H&R Block at Home – Tax Preparation Software Review

We’re in the midst of the tax season again. Last year I wrote a review on the TurboTax tax preparation software, this year I decided to try the competitor’s H&R Block at Home.

The differences are very subtle, and my overall conclusion is that the TurboTax software provides much more value. But let’s go over the points again.

What’s in the box? The software can either be downloaded, or purchased in a store as a physical CD-ROM disc. The software can be run on either Windows or Mac OS X (no Linux support yet, hopefully will appear in the near future). The installation was pretty smooth, and so was the update right after it (which is a common thing with tax software, when the original software is released the tax rules aren’t yet finalized, and updates are required).

User Interface: The H&R Block user interface is not as sleek and impressive as Turbo Tax, but still convenient enough and easy to understand. The structure is very similar, and I felt pretty much at home with it after using TurboTax last year. Tie.

Ease of use: The usage of the software is similarly easy. There’s a questionnaire and fields to fill, moving from one item to the other in order, and being able to see the current refund/tax owed values as you fill every item.

What differs from TurboTax is the guidance. In TurboTax there’s much better explanation for each field (in H&R Block for some fields I didn’t notice any explanations other than the field title), and also the online Q&A for TurboTax is much more convenient and effective than that of H&R.

As opposed to the problem I had with the H&R Block at Home last year, this year I was able to skip certain fields without the program getting stuck and not letting me move forward until I fill them. That’s an improvement. Turbo Tax wins here for me.

Data Import: I was able to import my TurboTax return from the previous year, which is very convenient. However, I wasn’t able to import any of my 1099 forms from the online sites (even though some were supposedly supported by H&R Block, like E*Trade), which makes filling the schedule B (capital gains) a real pain.  I had tens of trades last year, and I had to type them all in manually. Similarly, I wasn’t able to import my W-2. I was able to import all my 1099’s and W-2’s last year with TurboTax, and here it’s a clear win for TurboTax.

Flexibility: Here H&R is in advantage, as it was last year as well. There are several Turbo Tax versions:

Turbo Tax Basic – This is the simplest piece of software, only includes the Federal taxes without schedules and E-File. Good for people with simple returns and standard deductions.

Turbo Tax Deluxe – This is the more comprehensive software that is good for those itemizing deductions. Also includes free download of a single State tax return portion. If you need more than 1 state return (for those filing in more than one state, which is not that common), additional state would cost around $40. This version also includes the “Audit Risk Meter” that attempts to estimate your chances of being audited. If you have known audit triggers in your return (such as home-office expense, for example) it will let you know.

Turbo Tax Premier – This one includes everything Deluxe has, but also includes handling of investments and rental properties. It will help you calculating your cost basis, figure out your IRA contribution limits, and help you with filling the Schedule E (for rental/investment properties).

Turbo Tax Home and Business – This includes everything that the previous versions cover, and in addition expanded guidance for Schedule C – needed for the contractors/sole proprietors/single member LLC owners.

The costs are changing, and the closer to the Tax Day you get – the lower the pries are going to get.

For H&R Block at Home there are these versions:

H&R Block at Home Basic – similar to the Turbo Tax Basic, it’s the simplest version for those with simple returns. It doesn’t include a state return (which can be added for additional fee, as with Turbo Tax).

H&R Block at Home Deluxe – the next level covers itemized deductions, investment income and real estate. This is similar to the coverage you get with Turbo Tax Premier – note that Turbo Tax Deluxe doesn’t have as much features as this version does.

H&R Block at Home Premium – This is the most comprehensive individual tax software, and is comparable in features to the Turbo Tax Home and Business version.

A more comprehensive H&R Block at Home Premium and Business version covers also multi-member LLC’s, partnerships, trusts and estates, something that Turbo Tax doesn’t support in an individual tax program at all.

H&R Block software is usually cheaper, and having less layers allows you getting more feature coverage for the same money.

So here it’s a definitive win for H&R Block.

I will continue next week with the review of filling and filing the returns.

“Enjoy” your tax season!

Your Little Advisor



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