Looking for top of the line tax software to make DIY tax filing as simple as possible? If so, TurboTax delivers in 2021. On top of its signature easy-to-use interface and robust tax help, TurboTax has enhanced the software with some basic machine learning and the option to have your tax reviewed by a tax expert.
Unfortunately, the price of the software could be a turn off for many bargain hunters. Should you use TurboTax to file your tax return this year? Our review explains when it makes sense to use the software, and when you should look elsewhere.
Plus, you can see how TurboTax compares on our list of the best tax software [hint: very well].
If you're shopping around for TurboTax, once again Amazon has special pricing for both PC and Mac discs and download that's the best we've seen for TurboTax. Check out TurboTax on Amazon here.
- Easy To Use, Great Import Options
- Higher Price Points Compared To Other Options
- Free Filing Limited With Student Loans and Other Forms
Starts at $0
$50 per State
Self-Prepared and Expert Help
TurboTax Review Video
Can You Really File For Free?
You've seen the advertising - is TurboTax really free? You might have also seen the drama - TurboTax hiding free options for taxpayers... The truth is simple: yes, you can file for free using TurboTax. But, it's limited to simple tax returns.
If you’re a W-2 income earner who may qualify for the earned income tax credit or the child tax credit, you can really use TurboTax to file your taxes for free. This year TurboTax has also expanded its free tier to include unemployment income (reported on a 1099-G form).
People who have those situations will pay $0 to file Federal taxes and $0 to file your state return. As an added bonus, filers who qualify for the free tier can have their returns reviewed by a tax expert for free if they file by February 15th. This is the only free offer that we’ve seen where a person reviews taxes.
However, not everyone will qualify for TurboTax’s free tier. Some common reasons why you CANNOT use their free tier:
- People who contributed to a Traditional IRA
- People who use an HSA
- Those who have student loan interest to deduct
If you don’t qualify for completely free pricing from TurboTax, check out H&R Block which is supporting free filing for people with education related expenses (including student loan interest).
Related: best free tax software this year.
What's New In 2021?
In 2021, TurboTax is significantly increasing ease of use by allowing users to connect their accounts directly to TurboTax. Once connected, TurboTax will automatically upload any relevant tax documents. It also allows users to upload relevant tax documents directly to the site. This can streamline entering information related to interest or capital gains.
A favorite new feature may be the interest free refund advance loan. This loan is available to anyone expecting a refund in 2021. The loan ranges from $250-$2,000 (based on your expected refund), and can be funded as soon as December 3, 2020. Unlike lots of loans you’ll see at this time of year, the interest free loan is free from gotchas (except that the loan comes on a prepaid debit card).
Make sure you check out our full guide to early tax refund anticipation loans.
TurboTax is also leaning into the user experience in 2021. Users who qualify for free filing can have their returns reviewed by a tax expert (for free) before filing. Filers at every tier have access from product support specialists who can help with navigation problems, finding forms, and getting through the software.
TurboTax Price And Plans
TurboTax consistently has high prices. The current prices are at the top of the market. While the quality of the software justifies the price to a certain extent, other companies are catching up. I recommend less expensive options and TurboTax alternatives (such as TaxSlayer, FreeTaxUSA or H&R Block) for most users.
Unlike previous years, TurboTax is no longer offering a free QuickBooks subscription for people paying for the Self-Employed version of the software. That makes the premium pricing more difficult to follow. However, the self-employed user experience is better than ever before. In spite of the high pricing, it may be worth the money.
All pricing tiers include free technical support, but you have to pay to get a review and support on demand from a tax expert.
Once again Amazon has special pricing for both PC and Mac discs and download that's the best we've seen for TurboTax. Check out TurboTax on Amazon here.
W-2 income, Earned Income Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit
Itemized deductions, Student loan interest deduction, HSA, Retirement contributions (Saver’s Credit)
Stock Market Investments, Landlords
Self Employed people with expenses. Includes one year of access to QuikBooks self-employed
Federal Expert Help
$0 (Until 3/27)
State Expert Help
$0 (Until 3/27)
Total Cost Without Expert Help
Please note, TurboTax tends to adjust prices throughout the tax season. December and January are the best time to lock in low rates. And most discounts go away by March.
TurboTax’s navigation is second to none. When you first get started, TurboTax asks you a few simple questions about what sections may apply to you. Then, it gives you a list of forms to prepare. If you’re someone who struggles with organization, this list is a valuable resource to get started.
Since many of the forms are standard, you’re allowed to upload the documents straight to TurboTax. TurboTax will read the forms and pre-populate the relevant portions of the software for you.
Once you’re in TurboTax, you can opt for guided navigation, or you can turn it off, and walk yourself through. TurboTax does a great job simplifying jargon and walking users through complicated topics.
One great new feature in 2021 is the introduction of TurboTax’s product specialists. If you’re struggling with the software, you can work directly with a product specialist to help you learn how to navigate the software, find forms, and figure out other questions. This help is included at no cost to users. It is not the same as tax help from a tax expert, but it can be helpful for first time filers.
If you’re looking for simple navigation that makes sense for humans, TurboTax has what you need.
I was also impressed that the search option gave detailed instructions on how to input certain information. In fact, in many cases, TurboTax offered direct links to the part of the software that I needed to use.
Ease Of Use
With easy navigation, built in explainers, easy imports for many documents, and a great user interface, TurboTax impressed us again with its ease of use. Unlike many tax filing tools, TurboTax makes it easy to find what you need and move on.
The built-in calculators are impressive. Unlike many tax software programs TurboTax typically “auto completes” different sections based on certain assumptions about you. However, users always have the option to override calculations.
TurboTax consistently creates great new integrations to make tax filing easier. This year, it focused on the Snap a picture of 1099-NEC forms as well as the “connect to financial institutions” feature
TurboTax Knowledge Base
TurboTax has a great library of knowledge articles, but the best part of TurboTax is that you may not need any of them. The software includes lots of pithy explainers throughout. On top of that, each section has “Explain Why” links, so you can easily learn what you need. The quality of TurboTax’s knowledge articles is excellent. Each article ends with either a “call to action” explaining how you can input information related to the article or links to more detailed articles.
In addition to offering the base software package, TurboTax offers “Live” which includes help from a tax expert. Since this is included for people who qualify for the free tier, it's useful as an add on. That said, I don’t recommend upgrading to “Live” unless you actually have questions at the end of the process. The additional $50-$100 price tag seems steep when you may not use the service.
TurboTax also offers a “MAX” Defend and Restore option for $60. This covers audit assistance and help in the event that your identity is stolen through the tax process. An identity theft resolution specialist will walk you through any potential problems until your identity is restored. The $60 price tag is steep but it could be a valuable insurance policy. The only Audit protection includes representation by an expert if the IRS audits you.
This year, TurboTax has multiple "live" services:
- TurboTax Live Basic
- TurboTax Live Deluxe
- TurboTax Live Premier
- TurboTax Live Self Employed
- TurboTax Live Full Service
TurboTax Live Basic
TurboTax Live Basic allows you to have a real tax expert review your simple tax return and give you unlimited advice, help and review. From December 2, 2020 through March 27, 2021, TurboTax Live Basic is for free for taxpayers with simple tax returns only. Taxpayers can file with TurboTax Live Basic if they use Form 1040/Form 1040-SR.
Simple tax returns covered in TurboTax Live Basic include: W-2 income, limited interest and dividend income reported on a 1099-INT or 1099-DIV, unemployment benefits, Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), and child tax credits.
TurboTax Live Deluxe
TurboTax Live Deluxe allows taxpayers to maximize tax deductions and credits with final review from a real tax professional. This is basically the Deluxe TurboTax version, but with help from a tax pro.
TurboTax Live Premier
TurboTax Live Premier allows you to get personalized guidance and advice for nearly every investment tax situation, including stocks, bonds, ESPPs, robo-investing, cryptocurrency, rental property income and more.
If you're considering using TurboTax for your investments but want professional help, this could be a good option for you!
TurboTax Live Deluxe
TurboTax Live Self-Employed connects you with a tax expert to make the most of your self-employment income and expenses. Get live guidance on demand, plus a final review of your personal and small business taxes before you file. You will also be matched with a TurboTax Live tax expert that is experienced in preparing tax returns for self-employed individuals.
TurboTax Live Full Service
TurboTax Live Full Service is the "grand daddy" of the live options from TurboTax.
This service matches you with your own dedicated tax expert based on your unique tax situation, state of residence, and language preference - English or Spanish. The process is simple: match with a TurboTax Live tax expert, securely upload or import tax documents and connect via live video to ask questions and see a detailed summary. The tax expert does the rest.
This is a great option for people who want their taxes done for them, but online!
Can TurboTax Help Me With Crypto Investment Taxes?
TurboTax makes it easy for crypto traders to file taxes when you buy or sell crypto currencies. The software allows you to import crypto trading transactions directly into the software, and it does the financial calculations for you.
You will need to pay for the Premier level or higher to access the crypto section of the tax filing software. While the Premier level is expensive, TurboTax is one of the few filing companies that is focusing on tax filing in the crypto space.
Can I File For My Missing Stimulus Check?
The 2020 Coronavirus stimulus package included checks for up to $1,200 per taxpayer and $500 per child under age 17. If you earned more than $75,000 in adjusted gross income (income after deductions), you may have gotten a smaller paycheck.
Anyone who was overpaid will not have to repay the stimulus money. Anyone who was underpaid based on their 2020 income can file for a Recovery Rebate Credit which retroactively pays the stimulus money. You will need an IRS letter Notice 1444 Your Economic Impact Payment to file for this credit. TurboTax allows users to upload this document and request the appropriate credit at tax time.
Is It Secure To Use TurboTax Online?
TurboTax allows for multi-factor authentication, but it is possible to bypass the second factor authentication when you’re using a recognized device. I was disappointed to see that even when I was on an unsecured network, I wasn’t sent a text message for verification when I signed in on the same device.
I don’t want to throw too much shade on TurboTax for this little glitch. I did choose to make the computer recognizable before checking on the security.
How Does TurboTax Compare To Other Tax Software?
Student Loan Interest
Import Last Year's Taxes
$50 per additional state
$36.99 per additional state
$12.95 per additional state
Earned Income Tax Credit
Child Tax Credit
Retirement Income (SS, Pension, etc.)
Free (but limited)
Free (but limited)
Capital Gains Income
Small Business Owner (over $5k in expenses)
Free Tier Price
$0 Fed & $0 State
$0 Fed & $0 State
$0 Fed & $12.95 State
Deluxe Tier Price
$60 Fed & $50 State
$29.99 Fed & $36.99 State
$6.99 Fed & $12.95 State
Premium Tier Price
$90 Fed & $50 State
$49.99 Fed & $36.99 State
$6.99 Fed & $12.95 State
Self-Employed Tier Price
$120 Fed & $50 State
$84.99 Fed & $36.99 State
$6.99 Fed & $12.95 State
Who Should Use TurboTax 2021?
TurboTax is once again delivering an incredible user experience. It makes tax filing intuitive and relatively simple, even for people with complex filing situations. But such a premium product generally comes at a high price. If you don’t qualify for TurboTax’s free pricing tier, the price can be tough to swallow.
Anyone who needs to use depreciation calculators (some self-employed people, and landlords) should continue to consider TurboTax in spite of the high prices. It is also a superior software for crypto traders.
Outside of those two groups, I recommend trying to find a better value elsewhere. H&R Block offers a very good user experience at a lower price. Bargain hunters who are willing to sacrifice a bit on usability can find a great deal through FreeTaxUSA. Finally, TaxSlayer shows promise as an easy-to-use and competitively priced alternative to H&R Block and TurboTax.
Here are some common questions we get about TurboTax every year:
Is TurboTax Free?
TurboTax does have a free file tier that includes things like W2 income, 1099-G unemployment, and more. However, it's very limited compared to other tax filing options.
Does TurboTax Offer Tax Prep Assistance?
Yes, TurboTax has two main ways to get assistance. First, if you qualify for free filing, you can have your return reviewed by a tax professional for free by March 27. Also, you can pay to have your return prepared by a tax professional.
How Much Does It Cost To File With TurboTax?
This all varies based on your tax situation. It could be as low as $0, or could be well over $100 if you own a business and have to file multiple state tax returns. You can also pay for professional tax preparation, or purchase an add-on like MAX Defend Audit Support.
Is TurboTax Better Than H&R Block?
It depends. We found H&R Block to be better on price, and pretty good on usability. TurboTax does offer one of the easiest to use interfaces, though, and it can make tax filing easy.
What Are The Alternatives To TurboTax?
H&R Block is the biggest competitor to TurboTax. You can also look at FreeTaxUSA, TaxSlayer, and TaxAct. Check out our list of TurboTax Alternatives here.
Does TurboTax Support Health Savings Accounts?
Yes! But sadly, not on the free file version. You would need to upgrade to Deluxe for that.
Can you file multiple states for free?
On the free tier, you only get one free state. If you need to file a return in a second state, you would pay for that state.
TurboTax 2021 Review
Ease Of Use
Features And Options
Plans And Pricing
TurboTax 2021 is one of the best options for most filers in terms of features and ease of use. It offers a wide range of products and services, including free filing through small business, and it also offers tax refund advances.
- Easiest to use tax software, with easy navigation and prompts
- Very user friendly
- Robust offerings, covering every tax situation
- Tax advance refund loans offered online
- It’s one of the most expensive tax programs
- Its free-file offering isn’t as robust as other tax software programs
Robert Farrington is America’s Millennial Money Expert® and America’s Student Loan Debt Expert™, and the founder of The College Investor, a personal finance site dedicated to helping millennials escape student loan debt to start investing and building wealth for the future. You can learn more about him on the About Page, or on his personal site RobertFarrington.com.
He regularly writes about investing, student loan debt, and general personal finance topics geared towards anyone wanting to earn more, get out of debt, and start building wealth for the future.
He has been quoted in major publications including the New York Times, Washington Post, Fox, ABC, NBC, and more. He is also a regular contributor to Forbes.