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Is there still time to hire an expert to help you with your taxes? Yes, but the clock is ticking

With roughly 6 weeks until the new 2020 tax deadline, you should consider making an appointment now to get live help from a CPA.

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The IRS estimates that individuals and business owners take between 13 and 24 hours on average to complete and file their taxes. But hiring a certified accountant can remove some of that burden.

The IRS announced earlier this month that federal income tax returns are now due May 17, 2021, which means there's still time to sign up for a tax prep software that offers live support for some, or all, of the process.

If your 2020 taxes were more complicated due to relocation, work-from-home arrangements, stimulus checks and/or because you made an early 401(k) withdrawal during the coronavirus pandemic, you may benefit from working with a tax expert to help you ensure a fast and accurate filing.

The easiest way to hire an accountant is to use a tax prep software that comes with expert tax assistance and a high Better Business Bureau rating. Services range from simple, on-call support to full tax preparation, available for both individual tax filers and business owners.

The costs range from approximately $69 to $230, which might sound considerable. But it might be worth the expense if your taxes are complicated.

And 2020 was a weird year for finances for many people, considering there are some who are still waiting on $1,800 in stimulus money (more for families with multiple dependents), and many Americans could qualify for special tax credits post-pandemic that could increase the amount they're owed. Paying for an expert could be worth it if it helps guarantee that you receive your fullest refund.

While you should be able to book appointments up to the May 17 deadline, tax experts recommend that you give yourself a small cushion. Try to book an appointment now, at your earliest convenience or, at the very latest, at least one week before taxes are due. Also remember to keep your state's deadline in mind when making your appointment. (Read more about updated 2020 state tax deadlines.)

TurboTax, for instance, estimates a minimum turnaround time of 24 hours, but advises that it might take up to 10 business days to file your taxes.

Here are Select's top picks for best tax filing software offering live help:

Best overall tax software

TurboTax

On TurboTax's secure site
  • Cost

    Costs may vary depending on the plan selected - see breakdown by plan in the description below

  • Free version

    Yes (for simple returns** only)

  • Mobile app

    Yes

  • Live support

    Yes, costs extra

  • Better Business Bureau rating

    A+

Terms apply, see below for our methodology.

Pros

  • Step-by-step guidance with a Q&A format that is easy to follow
  • TurboTax Live provides on-demand advice and a final review from a tax expert
  • Live Full Service has a tax expert prepare, sign, and file your return
  • Accuracy and maximum refund guaranteed*
  • Audit support, which provides free assistance if you get an IRS or other tax notice

Cons

  • More costly than other software programs
  • Live expert assistance plans have additional costs

Cost breakdown by plan:

  • Free (for simple returns** only): $0 federal, $0 per state
  • Deluxe (helps you maximize credits and deductions): $39* federal, $39* per state
  • Premier (includes returns with investments and expenses): $69* federal, $39* per state
  • Self-employed (for personal and business income and expenses): $89* federal, $39* per state
  • Live Basic (includes help from tax experts): for a limited time, $0* federal, state included - simple tax returns only; must file by 3/31
  • Live Deluxe (includes help from tax experts): $119* federal, $49* per state
  • Live Premier (includes help from tax experts): $169* federal, $49* per state
  • Live self-employed (includes help from tax experts): $199* federal, $49* per state
  • Full Service Live Basic (includes help from tax experts): for a limited time, $0* federal, state included - simple tax returns only; must file by 2/15
  • Full Service Live Deluxe (includes help from tax experts): $249* federal, $49* per state
  • Full Service Live Premier (includes help from tax experts): $359* federal, $49* per state
  • Full Service Live self-employed (includes help from tax experts): $389* federal, $49* per state

*Click here for TurboTax offer details and disclosures

**A simple tax return is Form 1040 only.

Runner-up

H&R Block

On H&R Block's secure site
  • Cost

    Costs may vary depending on the plan selected - see breakdown by plan in the description below

  • Free version

    Yes (for simple returns only)

  • Mobile app

    Yes

  • Live support

    Yes, costs extra

  • Better Business Bureau rating

    A+

Terms apply, see below for our methodology.

Pros

  • Simple step-by-step guidance that's easy to follow
  • Unlimited on-demand chat or video support with Online Assist plans
  • Ability to speak to a tax expert who has an average of 10 years experience (costs extra)
  • Over 11,000 physical locations so you can meet with a tax expert in-person
  • Maximum refund guarantee, or H&R Block will refund the plan fees you paid
  • Audit support guarantee, which provides free assistance if you get an IRS or other tax notice
  • 100% accuracy, or H&R Block will reimburse you for any penalties or interest up to $10,000

Cons

  • Plans that include speaking with a live tax expert start at $69.99 for federal, plus additional state fee
  • One of the more costly software programs

Cost breakdown by plan:

20% off DIY online tax filing - offer ends April 18, 2022

  • Free (for simple returns): $0 federal, $0 per state
  • Deluxe (helps you maximize credits and deductions): $43.99 federal, $44.99 per state
  • Premium (includes returns with investments and expenses): $59.99 federal, $44.99 per state
  • Self-employed (for personal and business income and expenses): $91.99 federal, $44.99 per state
  • Online Assist Basic (includes help from tax experts): $69.99 federal, $0 per state
  • Online Assist Deluxe (includes help from tax experts): $109.99 federal, $44.99 per state
  • Online Assist Premium (includes help from tax experts): $159.99 federal, $44.99 per state
  • Online Assist Self-employed (includes help from tax experts): $194.99 federal, $44.99 per state

Best affordable tax software

TaxSlayer

On TaxSlayer's secure site
  • Cost

    Costs may vary depending on the plan selected - see breakdown by plan in the description below

  • Free version

    Yes

  • Mobile app

    Yes

  • Tax expert support

    Yes, costs extra

  • Better Business Bureau rating

    A+

Terms apply, see below for our methodology.

Pros

  • Cheaper plans, making this a more affordable choice if you don't have a simple return and need to upgrade
  • Low state filing fees
  • One-on-one support from real tax experts with Ask a Tax Pro (select plans only)
  • 100% accuracy, or TaxSlayer will reimburse you for any penalties or interest charges
  • Maximum refund guarantee, or TaxSlayer will refund the plan fees you paid
  • IRS inquiry and audit support guarantee with select plans

Cons

  • Experts are only available on Premium and Self-Employed plans

Cost breakdown by plan:

For a limited time, use code SLAYIT35 for 35% off your federal e-file.*

Simply Free (for simple returns): $0 federal, $0 per state

Classic (for any tax situation):

35% off Classic - Was: $17.95 Now: $11.67. Includes all forms + free phone & email support

Premium (includes priority phone and email support, live chat and help from a tax expert):

35% off Premium - Was: $37.95 Now: $24.67. Includes all forms + live chat support, Ask a Tax Pro, front-of-the-line assistance

Self-employed (for personal and business income and expenses):

35% off Self-Employed - Was: $47.95 Now: $31.17. Includes all forms + access to a tax pro with self-employed expertise

*Offer is valid on federal tax returns only, e-filed by April 18th, 2022, at 11:59 p.m. EST. Offer not applicable to state tax return or additional products. Promotion code must be entered at checkout. Offer may not be combined with any other promotions, discounts, or offers. Offer is non-transferable and is not applicable to previous purchases.

Best for accuracy guarantee

TaxAct

On TaxAct's secure site
  • Cost

    $0 to $160.96 federal, $39.95 to $54.95 per state (see breakdown by plan below)

  • Free version

    Yes

  • Mobile app

    Yes

  • Tax expert support

    Yes, costs extra

  • Better Business Bureau rating

    A+

Terms apply, see below for our methodology.

Pros

  • Up to $100,000 accuracy guarantee, which reimburses you for IRS/state penalty or interest if the TaxAct software causes a calculation error in your return
  • More affordable than other paid software
  • One-on-one support from real tax experts (costs extra)
  • Maximum refund and 100% accuracy guarantee, or TaxAct will refund the plan fees you paid and pay any difference in the refund or tax liability, plus cover any legal or audit costs up to $100,000

Cons

  • Free plan charges per state return
  • Xpert help plans cost at least $35 more for federal

Cost breakdown by plan:

  • Free (only covers simple returns): $0 federal, $39.95 per state
  • Deluxe (helps you maximize credits and deductions): $38.36 federal, $54.95 per state
  • Premier (includes returns with investments and expenses): $57.56 federal, $54.95 per state
  • Self-employed (for personal and business income and expenses): $75.96 federal, $54.95 per state
  • Xpert Help Free (includes help from tax experts): $70.00 federal, $39.95 per state
  • Xpert Help Deluxe (includes help from tax experts): $93.36 federal, $54.95 per state
  • Xpert Help Premier (includes help from tax experts): $127.56 federal, $54.95 per state
  • Xpert Help Self-employed (includes help from tax experts): $160.96 federal, $54.95 per state

Our methodology

To determine which tax software offers the best way to file your taxes online, CNBC Select analyzed 12 programs. We compared each program on a range of features, including:

  • Cost
  • User experience
  • Expert tax assistance
  • Accuracy and maximum refund guarantee
  • Better Business Bureau (BBB) rating
  • Customer reviews, when available

Cost was one of the most important factors. While many of these services offer free versions, many people have complicated finances that require them to pay to file their taxes. We evaluated the price per plan and weighed the features you receive, like the ability to maximize deductions and credits. The more bang for your buck, the higher a service ranked.

Whether you're new to filing taxes or a seasoned pro, user experience is crucial to filling out and submitting your return quickly and with little frustration. The services we chose had to be relatively user friendly.

The ability to speak with a tax expert or support representative was a big plus. Four out of five of the best tax software offered some form of support.

And if a service supported consumers with a generous accuracy and maximum refund guarantee, it was ranked higher.

We also considered the Better Business Bureau rating associated with the software. BBB ratings help determine whether a business is operating responsibly and if it helps to resolve customer complaints in a timely manner. Customer reviews were also taken into consideration.

After reviewing the above features, we sorted our recommendations by best for overall tax filing, runner-up, free tax software, most affordable and best accuracy guarantee.

The federal and state filing fees for the software programs mentioned above are subject to change without notice. Many programs don't charge you until you file, so there's a chance the fees can change from the time you start your return until you submit it.




Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.