Fri. Jun 14th, 2024

We tested the top tax prep services that let you file tax returns from your phone. Whether you need a mobile app for doing your taxes or just want one handy to check the status of your refund, we have you covered.

Online tax preparation sites and their companion mobile versions have radically changed the way people in the US file income taxes. Rather than scribbling on a handful of IRS paper forms and schedules you grabbed at the public library, you’re now almost as likely to turn to dedicated services and software that have streamlined and simplified the process. In fact, according to the IRS, 46% of tax returns e-filed for the 2020 tax year (roughly 72 million) were prepared using tax software or online services.

In the early days of e-filing, you needed a full-sized computer or laptop, but now you can prepare and file your taxes entirely from your phone or tablet, even if your tax situation is complex. You can also use mobile tax apps and mobile tax websites check the status of your refund after you file.

If you’ve felt lost using a tax app in the past, consider giving it another try this year. These services just keep getting better, and if you follow our tips for mastering your tax app, you might be surprised how easy it is to get through your return preparation. Tax software can help you get the biggest refund you’re due, for one thing. Since these services are thorough and encourage accuracy, they can also help you avoid being audited by the IRS.


The 2022 Mobile Tax Lineup

This year we reviewed eight personal tax preparation services and their companion mobile versions. Some of the mobile versions are dedicated Android apps and iOS apps, while others are mobile versions of the services’ websites, which you can access from any mobile browser.

The Best Tax Software Deals This Week*

*Deals are selected by our commerce team

Tax services that use mobile sites instead of apps adapt to the size of the screen and the type of inputs required by the device being used (with what’s called responsive design). The interface and elements may look slightly different, but the functionality remains the same.
The following services among those we reviewed use dedicated mobile apps: TurboTax, H&R Block, TaxAct, TaxSlayer, and Cash App Taxes (formerly Credit Karma Tax). The services that use mobile versions of their websites are FreeTaxUSA, Jackson Hewitt, and Liberty Tax. In our reviews of these sites, we include information about the mobile access they provide and its quality.

In general, there was less innovation in this year’s tax services compared with the advances we saw last year. This may be a consequence of development and support staff still working from home and dealing with other effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Still, all the companies whose sites we reviewed managed to update their services for the 2021 tax year and, in some cases, make improvements. Those enhancements carry over to their mobile versions.

What Does It Cost to File Taxes on Your Phone?

Most of the companies behind these applications offer multiple levels of their services. The price is the same whether you access the service via your desktop or a dedicated mobile app.

If your financial situation is simple enough that you can file a 1040 and a few other forms and schedules, several of these services—like TurboTax, H&R Block, and TaxSlayer—offer free editions that you can use to file both your federal and state income taxes. Other free services, such as Cash App Taxes and FreeTaxUSA, support more advanced tax needs, like reporting self-employment income, capital gains, and rental income.

Does it sound like you might have trouble deciding which site you should use and at what level? You might. But tax apps help guide you to the right option.

In most cases, the more complex your return, the more you’ll pay. You’ll rarely pay more than $100, and sometimes much less. Unlike desktop software, which you have to pay for upfront, these online tax services don’t collect money until your return is ready to file, which means you can try before you buy.

Note, too, that you might qualify to use paid commercial software like TaxSlayer for free, if your adjusted gross income is below $73,000 or if you’re in the military. The IRS Free File Program allows you to submit your federal (and maybe your state) taxes for free, even if you use a premium app as long as you qualify(Opens in a new window). The two tax websites that we rated the highest, TurboTax and H&R Block, are no longer participating in the Free File Program, however.

A Similar Approach

Whether you’re viewing them on a spacious and beautiful monitor or a petite iPhone SE, personal tax preparation services work similarly. You don’t see the official IRS forms and schedules, though some applications offer sneak previews of those, and you can always print the finished product. Rather, they walk you step-by-step through the process of answering questions about your tax-related information. Since this process keeps you from having to enter data on any IRS forms, it reduces the amount you need to know about the ins and outs of the tax code and how it has changed over the last year.

Help Along the Way

Even if they didn’t have extensive help resources (which they do), tax websites and apps would still make tax prep easier than if you were filing using paper IRS forms and schedules. The guidance they provide can mean the difference between completing your return yourself and taking it to a professional—which may still be necessary if your financial situation is convoluted. Do-it-yourself tax prep is not for everyone.

Some of the applications included in this roundup, namely Liberty Tax and Jackson Hewitt, are the products of well-known, in-person tax prep companies. If your tax prep gets to be too much for you, these companies are happy to have their tax professionals finish what you’ve started—for a fee. TurboTax and H&R Block both offer more-expensive versions that connect you to tax professionals via screen share, chat, or phone. You get unlimited access to this service year-round, which can come in handy if you file an extension or do tax planning in the off-season.

Besides providing supplemental text when they ask questions during the interview, tax preparation solutions offer many other kinds of help. They provide links next to some questions and other items that open windows containing expanded explanations of what’s needed. They hyperlink words and phrases within queries and statements that also take you to help windows.

These explanations do not use the complicated language that IRS instructions do. Nor do they cover topics in as much excruciating detail. They’ve been written and revised over many years to make tax concepts as simple and understandable as possible.

Tax apps also have searchable help databases. You enter a tax concept, and they provide links to articles on the topic. They may also tell you how to get to the screens where that information should appear. They display context-sensitive questions and answers that can further educate you before you answer a question. They also offer chat, phone, and email help, and host online communities.

No one service has all these options; each has its own combination of help resources. The best of them provide more than you’ll probably need.

Little Difference in Mobile

If you’ve ever used a tax prep service on a desktop computer, you may wonder if it’s possible to get the same experience on a smartphone. The short answer is yes. We’ve been pleasantly surprised to see what the apps’ designers can do. Content is compressed and there isn’t as much room for decorative graphics and big icons, but the small screens look remarkably similar to their desktop counterparts in many cases.

Navigation schemes differ among the apps, but you still do a lot of moving among screens by clicking buttons. You have to scroll more to read help articles and to simply get through screens that contain a lot of questions, but you can indeed complete a return that includes form 1040, Schedules A through F, and myriad other supporting forms and schedules.

If your return is complex—if, say, you need to pay taxes on a new second side gig on TikTok, YouTube, or OnlyFans (Schedule C), or you have complex cryptocurrency tax obligations (Schedule D, perhaps)—it will undoubtedly be easier to complete it on a big screen with a full-size keyboard. We don’t necessarily recommend that you take on a big job using a smartphone. But no matter where you start your tax preparation, you can continue it on any other device by signing in with your username and password. So, you could do some work remotely on your smartphone and finish up on your desktop, or vice versa.

Those paper IRS forms at the public library may be free, but consider what your time is worth. Besides saving hours and frustration, personal tax preparation applications are thorough interviewers. You may learn that you can reduce your tax obligation by finding deductions and credits that you didn’t know about before. And that might more than pay for the cost of access to one of these solutions.

What About IRS2Go?

There’s another mobile tax app you might want to check out, one that’s hosted by the Internal Revenue Service itself. IRS2Go(Opens in a new window), the official app of the IRS, includes a handful of tools that can help with tax preparation and filing. You can check the status of your refund by entering your social security number, filing status, and refund amount. If you file electronically, you should be able to get your status within 24 hours of the IRS receiving the transmission. The status of paper returns is usually available within four weeks.

Individual taxpayers can submit payments directly from their bank accounts using IRS Direct Pay, a free, secure method. Credit card payments are accepted too, for a fee, either online or by phone. The app accepts three approved payment processors.

Another screen on the app provides three kinds of tax help: One is IRS Free File, described earlier. Another link takes you to a search tool that helps you find free tax help in your area if you are elderly, have disabilities, or speak limited English and make less than $58,000 annually. And the AARP Tax-Aide Site Locator lets you search for free tax preparation services nearby or with remote options. AARP volunteers focus especially on taxpayers who are 50 and older or who have low to moderate income.

IRS2Go gives you links to additional IRS tools and contact information. If you want to apply for an online services account with the IRS, which allows you to use the same username and password to access most tax tools, you can do so via the app.

Be Mindful of Security

One note on filing your taxes with a mobile device: You need to think about security. The information in your taxes is, by definition, sensitive. All our recommended services take security seriously, but it’s important that you do your part as well.

Most of us don’t think enough about the security of our Wi-Fi traffic. If at any point in the filing process you’re at all likely to use a Wi-Fi network that you don’t control (for example at a coffee shop, library, or airport) you should use a VPN app for Android or VPN app for iPhone. If you’ve never used one before, read up on why you need a VPN. If the VPN conflicts with your tax app, wait until you can connect to a network that you control before doing anything else with your taxes.

Most mobile tax apps and websites support multi-factor authentication, which you should set up and use because it adds yet another layer of security to your online account.

One other important security fact to know is that the IRS will never call you or send you an email out of the blue to ask for private information. The agency prefers to communicate via written letters sent via US Postal Service.

It’s Time to Do Your Taxes!

Kudos to tax software and website developers for the Herculean task they took on in the early 1990s: taming the 1040. They’ve turned a massive number of IRS forms and schedules into understandable, accessible—sometimes even attractive—websites and mobile apps. All that’s left for you to do is gather your documents, brew a strong cup of coffee, grab your phone, and get started.

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