H&R Block is ubiquitous when it comes to assistance with tax preparation. The company claims to have retail offices within five miles of most people in the U.S., and to prepare one in every seven tax returns in the nation. There’s a multi-product line of do-it-yourself personal tax-preparation applications, both desktop and online, a hybrid solution combining DIY and professional preparation, and a remote-but-live option. Here we review the online version of H&R Block Deluxe for your 2013 taxes, and we’ve also reviewed H&R Block Free Edition this year.
H&R Block is one of the top three personal tax-preparation solution providers, in terms of quality, flexibility, and support. You can use the Deluxe online version to prepare both simple and complex returns using the application’s simple, understandable step-by-step “interview” format. You’ll have access to context-sensitive and searchable support created by a network of tax professionals. H&R Block provides free audit support that surpasses what its competitors do, and a comprehensive, multi-function support website that exists outside of the tax-prep solution’s walls.
H&R Block has been a strong competitor for many years in personal tax preparation, winning at least one Editors’ Choice. But the online solution has a nagging problem that continues to plague it, making it difficult to complete your return if you’ve made any errors or omissions. And at the Deluxe level, you only have access to consultations with tax experts via chat. TurboTax and TaxACT both allow phone access.
A Similar Process
The three Deluxe versions of online tax preparation software that I reviewed here – H&R Block, TaxACT and TurboTax—have more similarities than differences in terms of how they help you prepare and file your tax return. You can actually create an account on any of them and enter all of your financial data before paying—you’re only asked for payment when you file.
H&R Block Deluxe, like its competitors, uses a wizard, with many dozens of successive screens. You don’t enter data on the familiar-looking IRS forms and schedules. Rather, the application “interviews” you like a live tax preparer would. You’ll be presented with screens that sometimes just contain information, but often ask you questions. You can respond in a number of standard ways, i.e. entering data in fields, clicking buttons to indicate your choice, etc. Screen prompts are quite clear and understandable, so if you read what’s on the page, you should be able to progress through fairly easily.
There’ll be buttons marked Back and Next to move to the next screen or the previous one (depending where you are and how you got there, you may not go back to the screen you just saw; the Back button moves you in reverse sequentially). Unlike its competitors, H&R Block will require you to complete each required screen before moving on (if a particular topic doesn’t apply, though, you’ll be allowed to advance). So you’ll need to have all your tax-related data assembled before you start (the site provides a list of the most common ones at the start of each section). This requirement may be frustrating to some, but it makes your final review a lot easier, and you’ll have more confidence in your work.
The site asks first about your household—contact information, Social Security numbers, etc. Next, it covers your income, then adjustments and deductions, credits and other tax-related issues. As you answer each question, H&R Block Deluxe works in the background, doing calculations and depositing your responses on the correct lines of official IRS forms and schedules. As you finish a section, the site displays a list of the topics that have been covered there, alongside the totals you reported for each. To revisit a topic, you just click the Go To link.
H&R Block Deluxe offers another way to return to pages you’ve already visited. Icons across the top of the screen represent each major section of your return. Click on one, like Income, and a chronological outline appears, displaying every topic in that area, like Interest, Rental and Royalties, and Business You Own. (Unlike TurboTax, the Deluxe version of H&R Block supports a generous number of forms and schedules, including Schedules A-F.) Each topic is a hyperlink, so when you click on one, you’ll be taken directly to the first page of that topic and can move through its interview screens.
H&R Block Deluxe comes in second, behind TaxACT and in front of TurboTax, when it comes to providing help to puzzled taxpayers. Like those two solutions, H&R Block Deluxe plants hyperlinks within some interview screens that open small windows containing brief, clear explanations of the topic at hand. There’s also a link in the left vertical pane called Common Questions; it opens a window that offers a few context-sensitive FAQs.
H&R Block tax-preparation applications used to offer more help than they do now, in terms of variety and type. What’s there now, though, is all created by tax professionals. There’s an H&R Block website outside the walls of the tax preparation site called Get Answers, which offers a variety of personal tax-related content, like articles, calculators, a database of questions and answers manned by tax pros, and an active online community.
You can also enter a word or phrase in the search box at the top of the page in H&R Block Deluxe to get a list of questions and answers. I typed in “home office deduction” and got 319 results. This tool is best used if you can enter a very specific question so you don’t have to wade through dozens of unrelated responses. Or you can use the Common Questions tool when you’re on the related screen.
An Unfortunate Feature
The review tool, which combs the site for any problems within and lets you fix anything necessary before filing, does not work like its competitors’. TaxACT Deluxe and TurboTax Deluxe provide individual screens for each issue and provide a blank field there for your corrections. You don’t have to go back into the interview and change it on the original screen.
H&R Block Deluxe requires that you do. And it doesn’t perform this vital function well. Fortunately, you can’t advance to the next screen in the interview without completing what’s required on the current one, so errors and omissions are not that common. But when you click the Fix Issues button during H&R Block Deluxe’s review, you’re sent back into the preparation process itself—and not to the correct screen, in my experience, just the correct general vicinity. You then have the option of returning to the list or moving onto the next error. This makes for a lot of extra work if you have to correct errors.
TurboTax and TaxACT both offer phone support with tax professionals, which TaxACT does not. But your subscription fee includes audit support at a level not provided by the other two.
Mobile Tax Tools
All three competitors here offer mobile apps that support filing of very simple tax returns that contain personal information: W-2 data, interest and unemployment income, dependent coverage and some education-related topics. H&R Block’s is the 1040 EZ Tax App, which is a little more expensive than TaxACT’s but cheaper than TurboTax at $9.99. You can take a picture of your W-2 with your smartphone (iPhone only; the other two also support Android) and the app will grab your data and plant it in your return.
The H&R Block Mobile App (free) does support both Android and iOS smartphones. You can estimate your taxes and track your refund as well as upload documents to store online. The company also offers a free iPad app.
Because expert help is not available via phone, and because of the problem I had running the review tool in H&R Block Deluxe, I can only really recommend this site if you’re planning to take advantage of the Best of Both ($79.99), H&R Block’s hybrid solution that lets you prepare your own return online and then submit it to an H&R Block professional for review, corrections and signing. TaxACT Ultimate Bundle is our Editors’ Choice for paid tax-preparation software this year because it supports every form and schedule that can be e-filed, has good context-sensitive professional help, and is the most affordable ($17.99 for federal and state).
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc