebrities about their favorite apps. Previously, he worked as an editor at Healthline and and as a contributing writer for Mac Directory, MacAddict, SF Weekly, SF Examiner, and SF Chronicle.