I've tried 4 major tax software programs, and TurboTax gets me the biggest refund every time

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  • I've tried professional tax preparers and four different tax software programs, and I'm sticking with TurboTax for my family's taxes this year.
  • While it isn't the cheapest around, using TurboTax last year got me a much higher refund than I would have had with other apps I tested.
  • TurboTax makes it easy to input details from your financial life. Most people with basic computer skills should be able to navigate the simple menus and forms with ease.
  • Use TurboTax to file your taxes this year »

Let's just skip the joke about death and taxes and get right to it: The deadline to file taxes for 2019 is about three months away. That means you have a limited window to complete your tax forms and ship them off to the IRS.

To avoid the stress of filing on the very last day, it's a good idea to get an early start on gathering your tax forms and pulling together anything else you may need for Tax Day 2020.Advertisement

I've tried TurboTax, Credit Karma Tax, H&R Block Online, and TaxAct for my taxes, and all did a fairly good job of handling my somewhat complex financial situation.

But for my taxes, where I have multiple businesses in addition to my investments, mortgage, and family to account for, TurboTax is my top choice.

More accurate than an accountant

My parents have used an accountant to file their taxes as long as I've been alive, so I dutifully signed up with the family accountant when I was 16 and got my first job that required I complete my own tax return every year. I stuck with this accountant for about a decade before deciding to take things over myself.
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Two years in a row, I found some mistakes when reviewing my tax return before sending everything into the IRS. The last year I used the accountant, I found a handful of retirement account transactions treated as taxable, which would have cost me hundreds of dollars on my taxes if it hadn't been fixed.

That was the moment I realized I know my money better than anyone, including an accountant. I know my bank accounts, investments, businesses, and spending inside out. While accountants know a lot about the tax code, they are human and far from infallible.While you don't usually see it, most accountants use a program very similar to TurboTax to handle all of their clients' needs. I can type my income and deductions into a form just as easily, and more accurately, without paying someone else to do it for me.Advertisement

I started doing my own taxes in 2014, and have never seriously considered going back to a paid tax preparer since.

TurboTax handles just about any form or situation

Millions of people use TurboTax to prepare and file their taxes every year. As one of the top two tax preparation services in the US, the team behind TurboTax has run into just about every possible tax scenario a US filer could experience.

Some tax programs struggle with things like years split living in two states, managing how foreign taxes paid on investments impact your US taxes, and other less-common needs. When I moved from Oregon to California in 2016, I needed a program that could cover both of those examples. Advertisement

I have an investment portfolio that includes international exposure, so I need to enter foreign tax details. I've run into dead ends with other apps, but TurboTax has always been able to handle anything I've needed.

If you are considering changing to a new tax program any year, make sure to read about what it can and can't do so you don't have to start over when you're already 80% of the way done with your taxes using a program that doesn't support your needs.

Biggest possible refund

At the end of the day, your tax decisions should all be focused on spending as little as possible to accurately prepare your taxes and pay the least possible to the IRS and your state. Last year I tried a couple of programs that would have cost less than TurboTax, but found they mishandled some deductions.Advertisement

Notably, 2018 was the first year of a 20% deduction on profits for many small business owners. As a self-employed freelancer with pass-through income, I qualify for the deduction. But not all tax apps handled that correctly. TurboTax got me thousands of dollars more back, mainly due to handling the pass-through deduction correctly.

I didn't do the math to compare every single line item, though most matched exactly from app to app. But where they don't match, you could be throwing away money on taxes unnecessarily and never know it. That's why getting your taxes done accurately is so important.

The 2017 tax law that went into effect for 2018 took my effective tax rate down to just 4.10%, partially thanks to the qualified business income deduction, partially thanks to the child tax credit, and partially thanks to a new, higher standard deduction.Advertisement

It all comes down to dollars and cents

Unless you have a low enough income to qualify for the IRS Free File program, you can count on paying to do your taxes. For 2019, I'm using TaxAct for my business taxes and TurboTax for my personal taxes. This is exactly what I did last year too, and I'm happy with the setup.

The combined experience gets me the lowest cost on my taxes and tax preparation combined. Don't pay more for services you don't need and don't overlook important deductions and credits. That's what savvy tax preparation is all about.

Find out if TurboTax is the right tax software for your needs this year »

Disclosure: This post is brought to you by the Personal Finance Insider team. We occasionally highlight financial products and services that can help you make smarter decisions with your money. We do not give investment advice or encourage you to adopt a certain investment strategy. What you decide to do with your money is up to you. If you take action based on one of our recommendations, we get a small share of the revenue from our commerce partners. This does not influence whether we feature a financial product or service. We operate independently from our advertising sales team.

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