- Useful built-in help tools
- Quick importing of certain data
- Extensive selection of extra services
- Free state filing for free users
- Acceptable base prices
- Good self-support and customer service
- Basic account and data security
- Lackluster or buggy mobile versions
- Weak referral program
Nowadays there are two easily distinguishable segments of the tax prep software market: those companies that are considered newcomers to the industry and those that have been around for many decades. TaxSlayer belongs to the latter category as it’s been on the market for more than half a century now. And although the company’s first software was released in 1991, there are no signs that TaxSlayer is slowing down – and its online solutions are the perfect proof of that. In fact, by becoming a TaxSlayer user not only will you have access to a straightforward program with which preparing federal and state tax returns is a breeze, but it’s also possible to make use of many additional benefits like virtually seamless data importing, thorough and versatile assistance, and a wide variety of extras. And even if the prices of the paid versions of the program aren’t the most inspiring, TaxSlayer is one of the few companies to provide its free version with the option to file a state refund for free, allowing users to take care of their taxes without paying a dime.
Despite being perfectly capable of preparing accurate tax refunds, TaxSlayer’s software comes with a number of flaws and drawbacks. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t clever functions, though; taxpayers will appreciate being able to track the tax returns from the most recent up to three years prior within their account as well as having access to video tutorial support and a thorough interview process. There’s also a ‘self-destruct’ option to wipe the entire return clean and start from scratch, even allowing them to go so far as to pick a different version of the software. Speaking of which, TaxSlayer automatically upgrades the account the moment a required form is not present in the selected software, which may sound beneficial at first but it actually can be quite concerning as the upgrade is conducted in the background, with the program ‘kindly’ forgetting to indicate when a higher-tier product is added until the return is ready to be filed.
There are other issues that might make you raise an eyebrow, too, like how it’ll slow down from time to time, has a separate section for health insurance for some strange reason, or suggests that a basic calculator is a helpful tool when practically all modern devices have one by default. Thankfully, however, these are just nuisances and don’t influence the software’s overall usability. In fact, the “Helpful Tools” tab that this calculator is a part of does actually contain useful elements such as the audit risk meter, a comparison with the prior year’s return, or a quick error checking function for the current return. Quite interestingly, TaxSlayer also allows users to add notes to the different sections and forms – perfect for marking parts that need to be filled out later – while those who know exactly which documents have to be included in the final tax return can jump straight to the necessary section via the Quick File option, skipping the lengthy interview process.
Aside from the strange choice of keeping health insurance separate from the federal tax return section, TaxSlayer follows the same logical categorization of forms as its competitors. In fact, in many cases users have the luxury of being able to choose between going directly to the form they are looking for or to rely on the built-in step-by-step guide of the software. However, taxpayers that are looking to speed up the process have options to do just that, too. For starters, data from W-2s created by employers with supported employer identification numbers (EIN) can be imported into the relevant documents with a single click, although filling out forms manually doesn’t take too much time either.
However, TaxSlayer pulls most information from previous year’s return so long as it was created with one of the company’s products, though all personal data is brought over from returns made by the competitors. But what’s more important is how it’s capable of automatically filling out the relevant sections in state returns as well, therefore only requiring manual modifications where necessary. It’s worth adding, though, that federal and state returns don’t have their own summary sections but instead appear together within a separate summary tab. This isn’t a bad idea at all, especially considering that there is the option to see federal calculations in further detail, though unfortunately this exhaustiveness cannot be said about state returns.
Filing and Extras
It’s not a big surprise that the filing process is basically the same as with any other tax prep solution, including such details as going through a bunch of extras and choosing between paying with credit or debit cards or deducting the service fees from the total refund amount for an additional $35. Sadly, however, there are major issues with the review process: not only does it have to be performed manually by clicking on Helpful Tools, but there is no option to preview the return before filing and if you want a printed copy then it must be illogically accessed from the summaries’ tab.
Filing itself isn’t without its downsides, either. The most notable example of this is the fact that the only way to proceed to checkout is by accepting an agreement that allows TaxSlayer to use some of your data – albeit anonymously – and even for it to forward the data to the IRS. However, this can be easily excused by other positives, such as the option to choose the refund method, the opportunity to support the battle against domestic violence via SafeHomes, or the wide variety of extra features that include the Audit Service ($28.99), Securely ID ($39.99), Estate Plan ($39), and Last Will & Testament ($19).
Mobile & Software
When it comes to TaxSlayer on mobiles, prepare to make some compromises. Interestingly, in the ‘war’ between the mobile browser version and the app it’s the former that wins, since it allows users to access absolutely everything from its desktop browser counterpart. Granted, there is one major issue, namely that for some reason none of the submenus are available from mobile browsers – but this is something that can be coped with.
The iOS and Android apps, on the other hand, are a different story and should only be used when strictly necessary. Admittedly, there is the bonus option to capture W-2s with the phone’s camera and have it automatically processed by the software, but the time it takes to do this seems like an eternity and it never actually worked properly on our test device. But that’s not the worst of it, the app is a butchered version of the full-featured TaxSlayer program, only handling W-2s, 1099s, health insurance, and state refunds.
Worryingly the company has been fined before for its unsatisfactory data security practices, which resulted in tax frauds being committed by more than 9,000 hacked accounts back in 2015. You would expect that TaxSlayer had learned its lesson and is now a fortress that no wrongdoer can penetrate, and certain things have indeed changed for the better: the program alerts users should someone try to access their accounts from an unknown device, while a one-time passcode is required every time a login attempt is made for the first time from a new device or browser, which is sent to the user’s email address or registered mobile phone number.
But, sadly this just isn’t enough. TaxSlayer is still a tax prep program that provides only the bare minimum where data security is concerned. As such, the only things keeping unauthorized people out are its bank-level data encryption, the automated logout that is activated after a certain period of inactivity, and the checking of the entered Social Security number’s validity.
At first there is nothing special in TaxSlayer’s pricing plans since they perfectly cover the whole range of taxpayers. Quite surprisingly, however, users of the free product, Simply Free, are entitled to file their 1040EZ forms as well as one state refund without paying a dime – something that the equivalent within paid products charge an additional $29 for.
Thankfully, the higher-tier versions of TaxSlayer aren’t too expensive: the Classic plan is $24 – or $0 if you are employed by the military – whereas Premium and Self-Employed products cost $44 and $47 respectively. Feature-wise there are no major differences between these versions, with the only exceptions being the availability of pay-only features like the IRS audit assistance – which reviews 1040s, 1040As, and 1040EZs, and prepares users for an audit – and a personal tax expert included in the two top-tier plans.
Sadly, there is no way to reduce the price of any of the paid products and not even TaxPerks, the company’s referral program, can help with that. In fact, it takes at least 4,000 points to redeem a single reward which means referring TaxSlayer to up to ten people and/or e-filing tax returns with the program, and that reward is usually just an eGift card of a small monetary value.
Even though priority support – which includes live chat and personal assistance for tax-related questions – is exclusive to users of the two top-tier plans, TaxSlayer’s default customer support isn’t bad at all. For starters, the staff is well-prepared to answer any technical and tax-related questions or feedback whether they are contacted by phone or by using the account’s contact form and dedicated messaging section. Additionally, the company can be contacted via its Facebook or Twitter page, which are updated on a rather frequent basis.
The other forms of support are even better: there is an extensive blog, but better yet is the thorough knowledge base that includes answers to important questions as well as a full-on glossary of tax terms. The company also provides a tax refund calculator and promptly lists all changes related to the next tax season to help get you prepared. The only thing that is kind of a disappointment is that TaxSlayer doesn’t have a refund tracking tool but instead directs users to the IRS’s site.
There is no doubt that it won’t take too much time or effort to put together an accurate tax return with TaxSlayer. However, if you do opt for this service, then it’s best to be prepared for some hiccups along the way. The most noticeable issues are related to the overall security of the accounts but taxpayers hoping to deal with their returns on the go won’t be able to enjoy the same, mostly hassle-free experience as users filing their taxes from a computer can. Yet even if the program itself isn’t without its problems either, there are many features – like the built-in video tutorials or the automated importing and processing of selected data – that, in fact, can help turn the preparation of tax returns from a nightmare into a dream. Add in the acceptable base prices and TaxSlayer becomes worthy of attention for anyone who are looking for a straightforward and affordable tax prep solution.
Best Alternative Tax Software