H&R Block offers more personal tax preparation options than any of its competitors, including in-office services, DIY software, an online app, and a hybrid of DIY and professional prep called Tax Pro Review. The desktop version of H&R Block Deluxe won our Editors’ Choice this year. The company’s mobile tax preparation app, H&R Block Tax Prep, also offers a capable blend of tax topic coverage, usability, and taxpayer guidance. In fact, it looks and works much like the browser-based version—minus the side-by-side preparation tools and help. Though it’s excellent, it doesn’t quite provide the cohesive, always-supportive experience of TurboTax’s mobile app.
Pricing and Platforms
H&R Block offers four pricing tiers in its tax lineup. Free Online is truly free for preparing and filing both federal and state. It’s more generous than competitors’ free options. It supports the 1040 and numerous tax situations, including the W-2, the Earned Income Tax Credit (EIC), childcare expenses and the child tax credit, student loan interest, and retirement income. Deluxe ($29.99 federal and $36.99 per state) adds itemizing and Health Savings Accounts (HSAs). Premium ($49.99 federal and $36.99 per state) adds Schedule C-EZ, D, and E. Self-Employed ($79.99 federal and $36.99 per state) adds the Schedule C and additional guidance for self-employed users. Tax Pro Review ($119.99 federal and $36.99 state) assigns you to a tax professional who will do a thorough review of your return, sign it, and file it.
These prices are lower than those of TurboTax across the board, and are similar to TaxAct and Jackon Hewitt’s pricing. TaxSlayer’s $17 entry-level Classic plan is even more affordable, but if money is too tight to swing even that, Credit Karma Tax, offers completely free federal and state filing, and FreeTaxUSA is free for federal and $12.95 per state. Note, however, that with the free services you sacrifice quite a bit when it comes to hand-holding, which most of us end up needing at some point during the process.
Note that tax prep services change their prices frequently, and they tend to go up the closer you get to the filing cutoff date—a good reason not to be a last-minute e-filer. You may even be offered different prices for some services based on how you reach them online. The prices listed here are correct at the time of this writing, however. In general, using an app to file your taxes is a pretty good investment. Chances are good it will save you time, and you might also find you get a bigger refund, too.
Doing Your Taxes on Your Phone
Most tax services allow you to do at least some of your taxes on your phone using an app, but it’s more common to simply access their sites on your phone’s browser. Most tax sites use responsive design to deliver a version of the web service resized for your phone. Some, such as FreeTaxUSA, deliver an excellent, complete experience in this manner. In others, the interface does not translate as well to the smaller screen. H&R Block, TaxSlayer, and TurboTax are the exceptions among the services we tested this year, in that they offer installable apps for your mobile devices.
Once you create an account for H&R Block Tax Prep by entering a username and password, it asks you to provide personal information like names, birthdates, and Social Security numbers. You specify a filing status and enter details about any dependents. If you prepared your 2017 taxes using an H&R Block product or one offered by a competitor, you can import key data from that, which speeds up the process and reduces the potential for error—assuming you didn’t make any mistakes last year.
H&R Block doesn’t tell you up front how any significant life changes during the previous year (such as marriage, home purchase, and investment sales) may affect your taxes. It only asks these questions to determine which version you should use, but it certainly covers all these situations during the tax preparation process.
Income and Deductions
When you start on the Income section, H&R Block first asks whether you have a W-2. If so, you can fill in the blanks from your paper form, take a picture of it with your phone, or upload a PDF file. Once you’ve completed that, it displays a list of other possible sources of income. To visit a specific topic, you click the small arrow off to the right, which opens the list of subtopics it covers. Each subtopic has a Learn More button below it; this opens a small window with an explanation of the information it requires.
Click the Visit Topic button and a mini-wizard walks you through the Q&A for that tax item. You provide the information by clicking buttons to indicate answers, entering information in fields, or selecting from lists of options. If you choose a subject area your version doesn’t cover, a message appears with upgrade instructions. When you finish, H&R Block recaps your activity up to that point. It displays a list of every topic you visited and lets you revisit or delete entries. At the bottom of the page, you can click the Yes button to indicate that you must return to the income home page to visit more topics or the No, I’m Done button to see a summary of your responses.
Next, H&R Block Deluxe moves on to deductions and credits, which work much as the previous section did. Then the app moves on to tax, penalty, and payment items (which includes your health insurance status) and a summary of each. After some miscellaneous housekeeping questions, H&R Block Deluxe gives you a chance to provide any information you may have missed. This is useful if, for example, you still have a tax document or two you haven’t entered. You can search by form names or tax topics.
Before the site transfers relevant data to any state returns you must file, it runs its Accuracy Review tool, which finds any errors and omissions. It found some in my case and listed them, with a big Fix Issue button below each. I clicked it and was taken to the screen where I could make the correction. When I was done, I was able to return to the list of issues with my return.
I am glad to see that the Accuracy Review performs better this year than it has in years past. It’s had numerous problems over the years, such as not taking you directly to the screens that contained errors and not making it easy to get back to the Accuracy Review page itself to consider other entries there. Now it works as it should.
Solid Navigation Tools
Most of the time you spend working in the H&R Block app, you just click the Next and Back buttons to advance or retreat. If you want to move to a screen that’s many pages away, you can use the main toolbar (Federal, State, and so on) and its subsections, such as Income or Deductions. Click on one, and it takes you to the beginning of that section.
Five icons at the bottom of the screen take you to the site’s home page, the tax prep Q&A, the help center, an H&R Block message center, and your account page. The site’s navigation generally works, but constantly scrolling down to the bottom of the screen to click and move on gets cumbersome. In the TurboTax Tax Return App, you can just swipe to move from screen to screen.
Good Help Options
The Q&A format that online tax preparation solutions offer works well as long as there’s always an option to have complex or unfamiliar concepts explained in more detail—without having to open a giant help database and search for a term (though there’s a place for that, too). Context-sensitive help that’s accessible with a click is critical. Despite the hype, filing your taxes isn’t simpler this year. If anything, the many changes that came in with the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act may add to the usual tax-season confusion.
The H&R Block Deluxe app does a good job when it comes to help, though I ran into trouble with this year’s new tool. Take the Home Mortgage section. It explains on the first page what it’s looking for, asks you whether special situations apply to you, and displays links to deeper details for topics that may be confusing. For example, click the hyperlinked “What’s a Second Home?” phrase, and a screen opens that spells out the answer in clear, simple terms. This kind of help appears throughout the site.
Another kind of help tool breaks down complex topics into more understandable bites. If you’re not sure whether you qualify for Child and Dependent Care Expenses, for example, you can use the Child and Dependent Care Assistant. This wizard walks you through a series of questions about your status and provides clear explanations of every query. After you finish, the site tells you whether you are eligible for the credit and why or why not.
At any point, you can also click the Help link at the bottom of the screen, which opens a window displaying multiple context-sensitive Q&As. You can also enter a word or phrase, and the site returns dozens or hundreds of brief explanations, showing the broadest, most sought-after, context-sensitive content first. Eventually, you get down to very specific hits, like how a particular state handles the tax topic being explored. You can do complex searches to narrow this down from the start.
H&R Block has added a new help feature called the Virtual Assistant. To open it, you click the icon in the lower right when the help page is activated, and it starts a dialogue with you about your issue after you enter a keyword or question. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a good experience with it, probably because I used it early in the tax season. No matter what word I entered when it asked me what I wanted help with, it responded by giving me links to several options that weren’t related to what I’d asked. For example, one offered me more information about tax reform, but the app sent me outside to a web page that was published in 2017. According to H&R Block, the system is learning as it goes. The more people use it, the more helpful it will become. For now, it’s most effective when you enter your query in the form of an actual question, not just a word or phrase.
I was able to get the correct answer when I typed in, “Where do I enter farm income.” I asked about rental income next and got the same list of links I’d just seen for farm income. TurboTax Deluxe’s Virtual Assistant works much better. H&R Block does offer unlimited chat help with a tax professional (who will be able to see your screen as he or she troubleshoots) for $39.99.
A Good Choice
If you’re familiar with H&R Block’s browser-based tax preparation solutions, there’s no reason to switch to a competitor’s app. The mobile version is very similar to those applications, and you should feel right at home. The site’s professional appearance can allay fears about doing your taxes on a smartphone. Nevertheless, TurboTax Tax Return App is our Editor’s Choice for mobile tax preparation app, offering the best user experience and a great support system.