What is it?
It’s vitally important to ensure you get your taxes right. In the United States, tax calculations must be done by the taxpayer, which piles on the pressure when tax season comes around. Various companies, however, have come to the rescue. There’s a suite of tools available across the internet that will help you get your taxes just right just in time. Some charge prices that are dizzyingly high, some are worryingly cheap. Some offer a library of information, tools and tips. Some barely guide the user at all. Let’s take a look at how E-file holds up next to them.
What Do You Get From It and How?
As a mobile-friendly website, E-file offers a flexible array of options for easily filing your taxes. It features two modes: the ‘traditional’ mode and ‘guided’ mode. The former allows you to navigate the software freely, sitting back and letting more experienced tax filers take the reins. Meanwhile, the ‘guided’ mode will maneuver you through the software step by step. However, this feature isn’t perfect, and you will have to comb through your tax return to ensure you didn’t miss anything. It features an import service where if you filed your taxes with this service last year, it will automatically import your details into this year’s tax return. However, you’re out of luck if you went with another tax provider last year, as then your details will have to be inputted manually. Helpfully, however, there’s a built-in calculator in the software, allowing you to make mathematical calculations instantly. While it relies on previous knowledge of tax jargon, it’s still a highly helpful tool. Its audit system allows users to gain assistance in the case of an audit for no extra charge. The software also comes equipped with a help sidebar. As you mouse over different things to fill in on your tax return, information about the item in question will appear on the sidebar. This also updates to reflect where you are in your tax return. While an intuitive and helpful system, its helpful hints are surprisingly basic. Rather than further explaining an item on your tax return, they often just repeat what it is. The software is clean and easy to navigate, with plenty of white space and few flashy bits beyond the reassuring basics. However, some of this simplicity betrays a thoughtlessness in its design. When inputting your date of birth, the calendar defaults to the current year. Obviously, this doesn’t make a lot of sense for adults filing their taxes, and finding the dropdown menu that lets you select a year can take some careful scanning. Uniquely, E-file also has careful security built into its software. It’s highly fussy about both usernames and passwords, and you’re automatically timed out after ten minutes. This makes it one of the more trustworthy software clients we’ve found.
E-file’s pricing options are as easy to understand as its software. There are three plans users can choose from. In the free federal edition, users can file their federal taxes for free and their state taxes for $21, or for $17.50 if they use the code ‘SAVE30’. This is intended for those with relatively simple tax situations, such as single and joint filers free of dependents and those who only need to use Form 1040EZ. In the deluxe plus edition, users who have dependents, those who can complete their taxes using Form 1040A, those who have income up to $100,000 per year, those who have mortgage interest and those who have retirement income are covered. This will cost $19.49 to file federal taxes and $21, or $17.50 using the same code as above, to file state taxes, coming to a total of $40.49. It’s notable that while this price tier seemingly covers a large chunk of the population if you have any complications beyond the ones listed E-file can’t do much for you. For those, you’ll need to choose the premium edition. In this edition, those with investment income, small business income, and rental property income are covered, as well as any other deductions required by tax law. For this edition, you’ll be paying $34.45 for federal taxes and either $21 or $17.50 for state taxes, depending on whether you use the code ‘SAVE30’. This pricing structure is clear and easy to navigate. However, the value of the deluxe plus edition is questionable, as many of those covered by this edition will also have complications more suited to the premium editions. If you have any complication in your tax situation whatsoever, you may be best skipping straight to the premium edition.
The service also works hard to ensure users understand exactly what they’re getting into. They have a well-advertised accuracy guarantee for all users to protect against minor errors or typos. If you have questions about the process of filing taxes, E-file uses an email-based ticketing system. Simply fill out a form with the nature of your query, and they’ll reply within one business day. However, they have no other means by which to contact them. There is no phone line, nor is there a direct email system, and when you go to submit a ticket you’re repeatedly encouraged to go to an FAQ rather than speak directly to a person. It even encourages you to speak to the IRS rather than speak to them, which is no mean feat when you consider how long the queues waiting to speak to them will become peak tax season. While E-file does provide informative articles covering various aspects of the tax system, these can be difficult to navigate, often going on for many a paragraph before coming to that vital nugget of information. There is a ‘Help Me Decide’ button available during the tax filing process. However, this has the opposite problem. Information provided here can be curt or sparse, with little to no context or discussion of the information provided. E-file, therefore, does not provide a support system for the faint-hearted, and it may often be best to only seek it out if you already have experience or externally sourced information.
So, how does E-file rank when compared with other tax filing systems on the market? It’s certainly ideal for those looking to watch their budgets and that less computer literate who need the simplicity of the software and inbuilt security measures. But there’s a lot of caveats that come with that ease of use. With little in the way of help to users, either during tax filing or when trying to contact customer support, it relies on prior knowledge more than truly serving its user base. Its lower tiers are useful only for a very limited section of taxpayers, and it contains some confusing issues for the unwary. If you’re looking for a budget-friendly online tax filer, go with one of the other options out there. This one is a little too stripped-down for us to fully recommend.