- Multiple returns per account
- Good variety of data importing options
- Useful built-in help tools
- Speedy filling out process
- Various credit maximizer features
- Thorough reviewing
- No free product available
- Imperfect mobile support
- Unresponsive email customer support
The U.S. is often called ‘the land of the free’, but there is one thing that no American citizen is at liberty to do: avoid paying taxes. For many years now Liberty Tax, a company founded in 1998, has been of great help to countless taxpayers across the country thanks to its wide network of tax offices and, of course, its online tax preparation software. And while this program may look outdated from the outside, it’s actually a decent solution with which tax returns can be prepared and filed in no time. Aside from the usual set of features that taxpayers might expect from such solutions, Liberty Tax even had the consideration to make its software even more convenient to use by equipping it with plenty of clever ideas like credit maximizers or the built-in help tools that explain everything as simply as possible. And although the company’s services aren’t available for free, the expertise provided by Liberty Tax’s staff alongside its convenient tax prep program is definitely something worth paying money for.
The tax prep program of Liberty Tax might well be full of clever ideas, but it’s something of a mixed bag because it’s still got some questionable functions, too. The best example of this is the software’s appearance, which is a hodgepodge of design. The left side – where returns, profile settings, and system messages can all be managed – looks like something straight out of the 90s, whereas the screen’s right side is occupied by straightforward buttons that provide quick links to the available support options, the on-premise office locator, the built-in knowledge base, and a list of filled out forms.
However, you shouldn’t be put-off by the outdated look as the program is perfectly capable of putting together an accurate tax return, which can then be stored in the same account with four additional tax returns. Interestingly, Liberty Tax allows users to create returns for the previous two years and store them within the same account, too, but note that doing so requires purchasing the top-tier product, Premium, for each return to be filed.
The actual form filling capabilities are quite well handled, too. It organizes everything under more or less understandable categories, but also manages to fill out certain information like personal data automatically. However, the program also has a rather questionable option to skip certain topics. Admittedly this speeds up the process of filling out the forms significantly, but less experienced taxpayers may not even notice that it depends on them to look into certain, less common topics – which is a bit of a shame seeing as Liberty Tax is quite thorough with both its federal and state interviews.
Despite this hiccup, Liberty Tax has one major merit over many of its competitors in that it allows users to upgrade to a higher-tier product at any time. Thankfully, however, there is no need to manually opt for any other Liberty Tax program, since the moment a topic not covered in the current version is started the software automatically prompts you to upgrade – though this step can also be postponed until you make up your mind.
While skipping certain topics automatically is disturbing and the program’s categorization of forms is a bit unusual, Liberty Tax does at least do its job well when it comes to preparing tax return documents. We have already mentioned how the program can reduce the need for manual entry by putting certain data into the forms, but this can be automated even further by allowing Liberty Tax to pull information from previous returns, whether they were made with the software itself or with a competitor’s.
This seamless data importing is available by default for state returns – since it shares most of its information with federal forms – but there is also the option to have your W-2 ready in seconds provided that the original document can be found in ADP’s or Equifax’s database. Speaking of W-2s, the program perfectly replicates the appearance of an original W-2 document, which adds nothing to the big picture but is admittedly a nice visual effect that can break the monotony of tax return preparation.
Additionally, there are more helpful tools particularly in the section about credits where all the possible options to increase the tax refund are listed. In fact, by the time you navigate here the program already knows which credits you are not qualified for and lists only those options where there is a chance of claiming back more money. In such cases the software performs an even deeper inspection with its additional credit maximizer tools – like the Education Benefit Maximizer – ensuring that all hidden refunds are found based on your answers.
Filing and Extras
When it comes to filing returns, Liberty Tax guarantees perfect accuracy as not only does the program display a summary of returns twice but it also goes through each topic again and warns users should it find an issue that needs to be dealt with. Additionally, Liberty Tax also highlights when you might be under the risk of a potential audit and immediately suggests purchasing its extra service Audit Assistance for $29.99 as a precaution. It’s worth noting that this service is offered again later on, where it’s listed alongside other Liberty Tax add-ons like the safekeeping of tax returns for five years (for $9.95) and the option to get a bound copy of the documents for $19.95.
The list of choices doesn’t end at these extra services, though, as there is the option to decide which way you would prefer for returns to be filed, how refunds should be paid, and whether the service fees should be settled by credit/debit card or by deducting the necessary amount from the refunds for an additional $29.95 fee. In addition to that, this is the only place within the program where you can sign up for Liberty Tax’s newsletter, which is recommended for receiving temporary discount offers.
Mobile & Software
Unfortunately, since Liberty Tax’s main profile is about providing on-premise tax support, the company hasn’t developed a mobile application. Thankfully, that doesn’t mean that Liberty Tax isn’t available at all on mobile devices, as the software itself is fully accessible from mobile browsers.
However, there is some good news and some bad news. The good news is that all functions work properly no matter which platform the solution is used on. The problem is that despite being fully unlimited feature-wise, the program itself doesn’t adapt to mobile screens perfectly and in the case of smartphones rotating the screen won’t help either. Simply put, even if the program itself is completely functional – which is indeed something to be appreciated – it is better to use only when strictly necessary and ideally on computers or tablets.
The overall security provided for Liberty Tax users is anything but secure, limited as it is to only the most basic options, which does at least include automated logoff for users after ten minutes of inactivity. There is no two-factor authentication, unless we take into consideration the authentication code sent right after the creation of the account. Instead, it’s replaced by reCAPTCHA, which is extremely inconvenient and quite often is immediately followed by a security question as well.
At first, adding security questions into the mix may sound secure but, quite ridiculously, the program always asked the first question provided during our tests. Regardless of whether this is just tough luck on our behalf or the program is incapable of mixing up the security questions, this method is not only poorly thought out but it doesn’t even reduce the possibility of hacking attempts either. And if that’s not insulting enough, Liberty Tax has serious problems when it comes to checking the validity of Social Security numbers, too, as it just simply confirms that information was entered to the appropriate section and does not track or qualify those contents in any way.
Preparing federal and state tax returns with Liberty Tax is free but, unfortunately, the products themselves aren’t. In fact, even the simplest version of the program termed ‘EZ’ has a price tag of $14.95 – and that’s actually the price without state taxes, too, which cost at least $35.95 per state. The lack of a free program is a bummer, but at least the basic product contains all of the most important features, such as simple W-2 importing, free amendments, unlimited customer support, and the option to create returns for the previous two years. As for the other products, choosing the right one depends on what forms you will need: for instance, families looking for itemized deductions and simple business expenses should opt for the Basic version at $28.95, whereas investors and SMB owners are better off with Deluxe ($43.95) and Premium ($69.95) respectively.
Although these prices are fixed, Liberty Fax does provide temporary coupons from time to time to users who subscribe to the company’s newsletter. However, there are two discounts that can be enjoyed at any time: the extra services’ bundle that saves you 40% and a special offer that reduces the online program’s prices by 20%.
Although the program’s built-in help tools are quite effective on their own, there is still the option to contact Liberty Tax’s staff personally via email, phone, and live chat. However, note that there is a chance that concerns addressed via email may be left unanswered – as happened with us – so it’s best to turn to phone support or live chat, where questions are answered immediately in a prompt and courteous manner.
The additional support options are quite extensive, too. For instance, there are various tools to calculate estimated taxes, W-4 withholdings, and mileages, but it is also possible to download ebooks or a clever booklet that help gather the documents needed for creating the return. Additionally, Liberty Tax also provides plenty of guides for tackling different tax situations, but these can be also learned by visiting the FAQ or ‘Tax Lounge’, the name for the company’s blog. And to top it all, there is also the option to learn about proper tax return preparation by enrolling in one of the online or on-premise classes.
Liberty Tax is an interesting case because it definitely has plenty of good functions and features available, but at the same time there are many things that are quite questionable. The best example of this two-faced nature is the software itself that despite looking like an old relic and not being as thorough with tax interviews as it should be is still full of clever ideas. In particular this can be seen in the many credit maximizer tools, interesting visual styles that reproduce the look of W-2s, or the seamless importing of data. Seeing all these features makes it kind of a shame that the program has problems with adapting to mobile screens, and worse still is its security – which is far from ideal. However, Liberty Tax is at least capable of creating accurate returns in no time, and even if there is no option to use its services for free it is still one of the better solutions for handling your tax returns.
Best Alternative Tax Software