It's Tax Time: Pitting H&R Block Against TurboTax Online

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It's that time of the year again. No, not Christmas; it's time to do your taxes. As you consider which online service to use (you don't still fill out the paper forms, do you?), check out the comprehensive Lifehacker Faceoff: H&R Block vs. TurboTax Online Tax Prep, published this morning.

Lifehacker contributor Melanie Pinola pitted the two popular options against one another and found that, because she itemizes instead of taking a standard deduction, she saved nearly $1,000. It'll take a bit more time out of your afternoon, but try filling out your tax forms using both services -- there's no downside. "[Y]ou can try both services out for free before paying to file your return," Pinola explains. "They also both have different tiers depending on how complicated your taxes are, from the free editions for the simplest tax returns, to more involved investor and business editions."

Here's the showdown, simplified:

Pricing & Unique Selling Points: +1 H&R Block, which is $20 less expensive than the alternative, possibly because it doesn't have the same reputation. H&R Block also comes with free audit representation, a service that TurboTax charges extra for.

The Lowest Tax Liability: Both TurboTax and H&R Block promise that their online services will maximize your refund or minimize your liability. (While refunds are always nice, tax experts typically recommend that you try and get your annual kickback as close to $0 as possible, because anything coming back to you at the end of the tax year is money that could have been sitting in your savings account for months.) Both services guarantee a refund on file prep costs if you're able to get a larger refund using another method.

The Tax Wizard: +1 TurboTax, which asked Pinola "better questions about [her] finances last year, which resulted in a lower tax liability in the end." H&R Block's software is linear and doesn't allow you, the user, to move around from one section to the next. As a result, you must be prepared to enter all of your tax information in one sitting. Personally, I use TurboTax's program and, this year, spent one hour one day and another hour another day, bouncing around from one section of the wizard to the next until I had all of the necessary forms and paperwork to complete my filing.

Support & Tax Guidance: Both services have pros and cons, leaving Pinola to declare a tie in this category. H&R Block's service, she says, is most like visiting an actual professional as you're offered unlimited support via chat, but the delays can be maddening. TurboTax has community forums and phone support available to its customers, but there's no personalized e-mail support system.

One win for TurboTax, one for H&R Block and two ties. Still, Pinola feels -- and, remember, she's not a professional, but she does file taxes like the rest of us -- like TurboTax is the best option for anybody who wants to file with itemized deductions. Using TurboTax, she was able to reduce her tax liability by nearly $1,000 and, in the process of filing, found the service to be more user-friendly.

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Nicholas Jackson is a former associate editor at The Atlantic.

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