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The Best Mobile Tax Apps for 2020

Whether you download an app or access a tax prep site through your mobile browser, you can complete and file your income taxes no matter where you are. Here's our look at the best mobile tax apps.

Updated February 5, 2020

Our 8 Top Picks

Do Your Taxes on Your Phone or Tablet

Personal tax preparation software and online services have radically changed the way Americans file their income taxes. Rather than scribbling on a handful of IRS forms and schedules that you grabbed at the public library, you're now more likely to turn to dedicated applications that have streamlined and simplified the process. In a recent PCMag survey, we found that 37 percent of respondents do their own taxes using tax software, about the same percent of people that still go to an accountant.

The evolution of tax preparation solutions didn't stop with the jump to the PC, however. Today, you can complete and file your income tax return on a smartphone, too.

This year, we reviewed eight products that make this possible. Some accomplish it by providing downloadable Android and iOS apps. Others feature responsive websites that are easily accessed via your smartphone's browser. These sites "respond" to the size of the screen and the type of inputs required by the device being used. The interface and elements may look different, but the functionality remains the same.

While all the sites reviewed here do offer at least some responsive design functionality, tuning the interface of the web version for multiple platforms can be a serious challenge. Given that our recent survey showed that ease of use trumps all other considerations when it comes to tax software, it's perhaps not so surprising that many companies also opt to offer iPhone apps and Android apps.

TurboTax, H&R Block, TaxAct, and TaxSlayer all offer separate downloadable apps for their services. Credit Karma Tax, FreeTaxUSA, Jackson Hewitt, and Liberty Tax, on the other hand, employ responsive-design sites to let you get the job done on your smartphone or tablet.

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*Deals are selected by our partner, TechBargains

What Does it Cost to File Your Tax on Your Phone?

Most of the companies behind these applications offer multiple levels of their services, and generally, the price is the same whether you're accessing the service via your desktop or a dedicated app.

If your financial situation is simple enough that you can file a 1040 and little else, several of them—like TurboTax, H&R Block, and TaxSlayer—offer free editions that you can use to file both your federal and state income taxes. Other free versions, such as those from Credit Karma Tax and FreeTaxUSA, support more advanced tax topics, like self-employment, capital gains, and rental income. Does it sound like there are still a lot of confusing forms and levels to worry about? There are, despite the political hype that claims tax preparation has been simplified over the last couple of years. That's why using tax software is such a good idea.

In most cases, the more complex your return, the more you'll pay. You'll rarely pay more than $100, and sometimes much less. Unlike desktop software, these solutions do not collect money until your return is ready to file, which means you can try before you buy.

Note, too that you might qualify to use paid software for free, if your income is low enough, or if you're in the military. The IRS Free File program allows you to submit your federal (and maybe your state) taxes for free, even if you're using a premium app. To find out if you qualify read our article E-Filing Your Taxes for Free: Are You Eligible?

A Similar Approach

Whether you're viewing them on a huge monitor or an iPhone SE, personal tax preparation services work similarly. You don't see the official IRS forms and schedules (though some applications offer sneak previews of those, and you can always print the finished product). Rather, they walk you step-by-step through the process of answering questions about your tax-related information. Since this process keeps you from having to read the IRS forms, it reduces the amount you actually need to know about the ins and outs of the tax code and how it has changed over the last year.

Help Along the Way

Without extensive help resources, tax websites and apps would still make the tax preparation process easier than it is using paper IRS forms and schedules. But the guidance they provide can mean the difference between completing your return yourself and taking it to a professional—which may be necessary if your financial situation is convoluted. Do-it-yourself tax prep is not for everyone.

Some of the applications included in this roundup are the products of well-known in-person tax prep companies—Liberty Tax and Jackson Hewitt, for example. These companies are happy to have their tax professionals finish what you've started if it gets to be too much for you. TurboTax and H&R Block both offer more expensive versions that connect you to a CPA, EA (Enrolled Agent), or other tax professional via screen share, chat, or phone. You get unlimited access to this service year-round, which can come in handy if you file an extension.

Besides providing supplemental text when they ask questions during the interview, tax preparation solutions offer many other kinds of help. They provide links next to some questions and other items that open windows containing expanded explanations of what's needed. They hyperlink words and phrases within queries and statements that also take you to help windows.

These explanations do not use the complicated language that IRS instructions do. Nor do they cover topics in as much excruciating detail. They've been written and rewritten over the years to make tax concepts as simple and understandable as possible.

TurboTax Mobile App Help

Tax apps also have searchable help databases. You enter a tax concept, and they provide links to articles on the topic. They may also tell you how to get to the screens where that information should appear. They display context-sensitive questions and answers that can further educate you before you answer a question. They also offer chat, phone, and/or email help, and host online communities.

No one service has all of these options; each has its own combination of help resources. The best of them provide more than you'll probably need.

Little Difference in Mobile

If you've ever used a tax preparation solution on a desktop computer, you may wonder if it's possible to replicate that experience on a smartphone. The short answer is yes. We were pleasantly surprised when we saw what the apps' designers were able to do. Content is compressed, of course, and there isn't as much room for decorative graphics and big icons, however.

Navigation schemes differ among the apps, but you'll still do a lot of moving among screens by using Back and Next buttons. You'll have to scroll more to read help articles and to simply get through screens that contain a lot of questions, but you can indeed complete a return that includes the Form 1040 as well as Schedules A through F as well as their myriad supporting forms and schedules.

HR Block Your Info

Of course, if your return is complex, it's easier to complete it on a big screen with a full-sized keyboard. We don't necessarily recommend that you take on a job that big on a smartphone. But no matter where you start your tax preparation, you can continue it on any other device by just signing in with your username and password. So, you could do some work remotely on your smartphone and finish up on your desktop.

We reviewed the most popular levels of these apps and mobile-optimized sites, the editions that at least let you enter W-2 income, interest income, and itemized deductions. Some do more. Take a look at the reviews to see where your financial situation falls, and remember that you don't have to pay anything until you file.

Those paper IRS forms at the public library may be free, but consider what your time is worth. Besides saving time and frustration, personal tax preparation applications are thorough interviewers: You may learn that you can reduce your tax obligation by finding deductions and credits that you didn't know about before. And that might more than pay for the cost of access to one of these solutions. If you haven't already started your return, you should read our tax tips for last-minute e-filers.

One note on filing your taxes with a mobile device: You need to think about security. The information in your taxes is, by definition, sensitive. All our recommended services take security seriously, but it's important that you do your part too. While we don't want to be alarmist, it's also important to acknowledge that most of us don't think enough about the security of our Wi-Fi traffic. If at any point in the filing process you're at all likely to be connected to a Wi-Fi network you don't control, you should make sure to use an Android VPN app or an iPhone VPN app, depending on your platform. If the VPN conflicts with your tax service, wait until you can connect to a network you control.

This Year's Lineup

As mentioned above, we include reviews of four tax websites that offer installable mobile apps (available at the Apple App Store or Google Play Store): H&R Block, TaxAct, TaxSlayer, and TurboTax. Also included are reviews of four services that only let you file via a browser on mobile, Credit Karma Tax, FreeTaxUSA, Jackson Hewitt Online, and Liberty Tax Online.

The big news here this year is TaxSlayer's upgraded mobile app. The company has expanded its mobile solution so that you can complete your entire return on it, no matter how complicated. There have been less monumental tweaks to mobile tax apps (especially Liberty Tax's), but TaxSlayer has come the farthest.

Kudos to tax software and website developers for mastering the Herculean task they took on in the early 1990s: taming the 1040. They've turned a massive number of IRS forms and schedules into understandable, accessible—sometimes even attractive—websites and mobile apps.

Tax Software Reviews

Further Reading

About Kathy Yakal

Kathy Yakal
Kathy Yakal has been writing about PC applications since 1983, when she joined the editorial staff of COMPUTE! Publications. She began specializing in financial solutions in 1989, writing a newsletter for CPAs who were exploring the use of personal computers in their firms. Since then, she has contributed to numerous print and web-based publications, including Barron’s and Kiplinger’s Personal Finance Magazine. She also ghostwrites client content for accountants.

Read the latest from Kathy Yakal

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