- Pleasant, simple interface
- Virtually flawless data importing
- Straightforward summary pages
- Multiple audit options
- Outstanding mobile availability
- Good variety of extra services
- Lack of simple downgrading
- Missing important security options
- Limited live support beyond tax season
Even though there have been plenty of changes in the tax system over the years, one thing has always remained: taxpayers want to deal with their tax returns as quickly and conveniently as possible. With H&R Block those wishes can come true since the company perfectly combines its long-lasting expertise with the convenience of cloud technology. Users of this tax software provider are in for a treat, since the program and its mobile application counterpart do exactly what they need to thanks to the many convenient features that help finish tax preparation in no time. There’s a suitable product for everyone at H&R Block, ensuring that all the necessary tax forms are put together while extra services mean that the filing process remains free of any hassle from start to finish. And to make the deal even sweeter, not only are the programs free of charge until filing but the costs can be covered by any tax refunds you have earned – essentially allowing you to pay nothing out of pocket.
While the online software perfectly serves its primary purpose, and it even sports an interface that’s a please to use and look at. Even better is that everything that is expected from such a solution can be found here, including thorough interviews intended to create the user’s tax return as accurately as possible or the logical nature of tax topics, categorizing them into clear sections like income, deductions, and miscellaneous. However, it’s the smaller details that make the tax filing process as pleasant as it is with H&R Block. For starters, it doesn’t matter which version of the software you decide to go for, because the moment that a form is not present in the version you have chosen and needs to be added to the tax return, the program will automatically offer an upgrade to the version that does include the necessary form. Additionally, subcategories have highly detailed summary pages that display the data entered earlier, which is a great opportunity for checking whether all the required information was indeed added in correctly. Additionally, H&R also displays the predicted total tax refund after the income subsection is completed; this may seem unnecessary at first – seeing how the amount is continuously displayed on the left side of the screen as well – but actually it properly explains how that refund is calculated by the company.
Sadly, we can’t say H&R Block is without issues. The fact that users can only access their returns via their MyBlock account is actually a nuisance rather than a problem, but not offering downgrade or the option to wipe the return clean and start over is a huge mistake on H&R’s behalf. However, accidentally and irrevocably opting for the wrong product can be easily avoided by choosing the free version, because the moment that a form is not present and needs to be added to the tax return, the program will automatically offer an upgrade to the version that does include the necessary form anyway.
There are a few other things to pay attention to when using the software, too. Particularly it’s worth noting that the tax expert live chat support in the paid version of the software is only available during tax season between January and April – a huge blow considering that the built-in help center is rather limited. And even if the software is impressive due to its ability to import returns created with its competitors, it must be performed before the current tax prep process is commenced, otherwise the return will be left blank or, if that applies, may contain certain data from your previous H&R Block return.
By far one of the biggest strengths of H&R Block is how easily it handles both common and less common forms issued by the IRS and local tax authorities. That the software is capable of adding necessary documents to the final tax return as you go is a great boon – even offering the option to upgrade to a higher-tier product if required – but this is only the beginning. Not only is everything categorized in the most logical way possible, but if the forms that you have already received are uploaded to a MyBlock account – or were previously created with H&R – then the program fetches the data found in those documents and automatically fills out the corresponding sections for you. It’s worth adding, though, that there may be some errors if the data isn’t entered manually, but rest assured that the program’s accuracy with data import is almost perfect, and will always highlight something that seems off anyway.
To make things even better, the software immediately copies data from federal tax forms over to state taxes as well, meaning that after finishing a federal tax return the process of submitting a state tax return can be done in minutes. However, if there is no need to file state taxes with this software – or you consider the additional fee of $39.99 per state to be too much – then they can easily be removed from the finalized return during the filing stage.
Filing and Extras
Although the filing process itself is a breeze, H&R has managed to confuse things a little here since the only way to review a summary of all the returns is to visit the section for state taxes. Aside from that, however, every step that follows is pretty self-explanatory, from the final, automated reviewing of the forms to the checking of the current status of the return in the user’s MyBlock account.
It’s also easy to add extra H&R services, including Tax Identity Shield – which gives a helping hand in cases of identity theft for an extra $14.99 – and the worry-free audit support that deals with IRS-related issues for $19.99. Additionally, there is the Tax Pro Review audit service that has the return reviewed by a tax expert before filing, but note that its price of $39.99 immediately becomes $49.99 the moment that the software is upgraded.
The good news is that H&R provides users with the option to deduct regular and additional service fees from their collected refunds. If this is the case, then the company charges an additional $34.95, which can be avoided by paying with Visa, MasterCard, American Express, or Discovery credit/debit cards.
Mobile & Software
Taxpayers who want to check their returns on the go are lucky, as the online software is mobile-friendly, but if that’s not preferable then there is also an official H&R iOS/Android app. Although feature-wise there are virtually no differences between the mobile version and the app, the advantage of the former is that it doesn’t require downloading the separate MyBlock application. In fact, the app sports a unique feature with the option to capture printed W-2s with the smartphone’s camera and have it be processed by the software. This may seem insignificant at first but, surprisingly, the app’s capabilities in this regard are quite accurate – only making a few mistakes here and there – and, therefore, can indeed speed up the filing process significantly.
Sadly, it’s with the overall security of accounts where H&R gravely underperforms. Granted, the software complies with the minimum requirements such as protecting data with bank-level encryption, autologout after a certain period of inactivity, and requiring users to confirm their identity via a temporary code when accessing their accounts from a new device for the first time – but unfortunately this is where the default security options stop.
In fact, not only does the software not log account activity but most concerning is how it doesn’t even check the provided SSN number for fraud or alert you by email should the number be changed too many times. Admittedly there is the option to purchase extra protection against identity theft – the Tax Identity Shield extra service discussed in ‘Filing and Extras' – but it’s still far from enough. And the funny thing is that H&R’s app is actually safer, since not only does it provide autologout but it is also equipped with DRM protection that blocks screen captures whenever the app is used.
In its default state H&R Block offers one free state return, and has features like capturing W-2s and the manual importing of the most important forms and tax returns created by competing services. However, upgrading to the higher-tier products is highly recommended, because features like the deduction maximizer, the option to fetch data from any previous tax return, and the live chat support are only available in H&R Block Deluxe that costs $49.99. On the other hand, Premium ($69.99) or Self-Employed ($104.99), not only give access to more forms, but can also collect data from popular expense management apps and can even handle Uber driver taxi information. Additionally, there is Tax Pro Review, which includes the pay-only Tax Pro Review service, but not only is it ridiculously expensive – costing $144.99 – but it’s only worth for Self-Employed users.
Unfortunately, aside from the usual tax season discount none of the above prices can be reduced by any means. In fact, they could end up even higher when adding extra services like state return filing ($39.99 per state), the Tax Pro Review function, the storing and recalling of tax data ($14.99, Free users only) or the security upgrades into the mix. However, in the case of the identity theft preventer and the IRS audit helper, there is the option to buy them together to reduce the combined costs by 29% to $24.99.
The customer support of H&R Block is a mixed bag. Not only is there no way to contact the staff by mail, but when tax season is over most of the tax experts are unavailable for longer periods of time. As such, the only means of getting in touch with an H&R staff member or tax expert is by phone, the pay-only Tax Pro Review service, a dedicated Twitter channel, or by visiting one of the H&R Block offices.
Other support options fare a bit better, however. For instance, there are clever tools with which it is possible to create an estimation of the expected tax refund or even prepare a checklist of forms to make sure that everything that is required for the return has been properly prepared. Additionally, there is the Tax Information Center with news and tips about the program and taxation in general. It’s worth drawing attention to the FAQ, too, which will be able to answer most questions related to the use of the software and its features in an understandable fashion.
H&R Block tax prep software is the typical case of a solution that is perfectly capable of doing what it was intended for, but its many nuisances – such as the lack of proper downgrading or the less than satisfactory security of accounts – could cause some headaches for its users. Thankfully, however, the moment these minor hiccups are taken out of the equation, the already-established expertise of H&R Block shines through. Features like seamless data import, the clever summary pages or stellar mobile app, and even the extra pay-only services are all tailored in such a way to ensure tax-related tasks are done quickly and conveniently. And while H&R’s prices aren’t anything to get excited about, one thing is certain: by filing tax returns with H&R Block you will certainly get the biggest refunds.