Learn About Tax Preparation Software

Make Tax Filing Easy

With a little preparation, filing your taxes doesn't need to be a dreaded task each year. Find out more about important tax paperwork, tax preparers and tax software.

Compare Tax Prep Software

A low-cost option like H&R Block Tax Software Basic offers the standard federal forms you'll need, including a Schedule A if you choose to itemize your deductions. This is a great option for someone who doesn't own property or run a business, so this might be the best tax software option for you if you're a student. With tax prep software like this, you'll need to make sure you also purchase the state option to ensure you have a complete tax return.

Homeowners and those with investments should consider tax software like H&R Block Tax Software Deluxe or TurboTax Premier to maximize mortgage and real estate deductions and assist on investment income and stock options. This program also includes state tax forms. This might be the best for your tax return if you're single or married.

And those who are business owners should consider tax programs like TurboTax Home & Business,H&R Block Tax Software Premium or H&R Block Tax Software Premium & Business that maximize deductions for self-employment income. If you choose H&R Block Tax Software Premium & Business, you can also produce payroll and employer forms.

Tax software or tax preparer?

If you aren't comfortable working with a new software program or have no interest in spending time preparing your own tax return, you might consider getting help. An experienced Certified Public Accountant (CPA) could provide valuable advice on tax strategies which could be important if you have a complex return.

If you're fairly comfortable using a computer, then you might want to consider preparing your own tax return using tax software. You'll find a variety of options that walk you through the process and offer helpful advice.

Tax Preparation Software Features

If you're anxious about filing without a CPA, EA or other trained tax preparer, simple tax preparation software can ease your mind. These programs are designed to flag questionable entries, calculate your totals and alert you to tax breaks. Easy-to-use tax programs like Intuit TurboTax and H&R Block offer features like the ability to download your W-2 into the correct forms and free advice when you need it.

With tax preparation software, it's not as time consuming to compare itemized deductions to the standard deduction to determine the best choice for your situation. Some common itemized deductions are medical expenses, transportation costs for medical treatment, mortgage interest, charitable donations, transportation costs for volunteer work, job search expenses, transportation costs for your business and uniform costs. The programs will help you decide if an expense qualifies for itemized deductions.

Gathering Tax Documents

In order to fill out tax forms, you'll need a variety of information that can be found on documents you should receive by the beginning of February at the latest. The most basic document is a Form W-2 which shows total wages, salary and/or tips you received while working for someone. Other forms of documentation could include some Form 1099s which show interest, dividends and other types of income received. Some forms that would show an adjustment to your taxable income include Form 1098-E which shows student loan interest and Form 1098-T which shows tuition paid.

You'll receive forms like these at the beginning of the year and can keep them in one file so you have everything on hand when it's time to prepare your taxes. Your tax forms will include spots where you can fill in these totals from the documents to calculate your taxable income. You'll compare this to the standard deduction for your income level to determine if you paid more or less taxes than the standard. If you choose to itemize your deductions instead of using the standard deduction, throughout the year you should keep receipts that document expenses that can be deducted. While the IRS doesn't require that you send in all documentation, they do recommend that you keep these files for up to 7 years depending on your tax preparation situation, so that you are ready in case the IRS decides to audit your return.

If you use QuickBooks accounting software for your business or Quicken money management software, you can easily export your data directly to TurboTax for accurate tax prep, depending on the TurboTax version you choose.