Excellent user experience overall. Good help tools. Form/topic search tool. Similar to browser-based version.
No "Life Events" feature. Accuracy Review doesn't take you to correct screen. Excessive clicking.
- Bottom Line
H&R Block's Android and iPhone app looks and works much like its browser-based version, offering simple navigation, an able help system, and generous coverage of tax topics.
H&R Block got its start as a real-world tax service way back in 1955. The company offers more personal tax preparation options than any of its competitors, including in-office services, DIY software, and online applications, in addition to a hybrid of DIY and professional prep called Tax Pro Review. We reviewed the desktop version of H&R Block Deluxe, which focuses on W-2 and interest/dividend income, as well as helping you claim deductions. H&R Tax Prep and File, the company's mobile tax preparation app also offers a capable blend of tax topic coverage, usability, and taxpayer guidance. In fact, it looks and works much like the browser-based version—minus some of the latter's navigation options. It's excellent, though it doesn't quite provide the cohesive, always-supportive experience offered by TurboTax Deluxe's mobile app.
Pricing and Platforms
There are four pricing tiers in H&R Block's lineup: Free (both federal and state, supports 1040 EZ and 1040A and Schedule A); Deluxe ($54.99 federal and $36.99 state); Premium, ($74.99 federal and $36.99 state, adds Schedule C-EZ, D, and E), and Self-Employed ($94.99 federal and $36.99 state, adds Schedule C and additional guidance for self-employed). You can add Tax Pro Review to any version for prices ranging from $49.99 to $89.99 (at this writing), which assigns you to a tax professional who will do a thorough review of your return. For our test of H&R Block's mobile app, we signed up for the Deluxe tier.
Doing Your Taxes on Your Phone
While most tax services allow you to do at least some of your taxes on your phone, it's more common that you do so by accessing the site via the browser on your phone. The sites use responsive design to deliver a version of the web service, resized for your phone. Some, such as FreeTax USA, deliver an excellent, complete experience in this manner. In others, the interface does not translate as well to the smaller screen. With some, such as Credit Karma Tax, you can only start your taxes on the phone; you have to move to a PC to complete them. H&R Block, TaxSlayer, and TurboTax are the exceptions among the services we tested this year, offering actual downloadable apps.
Once you create an account for H&R Tax Prep and File, by entering a username and password, it asks you to provide personal information like names, birthdates, and Social Security numbers. You specify a filing status and enter details about any dependents. For these early questions, the site asks one question on each screen, so there's a lot of clicking.
If you prepared your 2016 taxes using an H&R Block product or one offered by a competitor, you can import key data from it, which speeds up the process and reduces the potential for error—assuming you didn't make any mistakes last year.
H&R Block doesn't tell you up front how any significant life changes during the previous year (such as marriage, home purchase, and investment sales) may affect your taxes. It only asks these questions to determine which version you should use. But it certainly covers all these situations throughout the course of its interview.
Income and Deductions
When you start on the Income section, H&R Block first asks whether you have a W-2. If so, you can fill in the blanks from your paper form, take a picture of it with your phone, or upload a PDF file. It goes on to ask some additional questions, such as your occupation and if you earned income in any other state. It also lets you record every other possible source of income in this section.
To visit a specific topic, you click on the Add button to the right, which opens the list of subtopics it covers. Each subtopic has a Learn More button below it; this opens a small window with an explanation of the information it requires. Click the Visit Topic button, and a mini-wizard walks you through the Q&A for that tax item. You provide the information by clicking buttons to indicate answers, entering information in fields, or selecting from lists of options. If you choose a subject area your version doesn't cover, a message appears with upgrade instructions.
When you finish, H&R Block Deluxe recaps your activity up to that point; it displays a list of every topic you visited and lets you revisit or delete entries. At the bottom of the page, you can click the Yes button to indicate that you must return to the income home page to visit more topics, or the No, I'm done button to see a summary of your responses and the Refund Reveal tool, which explains how the site arrived at your current refund or obligation.
Next, H&R Block Deluxe moves on to deductions and credits. This works much as the previous section did, and in my testing I saw here a good example of another kind of help tool that the app offers. If you're not sure whether you qualify for Child and Dependent Care Expenses, you can use the Child and Dependent Care Assistant. This wizard walks you through a series of questions about your status and provides clear explanations of every query. After you finish, the site tells you if you are eligible for the credit and why.
Once you complete the credits section, the app displays another Refund Reveal screen to update you on your tax obligation in real time, then moves on to tax, penalty, and payment items (which includes your health insurance status) and a summary of each. After some miscellaneous housekeeping questions, H&R Block Deluxe gives you a chance to provide any information you may have missed. This is useful if, for example, you still have a tax document or two you haven't entered. You can search by form names or tax topics.
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Before the site transfers relevant data to any state returns you must file, it runs its Accuracy Review tool, which finds any errors and omissions. It found some in our case and told us where we could find the correct screens. However, when we clicked Fix Issue, it took us back to the beginning of the return instead.
Solid Navigation Tool
Most of the time, you just click the Next and Back buttons to advance or retreat within H&R Block's app. But if you want to move to a screen that's many pages away, you click on a small series of vertical dots in the upper right. This opens a navigation tool that displays a list of the site's main tax topics. Click on one, and it takes you to the beginning of that section.
Five icons at the bottom of the screen respectively take you to the site's home page, the tax prep Q&A, the help center, an H&R Block message center, and your account page. The site's navigation works overall, but it takes extra time to always have to scroll down to the bottom of the screen and click to move. In the TurboTax Tax Return App, you can just swipe to move from screen to screen.
Help Not Lacking
The Q&A format that online tax preparation solutions offer works well if there's always an option to have complex or unfamiliar concepts explained in more detail—without having to open a giant help database and search for a term (though there's a place for that, too). Context-sensitive help that's accessible with a click is critical.
H&R Block Deluxe does a good job when it comes to help. Take the Home Mortgage section. It explains on the first page what it's looking for and displays links to deeper details for topics that may be confusing. For example, click the hyperlinked "What's a Second Home?" phrase, and a small window opens that spells out the answer in clear, simple terms. This kind of help appears throughout the site, and the use of small pop-out windows is effective and unobtrusive. TaxAct Plus and FreeTax USA do a better job with context-sensitive help, though; they anticipate related questions that users might ask and provide answers.
At any point, you can also open the Help Center, which opens a window displaying a search box. Enter a word or phrase, and the site returns dozens or hundreds of brief write-ups, showing the broadest, most sought-after content first. Eventually, you get down to very specific hits, like how a particular state handles the tax topic being explored. You can do complex searches to narrow this down from the start. If you don't find enough information, you can access a list of common questions and popular help topics. This is an abbreviated version of what H&R Block's web version includes, and it's not as effective or innovative as TurboTax Deluxe's Virtual Assistant.
A Good Choice
If you're used to using H&R Block browser-based tax preparation solutions, there's no reason to switch to a competitor. The mobile version is very similar to those applications, and you should feel right at home. The site has a businesslike and cohesive feel on mobile, unlike some others such as TaxSlayer. This professional appearance can help allay fears about doing your taxes on a smartphone.
But the TurboTax Tax Return App, our Editor's Choice for mobile tax preparation, offers the best user experience and is also backed up by a great support system. The TurboTax family is a little pricier than the rest, but the extra cost may provide you with some additional peace of mind as you undertake the fulfillment of your annual tax obligation.
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About the Author
Kathy Yakal has been annoying computer magazine editors since 1983, when she got her first technology writing job because she tagged along with her ex-husband on a job interview. She started freelancing and specializing in financial applications when PCs became financial tools for consumers and small businesses (after a stint at a high-end accounti… See Full Bio
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