Consumer Reports: Last-minute online tax prep

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Consumer Reports took a look at the three most popular products to help you go it alone this tax season. (WLS)

Dragging your feet on filing your taxes this year? It might be as easy as going online or using an app on your phone. Some tax-prep products are free. Even the paid versions are typically cheaper than using an accountant.

But will they get the job done right? Consumer Reports took a look at the three most popular products to help you go it alone this tax season.

For Julia Brown, filing her taxes is all about convenience, which is why she uses the popular software TurboTax.

"Between working and going to school, I need something quick. Easy. Get it done. Because my tax situation is straightforward, I think it's a good solution and a safe solution for me," Brown said.

For tax year 2015, IRS reports show that 40 percent of taxpayers who filed electronically were just like Julia. They didn't use a paid tax preparer. Consumer Reports says using an online or mobile app can help you get the right results.

"We looked at the three most popular tax software products. That's TurboTax, H&R Block and TaxAct. We found they're all pretty good, for simple situations especially," said Tobie Stanger, Money Editor, Consumer Reports.

Filing on your own has become even easier with the help of smartphones. All three allow you to automatically upload your W2 information by simply taking a photo.
But what if you your tax situation isn't so simple?

"If your tax situation becomes more complicated - say you're self-employed - you're probably going to have to upgrade. That could cost an extra $10 to $60," Stanger said.

Did you donate some old stuff to a place like Goodwill? You can probably get a deduction if you correctly itemize your return. Consumer Reports says all three have tools to help make your itemized deductions easy.

Even without having to upgrade to more expensive versions, any one of the products should get the job done for most simple returns. Of the three, Consumer Reports says TaxAct has the best value for people who itemize, own a home or have simple investments.

As for Julia Brown, she saw her federal refund automatically deposited into her bank account 12 days after she filed.

If you file on your own and run into problems, these tax-prep products allow you to contact them if you need help. They all offer tax advice from trained professionals; TurboTax's live tax advice help is available for the most hours in the day.

All Consumer Reports material Copyright 2017 Consumer Reports, Inc. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Consumer Reports is a not-for-profit organization which accepts no advertising. It has no commercial relationship with any advertiser or sponsor on this site. For more information visit consumer.org
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