TaxSlayer.com Review 2018 – File Taxes for Free Online


TaxSlayer doesn’t blow competition like TurboTax and H&R Block out of the water, but it’s superior in several important ways. Most notably, it’s cheaper than many better-known alternatives. If cost is an important consideration in your choice of an online tax prep program, that’s a huge selling point.

TaxSlayer used to have an impressive free version that routinely made our list of the top free online tax preparation services. Sadly, that changed in the 2015 tax year, when TaxSlayer slimmed down the free plan, reducing its ability to handle complex tax situations. These days, it’s only suitable for filers who can complete their federal returns using IRS Form 1040-EZ.

Regardless of your selected plan, TaxSlayer is quite flexible. It allows you to complete the required forms and schedules with minimal guidance – or, if you prefer, with the help of a “wizard” that emulates more hands-on programs such as H&R Block and TurboTax. If you need help with some parts of your return, but not others, you can use the wizard only for those trickier sections.

Importantly, TaxSlayer one-ups many competitors’ accuracy guarantees, which often apply only to federal returns: If you’re hit with a federal or state penalty or interest charge attributable to a TaxSlayer software calculation error, TaxSlayer refunds it without limit.

That said, there are some devils in TaxSlayer’s details. It’s not ideal for filers who like the security of a robust customer service apparatus or the ability to switch to in-person preparation if they get hopelessly stuck. And, if you’re concerned about security issues, TaxSlayer has some unusual quirks that could give you pause. Regardless, this program is worth a closer look before you pull the trigger on a better-known option.

Pricing, Plans & Features

TaxSlayer offers five main tax preparation plans: Simply Free, Classic, Premium, Self-Employed, and Ultimate. It also provides a separate, totally-free Military package for active-duty filers, who must receive a W-2 from an EIN (employment identification number) related to the military or Department of Defense to qualify. The Military version is a no-cost version of the Classic package, with the primary difference being that it includes unlimited state returns for free.

As a new filer, you’ll choose your package when you begin the filing process. If you attempt to do something that isn’t supported by your current plan, you’re prompted to upgrade. Final pricing is set when you e-file and is subject to change without notice, so your initial quote might rise by the time you complete your return; plan accordingly.

For all packages, TaxSlayer’s system offers you a choice between a guided, interview-style wizard that walks you through the preparation process step-by-step, and a self-guided platform that lets you choose what forms and sections to complete and when. You can navigate back and forth between the wizard and the self-guided system at will, which is useful if you’re confident enough to fill out some sections on your own but feel you need assistance with others.

1. Simply Free

This plan provides your federal return and your first state return for free. Each subsequent state return, if necessary, costs $29.

Before the 2015 tax year, Simply Free (and its predecessor, Free Basic) was suitable for tax situations of virtually any complexity, including cases involving itemized deductions, capital gains or losses from property sales, and small business issues. However, it’s now only appropriate for Form 1040-EZ filers – generally, people who earn the vast majority of their income from regular employment. It’s not appropriate for freelancers, small business owners, solopreneurs, or those who earn foreign income.

Moreover, Simply Free lacks many of the support features and useful functions of higher-priced plans, so it may not be ideal for tax-filing novices or those who wish to complete their returns as quickly and smoothly as possible.

  • Prior-Year PDF Importing. This plan allows you to import prior-year tax returns from other tax prep programs, as long as they’re saved in PDF format. You can’t directly import prior-year information from another program, including TaxSlayer, with the Simply Free version, though you can keep your previous TaxSlayer return as a PDF.
  • Deduction Finder. This plan has a handy deduction guide (Deduction Finder) that follows along with your return and prompts you to enter all applicable deductions – a nice way to ensure you don’t miss any opportunities to save.
  • Free Phone and Email Support. TaxSlayer provides complimentary phone and email support to all customers during tax season. Email support is definitely the preferred contact method – TaxSlayer has grown increasingly protective of its limited phone support resources in recent years. Expect a phone response during weekday business hours, with extended hours subject to change as tax season wears on. Emailed inquiries can take up to 48 to 72 hours to produce a response.

2. Classic

This plan costs $17 for your federal return and $29 for each state return. It includes support for all major IRS forms, meaning it’s appropriate for tax situations of all complexities – including investors, rental property owners, and small business owners. Classic also includes some features and functions that aren’t available with the Free package, making it ideal for filers in search of a fast, smooth tax preparation option.

Classic comes with all the features of the Free plan, plus:

  • Prior Year Importing and Comparisons. If you filed last year’s return with TaxSlayer, you can import data from it. As you fill out your return, the program shows you relevant entries, such as income, deductions, and credits, from the previous year, allowing you to judge the accuracy of your current-year entries.
  • W-2 Importing. You can import electronic W-2s in PDF format with this plan.
  • Maximum Refund Guarantee. This plan comes with a maximum refund guarantee. If you find that another tax prep company offers you a bigger refund (or smaller tax obligation) than TaxSlayer for an identical return, TaxSlayer agrees to refund all of your tax prep fees. You don’t have to file with the other company to get the refund – you just need to show the refund or obligation amount it offers.
  • Refund Advance Loans. TaxSlayer’s refund advance loan is available to Classic and Premium filers. You can get up to $1,000 as little as 48 hours after the IRS accepts your return, subject to limitations based on the size of your expected refund. TaxSlayer offers this service at no charge, and the principal doesn’t accrue interest.

3. Premium

This plan costs $37 for your federal return and $29 for each state return. Its support features are significantly more robust than lower-priced plans, so it’s definitely a solid choice for novice filers or those who lack the confidence or knowledge to navigate a complicated situation on their own.

Premium includes all the features of lower-priced plans, plus these:

  • Live Chat Support. Premium customers have access to an on-site live chat feature that’s operational at the height of tax season (early January through mid-April). You can access live chat during TaxSlayer’s posted phone support hours: 9am to 9pm Monday through Friday, 9am to 5pm Saturday, and 12pm to 5pm Sunday (all times Eastern). These hours are subject to change as tax season advances.
  • Priority Phone and Email Support. Premium customers also get priority support for emailed and called-in queries. All communication from Premium customers gets pushed to the front of the line, ahead of communication from Free and Classic customers. This substantially reduces hold and wait times, though TaxSlayer doesn’t say by exactly how much.
  • Ask a Tax Professional. You can ask unlimited questions of TaxSlayer’s in-house tax professionals over phone or email. Since some questions may require research, phone responses may not be instantaneous (once you call in and ask your question, it can take one business day for a TaxSlayer employee to get back to you). Ask a Tax Professional is useful if you encounter an issue that can’t be resolved by TaxSlayer’s wizards or onsite help functions. However, TaxSlayer stresses that all information provided by its tax professionals is general in nature and should not be construed as tax advice.
  • Federal Audit Assistance for Free. TaxSlayer’s federal audit assistance package, which is claims is worth $29, is available to Premium customers at no extra charge for three years from your filing date. Keep in mind, it doesn’t include support for audits or other issues relating to Schedule C or K filings.

4. Self-Employed

This plan costs $47 for your federal return and $29 for each state return. Its support features are even more impressive than the Premium plan’s, with extra support and hand-holding for self-employed filers and solopreneurs.

Self-Employed includes everything in the Premium plan, plus:

  • Access to Self-employment Tax Professionals. TaxSlayer’s cohort of self-employment tax professionals are distinct from its mainline tax support team. If you have a question related to your Schedule C filing, or any uncertainty about the business tax deductions for which you might be eligible, you’ll find help here.
  • Self-employment Tax Tips and Reminders. This plan’s interface includes reminders and tips for self-employed filers; there’s no need to go hunting for answers in the help database.

5. Ultimate

This plan costs $59 for your federal return and $29 for each state return. It’s distinguished by front-of-the-line support for all tax and technical issues, plus full audit defense for three years from your filing date and identity theft protection.

Ultimate includes everything in the Self-Employed plan, plus:

  • Full Audit Defense for Three Years. If you’re audited by the IRS, you can count on full defense (including representation) for three years from the date of your audited return. This is more robust than TaxSlayer’s audit assistance package, which doesn’t offer total defense.
  • Identity Theft Protection and Restoration. This identity theft protection and restoration plan is a $39 value, according to TaxSlayer.
  • Front-of-the-line Support for All Issues. No matter what your issue is, your queries are always kicked to the front of the line.

Additional Features

TaxSlayer has some other features and functions available to all filers, regardless of plan level:

Pay Prep Fees With Your Refund

TaxSlayer allows all customers to deduct TaxSlayer’s prep fees, including those for state returns, from their federal refunds. The one-time fee is $25, subject to change.

Link to IRS Refund Tracker

You can access the IRS’s Refund Status system directly from TaxSlayer’s homepage, by clicking the “Where’s My Refund?” link in the bottom navigation bar.

Refund Calculator

TaxSlayer has a pretty elaborate on-site tax refund calculator that allows you to enter much of the information you’d include on your return – filing status, personal income, profit or loss from a business, standard or itemized deductions, and credits – and receive an estimate of your federal refund or the amount you owe. You can enter as much or as little as you like, but a complete accounting ensures a more accurate number.

You don’t have to be a member to use this calculator, so it’s a nice way to estimate your refund or tax obligation before you begin your return in earnest.

Mobile Apps and Functionality

TaxSlayer offers Android and iPhone apps for download. These are functionally identical to the regular website and also include value-added features, such as the on-site refund calculator. TaxSlayer’s regular website is already quite mobile-friendly, so while the app is a nice option to have, it’s not strictly necessary.

Knowledge Base

TaxSlayer has a well maintained, searchable knowledge base with a comprehensive range of help topics. There are also separate sections for issues related to the Affordable Care Act and recent federal tax legislation.

TaxPerks Referral Program

TaxSlayer has a refer-a-friend program (Tell-a-Friend) that lets you refer up to 10 new users by email after you file your return. Each referral earns TaxPerks points which are redeemable for gift cards. Program rules are subject to change, so check with TaxSlayer for exact terms and details.

Advantages

1. Paid Plans Are More Affordable Than Comparable Options at Some Competitors
In addition to a comprehensive Free plan, TaxSlayer users enjoy moderately priced paid plans. The most expensive option, Self-Employed, charges just $47 for federal filing and $29 per state. By contrast, H&R Block’s most expensive plan costs up to $104.99 for federal and $36.99 to $39.99 per state, depending when you file. TurboTax costs up to $199.99 for federal and up to $39.99 per state.

2. No Fees or Interest on Refund Advance Loans
Any TaxSlayer customer expecting a tax refund can apply for a refund advance loan with no upfront fees or ongoing interest charges. If you’re entitled to a federal refund, this is a big perk that can help you through a temporary cash crunch or provide some crucial breathing room to get through your post-holiday spending hangover.

3. Choice Between Guided Wizard and Self-Preparation
TaxSlayer has a flexible interface that lets you pick and choose how you complete your return. If you have a simple tax situation or can tackle a more complex return on your own, you can use TaxSlayer’s self-guided forms and schedules which provide minimal support and guidance.

If you’re not sure whether a particular situation applies to you – for example, whether you should itemize deductions or claim the standard deduction – you can take advantage of TaxSlayer’s guided wizard, which asks interview-style questions and provides explanations along the lines of hands-on tax prep programs like TurboTax and H&R Block. Regardless of your chosen plan level, you can move back and forth at will between the wizard and self-guided interface, and non-linearly between disparate sections of your return.

4. Powerful Refund Calculator
TaxSlayer’s refund calculator is quite comprehensive, almost like a mini-return that you don’t have to pay for. If you want to get a sense of how big your refund or obligation will be before completing and paying for your return, this feature is ideal. TaxSlayer’s calculator also guides you step-by-step through each relevant item, making it easier to use than the less user-friendly calculators issued by TurboTax and TaxAct.

5. Strong Mobile Resources
TaxSlayer’s website and prep program are among the most mobile-friendly I’ve seen, rivaling TurboTax’s for ease of use and navigation. Its mobile apps are also quite powerful, with most of the features and functions of the regular website. By contrast, TaxAct’s website and prep program aren’t as mobile-friendly.

6. Accuracy Guarantee Includes Federal and State Returns
TaxSlayer’s accuracy guarantee promises to reimburse filers for federal and state penalties and interest attributable to software calculation errors. That’s a significant advantage relative to some competing services, which only offer accuracy guarantees on federal returns.

Disadvantages

1. No Maximum Refund Guarantee With the Free Version
Maximum refund guarantees are industry-standard in the tax prep business, and TaxSlayer is no exception. However, its maximum refund guarantee, which offers to refund your prep fees if you get a bigger refund with the same entered data at a competing tax prep service, doesn’t extend to its Free version. This is a pretty glaring omission. By contrast, TurboTax, H&R Block, and TaxAct offer maximum refund guarantees with all packages, including free versions.

2. No Audit Support for Lower-Priced Plans and Certain Filers
You need to upgrade past the Free plan to get free audit support, which includes an over-the-phone consultation with an in-house tax professional who can answer any questions about correspondence you receive from the IRS or state revenue agencies. For full audit defense, you’ll need to upgrade all the way to the Ultimate package, which costs $81 for your federal return and one state.

3. No Refund Bonus
TaxSlayer doesn’t offer a refund bonus – you always receive the exact value of your federal refund, no more. By contrast, H&R Block offers a refund bonus up to 5% of the total refund (depending on the package you use) when you agree to receive at least $100 of it as an Amazon gift card.

4. Customer Support Isn’t as Robust as Some Other Programs
TaxSlayer does have free phone and email support for everyone, but its customer support system has several disadvantages: restricted operating hours, lack of a user-curated help center (such as TurboTax’s AnswerXchange), and a two-tiered, priority support system that pushes Free and Classic customers to the back of the line when Premium customers need help. Also, online live chat is only available to Premium customers.

By contrast, H&R Block’s phone, email, and live chat support – including 24-hour support during the January-to-April tax season – is available to all customers, regardless of package. And, H&R Block has a network of more than 10,000 physical offices that offer in-person support, something TaxSlayer can’t provide.

5. Website Has Some Functionality Issues
No website is perfect, but TaxSlayer’s has enough errors and functionality issues to impact the user experience. Though the return preparation process is generally smooth for me, I have encountered “page not found” errors in TaxSlayer’s help database before. A couple years back, I was directed to a particularly egregious missing page from the site’s main navigation bar, though that particular issue appears to be fixed now. And I experienced several timeouts when navigating to TaxSlayer pages from search engine results pages.

I expect TaxSlayer to address these issues as time goes on, but their mere existence suggests the trains aren’t all running on time at TaxSlayer HQ. By contrast, I’ve had nothing but good experiences with H&R Block’s tax prep interface.

Final Word

Few people enjoy preparing and filing their taxes, but not everyone has the same relationship with the IRS, state revenue authorities, and their tax preparer. If your tax situation is simple and straightforward, your highest priorities are likely to be filling out your return as quickly and cheaply as possible, and maximizing your refund. If your situation is more complicated, avoiding an audit is likely to be a major concern.

Though TaxSlayer isn’t perfect, it offers opportunities for taxpayers at both ends of the spectrum, often at a lower cost than the competition. If you’ve been filing with a better-known program like H&R Block or TurboTax in the past, maybe it’s time to give TaxSlayer a closer look.



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