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By Brad Tuttle
Updated: June 17, 2020 10:09 AM ET | Originally published: January 15, 2020
Kimberly White—2016 Getty Images

Tax season is here. That means it’s time to file your returns, if you haven’t already done so — and to grumble about how complicated it is to do your taxes. Nearly three-quarters of the Americans surveyed in a 2019 Pew Research Center poll said they are bothered “a lot” or “some” by the complexity of the U.S. tax system.

This year, because of the coronavirus pandemic, the deadline for filing taxes has been pushed back: Instead of being April 15 like usual, Tax Day is now July 15.

The IRS has also promised this year that it will be simpler to figure out how to file taxes for free. And the introduction of an “easier” new W-4 form for the 2020 tax year is aimed are alleviating some of the confusion regarding withholdings and other issues. But doing your taxes remains an overly complicated prospect for many people.

Among other concerns, many taxpayers are unsure if they can file for free or need to pay to do their taxes, and if there’s a cost involved it’s often unclear which tax-filing product is best for their needs and offers the best value. Though the blame really can’t be cast upon the IRS, even figuring out how much tax software products from H&R Block or TurboTax cost is confusing — because you’ll find different prices and deals available from different retailers. Prices can change in a flash too, as promotions and flash sales come and go.

Here are our top tips for saving money when shopping around for the best tax prep software.

How to File Your Taxes for Free

Obviously, paying $0 to do your taxes is the cheapest option. Can you file your taxes for free? The answer is probably yes if your adjusted gross income (after certain deductions are subtracted) is $69,000 or less, and if your taxes are fairly simple and straightforward. (Things can quickly get complicated if you have significant investment income or you’re self-employed, among other situations.)

To file your taxes for free, get your tax forms and other paperwork handy and go to irs.gov/freefile. After filling in some basic information, the IRS site will steer you to a partner tax preparation service from the Free File Alliance, where you can complete the process of filing your federal tax return for free. The first day you can file during the 2020 tax season is Monday, January 28. So you can feel free to file your taxes now.

It’s also worth looking at our comprehensive guide for how to file taxes for free.

Best Tax Software Deals

This may come as a surprise, but you can often save money purchasing tax prep software by using an intermediary retailer like Amazon, Walmart, or Target, or a discount code website such as RetailMeNot.com, instead of going directly to the website of TurboTax, H&R Block, or another service.

In addition to low prices, you should also look at retailer-specific bonus offers. If you buy H&R Block tax software at Amazon, for example, you can get a 4% refund bonus if you request your federal refund as an Amazon gift card. While this may seem tempting, it’s kind of a sinister strategy by Amazon. Our advice would be to save your refund money, or use it to pay off your credit card balance or student loan debt, rather than buy stuff at Amazon.

We’ve also seen TurboTax bonus deals at Target and Best Buy offering, for example, a $5 or $10 gift card with certain tax software purchases, or an extra 10% discount for members of Target’s Circle rewards program.

It looks like the early birds are the people who got the cheapest tax software prices. In general, prices from TurboTax and others have increased as tax season has rolled on, which is unfortunate if you’re hunting for tax software deals in March. Then again, we’ve also seen some prices rise, only to replaced by better deals as Amazon, Target, Walmart, and the tax software makers themselves compete for customers.

Here are the best TurboTax deals we’ve seen lately, as well as discounts for H&R Block and other tax prep products. We’ll update this list as new tax software deals pop up. Before buying anything, though, check out our guide to the best tax prep software for 2020, so you know which product will work for your needs.

TurboTax Deluxe + State 2019 Download, Amazon Exclusive: $49.80 (list price $59.99)

Courtesy of Amazon

TurboTax Premier + State 2019 Download, Amazon Exclusive: $69.80 (list price $89.99)

Courtesy of Amazon

H&R Block Deluxe + State 2019: $34.99 at Walmart (list price $44.99)

Courtesy of Walmart

H&R Block Premium + State 2019: $54.99 at Walmart (list price $64.99)

Courtesy of Walmart

TurboTax Deluxe + State 2019 Download: $49.99 at Target

Courtesy of Target

TurboTax Premier + State 2019 Download: $69.99 at Target

Courtesy of Target

H&R Block Deluxe + State 2019 With 4% Refund Bonus: $44.99 at Amazon

Courtesy of Amazon

Courtesy of Amazon

H&R Block Premium + State 2019 With 4% Refund Bonus: $64.99 at Amazon (formerly on sale for $49.99)

Courtesy of Amazon

How Much Does TurboTax Cost Normally? Are There Discount Codes?

Figuring out prices for TurboTax and other tax prep products can be far more complicated than it should be. On the one hand, it makes sense that different products have different prices, because they offer different services to customers.

But many other factors can affect how much you’ll pay at the end of the day for tax-prep software, and they have no real correlation to the services and quality of the product. Among them are: the timing of your purchase (short-lived deals come and go); whether or not the product is “exclusive” to a certain retailer; if you visited the tax software site directly or clicked through a discount site with a coupon; if you get a gift card bonus by making the purchase with a specific retailer; and if you are paying with a certain credit card that gives a special discount.

Here’s a selection of different discounted prices we found in mid-January for essentially the same product, Intuit’s TurboTax Premier:

• $99.99: CD/Download from TurboTax, State Return Included
• $74.99: Download or CD from Staples, State Download Included
• $70: Digital e-file from TurboTax, State Return $40 Extra
• $60: Digital e-file from TurboTax With Online Discount Code, State Return $40 Extra
• $64.99: Digital e-file from Best Buy, State Download Included
• $54.99: Download from Amazon, Costco, or Target State Download Included
• $54.88: CD/Download from Amazon, State Download Included

These are all prices for what seem like essentially the same product. But there is one key difference in some of these purchases: When you get a state return download included in the product, you may still have to pay extra to actually e-file your returns. That could add another $25 or so to your total. Then again, if you prefer, you could mail in your return for no extra charge.

As you can see, the cheapest overall price was $54.88 for TurboTax Premier delivered as a CD from Amazon, with a software download, one state return, and free shipping included. Or you could have paid $99.99 for the same thing directly from TurboTax.

You’ll find a wide range of prices for other TurboTax options, as well as products from H&R Block and others. The big takeaway is that if you’re hoping to get the lowest price on tax prep software product, it’s wise to spend a few minutes shopping around. Browse the weekly store circulars, and use search terms like “TurboTax discount code” to find online deals.

Be sure to read the fine print, and be skeptical of super cheap prices. Why? For example, we spotted a version of TurboTax Deluxe currently for sale at Amazon for only $8.76. The problem is that the software applies to the 2018 tax year. So it’d be useless if you’re trying to do your taxes for the current year now.

Above all, somewhat confoundingly, it looks like the worst move is to automatically go directly to the website for TurboTax or another service. That’ll all but assure that you pay the highest price for tax prep software.

More from Money.com:

The Best Online Tax-Prep Software for 2020

How to File Your Taxes for Free in 2020

The 2020 Tax Season Starts Soon. Here’s When You Can File — and Expect a Refund Check

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