As a tax filer with a complicated return and a certified cheapskate, I’m always on the lookout for a free online tax software. Unfortunately, the tax software that had the lowest price tag nearly cost me my sanity. OnLine Taxes is a tax preparation software that offers free federal and state tax filing, but it is a pain to use. Just stay away from OLT.com.
You can keep reading while I pick apart the painful user experience, or you can skip to the conclusion. I’ll offer some better alternatives, including another free option.
OLT.com Tax Prep Process
With such a harsh indictment of OLT.com, you may wonder if the tax prep process is worse than doing taxes by hand. It’s not. OLT.com manages to make tax filing somewhat less horrific than the graphite and carbon induced nightmare that is filing taxes by hand.
So what is the OLT.com tax prep process? Well it starts with entering your basic household information. This basic feature should be easy, but I immediately became frustrated. The “Tab” shortcut to move to the next line worked erratically. It might seem like a small glitch, but every page had this issue. Over and over, I found myself typing only to realize my cursor was in the wrong box.
Assuming I could forgive this fault (which I obviously can’t), OLT.com had some decent features. After filling out the basic information, you move on to a more or less self guided tax prep. The menu bar at the top of the software allows you to navigate to various sections. The sections included Income, Deductions, Adjustments, Credits and more. Personally, I found the categories (Other Taxes, Payments/Refundable Credits, Miscellaneous) confusing. Most tax software only have sections for income, deductions, credits, and healthcare.
I muddled my way through filing, and I found almost everything I needed. What couldn’t I find? It’s a biggie. Form 4562. Form 4562 allows you to depreciate or amortize property associated with your business or real estate investments. I searched high and low and could not find it. If I chose to use OLT.com, I would have missed out on several thousand dollars of deductible depreciation.
**Note I later found on the "Income" drop down menu. The VP of Operations later clarified that it should be accessible on both the Schedule C and Schedule E, but I couldn't find it.
Most tax prep softwares have a depreciation and amortization calculator built into the interface. OLT.com does not. This issue is one that real estate owners and small business owners cannot overlook.
On the positive side, OLT.com has a robust warning system. If you’ve skipped relevant information, the software requires you to fill it in before you move along. They also offer consumer oriented definitions and knowledge articles on the right hand side of the software.
What If I Get Confused?
If you get confused, you can try to find answers in OLT.com’s knowledge library, but you might not find what you want. The articles tend to be informational but not tactical. By that I mean, they don’t explain how to input the information in the software.
Ultimately, most answers you need mean paying $7.95 to upgrade to premium. With a Premium upgrade, tax and technical professionals will talk with you via live chat or phone to answer your questions.
The OLT.com team keeps long hours during tax season, so you’ll likely get the support you need in a timely manner if you choose to upgrade.
OLT.com Plans And Pricing
OLT.com has just two pricing tiers. You can prepare your federal return for free and pay $9.95 for state filing. This is bare bones and comes with no guarantees or help.
Alternatively you can pay $7.95 to upgrade to “Premium”, and you will receive three significant upgrades. These include audit assistance (in case of an audit, tax professionals will help you), phone and chat help (from technical and tax professionals), and year over year comparisons in your software. If you upgrade to premium you only pay $7.95 for state filing.
At the end of the day, everyone should pass on OLT.com. The user experience was not great, and the fact it was missing the depreciation/amortization schedule eliminates this as an option for small business and rental property owners.
Basic filers (1040EZ/1040A with standard deductions) can get a free top of the line experience from TurboTax.com.
Budget conscious filers with more complex situations should consider FreeTaxUSA for their Free Federal and $12.95 state filing.