For freelancers or those who are self-employed, tax season can be particularly stressful. We’ve rounded up seven tax software programs that can help put the “fun” back in “tax refund” — no matter your budget.
Every product here is independently selected by Mashable journalists. If you buy something featured, we may earn an affiliate commission which helps support our work.
Freelancing isn’t all sweatpants and snooze buttons.
Well, sometimes it is. But most of the time, it’s cabin fever, caffeine withdrawal, fickle cash flows, and fierce competition for clients.
When you boil it down, being your own boss is really hard work — and no time is that more apparent than during tax season.
Compared to those with a typical 9-to-5 job or even small business owners, freelancers and self-employed workers face a unique set of challenges in terms of filing an annual income tax return. For one thing, you need to maintain thorough records of all your business-related expenses throughout the year so that you’re organized once it’s time to start prepping your return. You’re also responsible for completing relevant paperwork on your own while hoping-slash-praying that you haven’t missed any deductions or tax breaks. Perhaps most frustratingly, you then have to cough up the year’s worth of taxes all at once because the money wasn’t automatically deducted from your paychecks. Oh, and don’t forget about the federal self-employment tax you’re required to pay. Isn’t adulting fun?
Bearing that in mind, you shouldn’t be surprised to learn that a 2018 QuickBooks of 500 freelancers found that doing one’s taxes is among the most difficult challenges facing modern self-employed workers. It’s an obnoxious, tedious ordeal — so obnoxious and tedious, in fact, that more than a third of freelancers don’t even bother paying taxes, according to the same poll.
Since tax evasion is sort of a felony, filing your return every year is in your best interest. Lucky for you that tax software exists.
What is tax software?
Tax software is a type of software program that’s designed to guide users through the process of preparing and filing their returns, and help them comply with tax laws. Essentially, it’s software that makes it less taxing to do your own taxes.
What should you look for in a tax software program?
As someone who’s freelancing or self-employed, you need to keep your eyes peeled for a few specific features whilst weighing your tax software options. Those include some sort of accuracy guarantee, solid customer support, a thorough review process that helps you find all possible deductions, and a simple, user-friendly interface.
Keep in mind that the cheapest tax software option isn’t necessarily the best tax software option. The program you choose should be robust enough to handle complicated tax returns, since those of freelancers and self-employed workers tend to be pretty involved, and capable of promising a high-ish level of protection in case you’re audited. In other words, now’s not the time to get stingy: you want to get your taxes done, but also done right. (That’s not to say you shouldn’t pay for features you don’t need, but just make sure your bases are covered, you know?)
What’s the best tax software for you, personally?
That depends. Do you want to file on a mobile device? Do you want to take a chance with free software? Are you filing last-minute? Decisions, decisions.
Let’s be real, though — you probably have enough on your plate already, so we’ve done the research for you. Here are the best tax software programs for freelancers and self-employed workers based on actual customer reviews.
Nice mobile app • Top-tier customer support • Options to import data from Uber and Stride • Fast
Expensive • Some reviewers say the interface is a little confusing
Supportive and reliable, this is the kind of tax software you’d bring home to meet your parents.
This functionality is impressive in its own right, but what really sets Block apart is its myriad user support options: You can get technical support via phone and chat, access online filing and software tips on its support center, or head to one of its thousands of brick-and-mortar stores for in-person assistance. (The latter will cost you a little extra, but it’s worth it if you’re stuck on a tough tax question.)
“This program is so easy! It will not let you miss anything and gives you tips on how to fill out the forms if you are unsure.”
Clean, intuitive design • Maximum refund guarantee • Includes bonus QuickBooks subscription • Covers cryptocurrency transactions, if that’s your thing
You can think of TurboTax as the Olivia Pope of DIY tax prep: No matter what you throw at it, it’s got everything handled.
2. TurboTax Self-EmployedYou can think of TurboTax as the Olivia Pope of DIY tax prep: No matter what you throw at it, it’s got everything handled.
TurboTax Self-Employed is the priciest program on this list, but that’s because it doesn’t sacrifice any functionality or features. Utilizing a friendly, interview-style format, TurboTax will ask you a series of simple questions to fill out applicable forms while sorting through more than 450 industry-specific tax deductions covering mileage, travel, entertainment, and more. Throughout the process, you’ll get one-on-one help from self-employment specialists as well as a personalized audit assessment. And as the juicy little cherry on top of all these features, you’ll receive a year’s worth of complimentary access to the QuickBooks Self-Employed invoicing and expense-tracking tool with your TurboTax license.
“it removes all the anxiety behind tax season by knowing I can do this myself with the confidence of it being quick, accurate, maximized and plain done right. keeping me from doing it any other way. highly recommended! Unless you don’t like easy…”
Price Lock Guarantee • Year-round tax help
Audit protection costs extra • Customer service could be improved
An affordable alternative to H&R Block and TurboTax with a rare price lock guarantee.
TaxAct’s self-employed software is a great substitute for H&R Block and TurboTax’s offerings, providing most of the same features at a more affordable price point. (TaxAct has slightly worse customer support, a slightly more awkward interface, and a slightly more tedious questionnaire process compared to those two popular programs, but none of these issues warrant too much concern, TBH.) What really sets it apart from Block and TurboTax, though, is its Price Lock Guarantee: You’ll never pay a higher price than what’s advertised at the time you began your return, regardless of when you decide to file.
“I’ve used TaxAct for several years now, doing simple returns for my parents and complicated returns for myself. The top tier product in their offering is comprehensive. I can file freelance business income and expenses, rental property income and expenses, and see a long list of possible itemized deductions. I have not had any dealings with customer service because the software is easy to use, and the only time I’ve ever been contacted by the IRS is because I missed one of my 1099s. Not TaxAct’s fault.”
Mobile app makes it easy to file right on your smartphone • Tax resources in addition to support
Audit defense requires a paid upgrade • Some documents are missing from the app
The future of tax prep is here, albeit dealing with a few growing pains.
“As easy as 1,2,3… Fast easy and walks you through anything you need.”
Straightforward process • Relatively easy to use • Double Check Guarantee
Audit protection is available for an additional fee
If April 15 crept up on you this year (and you don’t feel like filing for an extension), Liberty can help you get your shit together fast.
5. Liberty Tax Premium EditionIf April 15 crept up on you this year, Liberty can help you get your shit together — fast.
If that’s not an option, Liberty should be your go-to pick for tax software. It doesn’t mess around with fancy icons or unnecessarily chatty language. Instead, it just gets right to the point with a plain, uncomplicated, no-frills interface and a few basic questions about your tax situation, which streamlines the filing process.
Liberty also makes it easy to double check your work: As soon as you’re done plugging in your details, the program will send your information through a thorough review process and flag any mistakes. And if you have a little more time to spare, you can take advantage of Liberty’s Double Check Guarantee and take your return to a participating branch, where a trained tax professional will look it over for free. (Certain branches will even for this very purpose during tax season — one office in Omaha in 2017 to ensure last-minute filers were able to get all their questions asked.)
“No matter the complexity of the job, or the time constraints of finishing the job. One can depend on Liberty Tax to deliver accurate and proficient service to their clients. Undeniably!”
Accuracy guarantee • Very fast filing • Supports all major forms
Audit protection requires a paid upgrade
A free-if-you-feel-like it tax software for when you’re ready to ditch the training wheels.
6. FreeTaxUSA Deluxe EditionA free tax software for when you’re ready to ditch the training wheels — though the paid version is much better.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering: FreeTaxUSA is *technically* a free program, as its name implies, although we recommend spending just a few bucks to upgrade to the Deluxe Edition for priority support, a live chat feature, Audit Assist, and unlimited amended returns.
“Filing taxes is simple and affordable with FreeTaxUSA. I itemize and own rental property so filing my taxes using an accountant used to cost me $500-700. I’m thrilled that FreeTaxUSA asks all the right questions and all I do is fill in my info and it’s done! And, if I have a question, the answers at my fingertips with live chat. I pay a little more for audit protection and that to me is well worth it.”
Maximum refund guarantee • Fresh and modern layout • Free
Subpar customer support options • No audit support • Some users say it’s slow
It won’t meet everyone’s needs, but keep an eye on it — this up-and-comer has potential.
7. Credit Karma TaxIt won’t meet everyone’s needs, but keep an eye on it — this up-and-comer has potential.
Unlike the other software programs on this list, Credit Karma Tax only offers one plan, which contains all available features. (In other words, you don’t have to pay for upgrades to get access to different forms or schedules since everything’s there to begin with.) It lets you take your pick from two different completion styles — interview filing or self-guided filing — and supports most major forms and schedules, including Schedule C.
The biggest drawback to Credit Karma Tax is the fact that its features and customer support options are quite limited compared to those of paid tax software (although that’s pretty standard when you’re comparing free versus premium products). You’ve also got to sign up for a Credit Karma account to get access to the tax service, which might put off some users. But hey, you really can’t argue with free, and if your tax return is on the simpler side — say you’re an independent contractor who’s working full-time for a single company — it’s definitely worth trying.
Credit Karma Tax has a real mixed bag of reviews online. For instance, , writes:
“I’ve always used Turbo in the past. And there was always a fee for Federal and State. Last year I used Credit Karma with no fees at all. I did a trial on TurboTax and then went to Credit Karma to make sure it came up with the same numbers as TurboTax, and it did so I knew that Credit Karma was correct. So I filed with Credit Karma for free for both Fed and State. Submitted my filings and 4 weeks later received my refund into my direct deposit bank account. They walk you through the online process and it was so easy. I am using them again this year.”
But , sings a different tune:
“Free tax returns – Credit Karma has the WORST tax preparation software. The word SLOW can’t even describe this tax preparation site. It’s extremely hard to navigate, slow & don’t even try to edit any mistakes. All I got from this tax service was a nasty migraine headache. I will NEVER use this service again.”