More and more people are doing their own taxes these days. If you are interested in joining their ranks, there are 3 main software products to choose from; TurboTax, TaxACT and H&R Block at Home 2014. What follows is my personal in depth review of H&R Block’s At Home to see if this is the product for you.
A Little Background
H&R Block started off in 1955 as a tax preparation company. Today they claim to prepare 1 of every 7 U.S. tax returns and have an office within 5 miles of most Americans. That’s success if you ask me. But when it comes to do-it-yourself tax software, they are a distant third in popularity to TurboTax. They only do 25% of the business that TurboTax does. Do the Block brothers have a third-rate “block-head” package or have they created a diamond in the rough? Let’s find out.
Getting Started – A Website That Talks Back In A Good Way
Like TurboTax, H&R Block has a full suite of products to choose from. What is super cool about At Home is that they have a unique way of helping you find the right package. At the bottom of the home page, the have a fun little product guide that talks to you.
Once you select “Start Now” a talking Monica appears and asks you a few questions about yourself.
- Have you worked with H&R before?
- Did you file your taxes last year in an office, online or with an accountant?
- Are you married?
- Do you have children?
- Do you own a business?
- Are you salaried?
- Are you self-employed?
- Do you own a home, business, investments, rental property?
- Are you comfortable filing your taxes online?
Based on how you answer these questions (and just a couple more) Monica tells you which is the right product for you and why. I like this process because the questions are very conversational. And since I can see Monica talking to me I’m not intimidated. It’s just like I’m talking to a friendly sales person. Call me a geek, but I found it cool.
Once Monica told me which product I need I had the option of starting right there from the same screen which I did. Easy.
H&R Block offers both downloadable/CD or online products. I selected the online version which you can start for free. If you go this route, you only pay once you file your return. Yah!
Here is a summary of all the products:
All the products (including the free version) include the following:
- 100% accuracy guarantee – That means if they make an arithmetic miscalculation and you incur a penalty and/or have to pay interest, they’ll cover that cost up to $10,000. Note, they will not cover your additional tax – just the penalties and interest.
- Maximum refund guarantee.
- Audit support – That means if you get audited, HR Block will send in one of their experts to go toe-to-toe with the IRS.
- Advice – Most of the programs offer free real-time chat to answer your questions. With Basic versions and above, you can also phone in your questions.
With Basic and above you can import some W-2 and 1099 data and import your prior year’s return. Additionally, with Deluxe and above, you get guidance on home mortgage interest, help with investments and charitable donations too.
With Premium and above, you also get maximum deductions on your business deductions, guidance on rental property income and priority support. With “Best of Both” you get all that plus you can pass your return a tax expert for review and correct as required.
Regardless of the package you purchase, there are additional costs for state filing. If you go with the free version, the Fed file is free and the State filing is $27.99. Any version above that will include a free Federal e-filing and cost you $36.99 to file for the State.
Once you decide which program you want to use, you can get right to work. Before you get too far into the process, the software asks if you want to import last year’s return from H&R Block, TurboTax or TaxAct. This is great – but you only have one shot at it.
That’s right, if you don’t do the import when you start the process you won’t be able to come back later and do it. I have no idea why the program is written this way but it is.
The first screen asks about your personal information and tries to identify anything that’s changed this year:
- Have you married or divorced?
- Have there been any additions to the family? Has anyone passed away?
- Have you bought or sold any real estate?
- Have you received an inheritance?
- Have you been foreclosed on?
- Have there been any big changes in employment?
Once the program gets this information it asks about your filing status. After that, you provide your personal information such as name, address, date of birth and Social Security Number. It’s all very basic and easy to complete. As I said, they also make it easy by allowing you to import some W-2 and 1099 data if your employer and /or financial institution are set up accordingly. Cool.
If you get stuck H&R Block at Home 2014 has a few solutions. In most areas you can tap into “Guide Me” questions. These provide a little more hand holding. For example, let’s say you don’t know what your tax filing status should be. No problem. Select the “Guide Me” option and the program will ask a series of questions to help you find the right answer. Magnifico!
But the support doesn’t end there. You can also tap into any number of additional resources:
- Live Chat
- Call the office
- Use their tax calculators
- Search the forum
- View tax videos
As you can see, the software leads you gently through the entire process. Once you complete the personal information, you tell H&R Block At Home about your income, tax adjustments, credits and taxes. Then the program wraps it all together with any extras and goes through the same process with your State return. Once these are both complete, the program will file your Federal and State returns for you. Snappy.
I went pretty deep into the process to get a good sense of how user-friendly At Home really is. The interface is fine but I found the TurboTax input forms far more inviting for some reason. I wish there was a digital Monica or Manny who stayed with me for the entire process but alas they were off to other customers. ?
I will say that data entry was easy. And as I said, it’s easy to get help by simply clicking on the left side of the screen or by using the top search bar.
All along the process there are buttons marked Back and Next. But you have to complete each section (or mark N/A) before the program allows you to move ahead. That means you really should get all your tax information together before you start.
The good news is that at the beginning of each section, the software gives you an overview and details all the information you’ll need to assemble.
As you work through each section, Monica and her friends aren’t around like I said. But they are busy taking your data and filing out IRS forms behind the scenes. Once you complete a section the site will display all the items you’ve answered. If you like, you can go back to that section by simply clicking on that link. Pretty easy.
If you get tired, you can always save and quit. Next time you log in the program will bring you right back to where you left off. The only snag here is that if you come back you can only start the section over from the beginning, go to where you left off or review the info you already put in. If you want to go to a specific page there is no easy way to get there. Whaaaaaa
What I like
- They’ve been around for over almost 60 years. You figure they’ve learned something about taxes by now.
- Wide range of products including “Best of Both” which means you can give your return to an expert just to make sure everything is in good order. That’s a lot of peace of mind for just a handful of pesos.
- I love the talking interactive support that helps you decide which product is most appropriate.
- During tax season, you can get help via chat 24/7.
- The accuracy guarantee is OK. Nothing really special there but it’s nice to know they stand behind their work.
- The audit support is fantastic. Who wants to go mano-el-mano with the IRS bad guys? Not me. It’s nice to know you have someone watching your back.
- I like that you can call in to get advice. The only thing that bothers me is that they don’t explain what the limits of those calls are. I believe that some packages have limited or no call in support but I sure wish I didn’t have to fish around for that information.
What I Don’t Like
- People do their taxes when they aren’t at work. Usually, that means during weekends. I wish they had phone support on the weekends at least if not round the clock during tax season. Sadly, they don’t. If you want to talk to someone, you can call in from 7 am to Midnight Monday through Friday.
- They mention a “Maximum refund guarantee”. I have no idea what that means and couldn’t find a clear explanation on the site.
- It’s ridiculous that you only have one opportunity to download your previous return. They should be more focused on user experience in this regard.
- Their library of videos and calculators is embarrassing when compared to the competitors. Maybe nobody uses those resources but if they are going to provide those tools they should be complete.
- Navigation isn’t the easiest. Of all the user reviews I read, the big beef was in this area. If you want to stop in mid-section, you’ll be brought back to the beginning of that section when you come back to your return. This might be a benefit in that it forces you to get fully prepared before you begin. But nobody is perfect and you are bound to need to go find some information in mid-stream. This process generates more work than it should.
- Another complaint that kept coming up was around error correction. The sense I got from users was that this part of the software is woefully insufficient and it takes a great deal of work to clean up any mistakes. That’s just plain silly.
Despite some drawbacks, H&R Block At Home 2014 is a good piece of software. Depending on your situation, it might not be the best fit. But if you have a simple return, this could be just what the doctor ordered. Also, if you like the idea of being able to able to have a real expert give your return the once-over, the “Best of Both” is an outstanding option that isn’t available elsewhere. Finally, that audit protection that they throw in can be super valuable.