Exceptional user experience. Supports most common tax situations. Good use of mobile technology. Innovative support options.
No basic chat or email help. Some help provided by unvetted sources.
- Bottom Line
The mobile version of TurboTax is the best option for doing your taxes on your phone this year, thanks to a top-notch interface and accessible, innovative help options.
For several years now, Intuit has made every version of TurboTax available on mobile devices, including smartphones. These Android and iOS apps are surprisingly robust, considering the complexity of the personal tax preparation process. They look and work slightly differently than their browser-based counterparts, of course, but they're just as capable and comprehensive. We reviewed the TurboTax Tax Return app, at the Deluxe level, which is well-suited for W-2 employees who want to itemize their deductions. TurboTax is our Editors' Choice for mobile tax preparation this year, for its intuitive navigation, accessible help, and variety of form and schedules it offers.
Prices and Plans
Intuit offers four price tiers for TurboTax, all of which are accessible on mobile devices. The lineup and pricing of TurboTax have changed slightly for 2018. The company is once again offering its Federal Free Edition (free federal and state for 1040EZ and 1040A filers), also called AbsoluteZero. TurboTax Deluxe, which is the level of service we reviewed (and which is our Editors' Choice on the desktop), is $59.99 for federal and $39.99 for state returns. You need TurboTax Premier ($79.99 federal, $39.99 state) if you have to report on investment income and rental property. TurboTax Self-Employed ($119.99 federal, $39.99 state) lets you record income and expenses on a Schedule C, and includes special guidance and features for self-employed individuals.
TurboTax Live ($179.99 federal, $39.99 state) is new this year. It contains everything in Self-Employed, plus the ability to connect online with a CPA or EA (Enrolled Agent), who can give tax advice and review your return. You can add this capability to TurboTax Deluxe for $74.99. Note that while these prices were accurate at the time of this writing, tax services often raise their prices as tax time gets closer.
The Basics of Mobile Tax Preparation
Note that while most tax services allow you to do at least some of your taxes on your phone, more often you do so by accessing the site via your mobile browser. These sites use responsive design to deliver a version of the web service, resized for your phone's screen. Some, such as FreeTax USA, deliver an excellent, complete experience in this manners. In others, the interface does not translate as well to the smaller screen, and some such as Credit Karma Tax, you can only start your taxes on the phone, and have to move to a PC to complete them. TurboTax, H&R Block, and TaxSlayer are the exceptions we tested this year, offering actual downloadable apps.
We tested both the Android app and iPhone app versions of TurboTax, signing up for the Deluxe tier. No matter where you start your return, you can access it from any platform by entering your username and password. Once you create an account and sign in, TurboTax asks you to indicate any situations that apply to you. If you select something that falls outside the purview of the Deluxe version, it directs you to the version of TurboTax that does support it. Such categories include investment sales, self-employment and rental income, and capital gains.
As always, we recommend that you start your return well before the tax deadline; this year it is April 17. If you can avoid the stress of filing at the last minute and the longer waits for assistance that come at crunch time, it's in your best interest. It's also wise to collect and organize all your tax documents before you begin.
As with any browser-based tax service, you first need to supply personal information (name and address, birthdate, and Social Security number) by entering it on a series of blank fields. The app asks about what states you lived in (and made income in), your occupation, and your marital status. It also inquires about your spouse and dependents, if applicable. Based on all that, TurboTax Deluxe recommends a filing status for you and displays a summary of your personal information.
Before you move on to the Income section, TurboTax also asks if you want to subscribe to MAX Defend and Restore, which includes audit support, help with identity theft monitoring and identity restoration, and priority care for $49.99 (at this writing).
Navigation on the mobile version of TurboTax Deluxe works slightly different than with the browser-based edition, but it's still very easy and intuitive. To advance or go backward, you just swipe left or right, instead of always clicking navigation buttons at the bottom of the screen, like you do in the mobile version of H&R Block Deluxe. Sometimes, though, there's a button at the bottom of the screen that you click to complete the current section.
You enter data in a variety of ways. You either fill in blank fields, click a Yes or No button, or select from a list of options. Clicking an icon in the upper left corner opens a menu that lets you navigate among sections; it also displays your real-time refund or obligation and contains some housekeeping tasks, like the sign-out button.
Providing Your Data
There are three ways to enter your W-2 information. If your employer is an Intuit partner (which you can determine by entering its EIN), TurboTax Deluxe can import the data. If not, you can take a picture with your mobile device's camera and let the app move the text and numbers into the correct boxes. Or you can type it all in yourself. If you choose the latter, you simply fill in all the blanks from your W-2 on one long screen. When you finish, click the Continue button. The next page displays your current refund (or obligation) and explains how the app calculated that value. If you have no other W-2s, you move on to the other income sections.
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Like its browser-based counterparts, the app offers two options for supplying the rest of your income. It can guide you one step at a time or you can select your income type(s) from a list. When you click on one, TurboTax Deluxe takes you to a mini-interview. It returns you to the Income list after you finish. Click Wrap Up Income when you finish the section completely. The next section pertains to deductions and credits; this works the same way as the income section. Questions about your health insurance status and additional taxes come next. The last step is to complete the Other page, which gives you the options to apply your refund to next year and enter underpayment penalties.
TurboTax Deluxe then checks your return for errors or omissions and gives you a chance to correct them. It transfers applicable data to your state return and walks you through any additional information-gathering steps for your particular state, giving special attention to any credits that you might be able to claim to get your tax bill down. The site also reviews your state return when you finish it. Once all issues are resolved, you can pay for TurboTax Deluxe and either file electronically or print your return in preparation for mailing.
TurboTax has always excelled at providing numerous kinds of guidance as it interviews you about your tax-related information. It's also good at simplifying complex tax language. On data-gathering pages, you can click Learn More links next to the questions if you're stumped. Sometimes the site also displays a context-sensitive question or statement. Click on either of these, and a page opens that contains clear explanations of each issue, with related Q&As. When you finished reading, you click the X in the upper left to return to the previous screen.
If you need more than the contextual help on the data-gathering screens, you can click the question mark in the upper right corner to launch the TurboTax Virtual Assistant. This works differently than in the help center in the mobile version of TaxSlayer Classic. Instead of just typing in a word or phrase and getting a list of related articles, you carry on an ongoing dialogue with the Virtual Assistant.
This can be a little confusing at first, but it works quite well. When you enter a search term, it returns results in a horizontal row that you have to swipe to open. One caveat: Look to see who answered the question. Most often, answers come from something like TurboTax FAQ or TurboTax, which is preferable. However, anyone can answer questions. So, make sure that if the source isn't TurboTax, it's a tax authority of some sort.
TurboTax then asks if it answered your question. If not, it displays additional options: more FAQs, a new search, or live help. If so, you can just continue with your searches. The Virtual Assistant continues to scroll down the screen as all of this is going on; it's a running conversation.
TurboTax Deluxe's Live Help is its SmartLook feature, which no one else offers. It connects you to credentialed tax professionals via video chat. You can grant them access to your in-progress return and let them see what's happening on your screen, so they can answer questions and correct problems.
This Year's Best
It's much easier to complete a tax return on a full-sized, browser-based site than on a smartphone; nobody disputes that. But the TurboTax Tax Return App makes it as easy as possible given the size constraints. If you're used to using H&R Block tax websites, you might want to use its mobile version, too; its usability and help resources are excellent. But the TurboTax app provides the best user experience and the most innovative, accessible guidance available. It's this year's Editors' Choice for mobile tax preparation.
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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