H&R Block Review 2020-2021: Honest Review by a CPAPersonal Taxes
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- H&R Block
- Basics: While not perfect, H&R Block is our #1 pick for tax return preparation software because it is accurate and easy-to-use, has a generous free filing option, and puts the customer first.
- Pros: The interface is top-tier, and H&R Block doesn't try to upsell you nearly as much as TurboTax does. The mobile app and customer support are also on-point.
- Cons: There were some minor user experience elements that gave me pause.
H&R Block has come a long way since it was founded by brothers Henry and Richard Bloch in 1955.
With over 12,000 retail offices, it is perhaps the most well-known walk-in tax preparation service in the nation.
But don’t let its brick-and-mortar heritage fool you into thinking that H&R Block’s tax preparation software is anything but top-tier.
In this H&R Block review I will give a general overview of the H&R Block tax software for preparing 2020 tax returns (due in 2021) as well as its pros and cons.
H&R Block Free Online
I know many of my readers have very simple tax situations — maybe a W-2, some dividends from an investment app account, and a student loan balance — so I’m going to kick off this review by going over H&R Block’s Free Online option.
H&R Block Free Online is truly free in every sense of the word.
It’s free for your federal return and free for your state return, so this isn’t one of those bait-and-switch maneuvers where your federal return is free but you have to pony up for your state tax return.
Thankfully, H&R Block is above shenanigans like that.
Online Assist: If you would like a real CPA or EA to review your “free” return through H&R Block Online Assist, you will have to pay $39.99 for federal review (state is free!).
Which Returns Qualify?
In order to qualify for free filing through H&R Block, your return must be fairly basic.
Essentially, the only items that can comprise your tax situation are W-2 wages, interest and dividends, and the more common credits and adjustments to income.
If your tax situation is more complicated than that, you’ll need to use one of the paid editions.
H&R Block Free vs. TurboTax Free
Below, I have put together a table showing what kind of tax situations are eligible between H&R Block Free Online and the TurboTax Free Edition. As you can see, far more taxpayers are eligible to use H&R Block Free Online than the TurboTax Free Edition.
|Plan:||H&R Block Free Online||TurboTax Free Edition|
|Interest and Dividend Income||Yes||Yes, if $1,500 or less|
|Earned Income Credit (EIC)||Yes||Yes|
|Child Tax Credits||Yes||Yes|
|Student Loan Interest Deduction||Yes||No|
|Childcare Expenses Credit||Yes||No|
|Retirement Savings Credit||Yes||No|
H&R Paid Versions
If your tax situation is even a little bit more complicated than that described above, you’ll probably need to utilize one of H&R Block’s three paid versions: Deluxe, Premium, and Self-Employed.
I’ll go over the details of these versions in a bit, but right now I’ll go over the pricing of each.
H&R Block Pricing
H&R Block is by no means a budget product like TaxAct or TaxSlayer, but it’s not as pricey as TurboTax.
Assuming you need to file a federal return and a state return, the least expensive paid version will cost you about $60 while the most expensive will cost you about $97.
Compared to TurboTax’s range of $80 – $130, you can see that H&R Block comes in a bit lower.
|Best For:||Simple Tax Returns||Maximizing Deductions and Credits||Investments and Rental Property||Small Business Owners, Including Freelancers|
Next I’ll give an overview of each of the H&R Block plans followed by another table, this one showing what’s covered and what’s not in all of them.
H&R Block Deluxe Online
H&R Block Deluxe Online accommodates everything in Free Online + itemized deductions.
Online Assist: If you would like a real CPA or EA to review your Deluxe Online return through H&R Block Online Assist, your total cost is $69.99 for your federal return and $36.99 per state return.
H&R Block Premium Online
H&R Block Premium Online accommodates everything in Deluxe Online + Schedule D and Schedule E.
Schedule D is used for reporting capital gains and losses, such as those from the sale of stock.
Schedule E is used for reporting K-1, royalty, and rental income.
Self-employment income on Schedule C is also unlocked with Premium Online, but you can only report expenses of less than $5,000.
Online Assist: If you would like a real CPA or EA to review your Premium Online return through H&R Block Online Assist, your total cost is $109.99 for your federal return and $36.99 per state return.
H&R Block Self-Employed Online
H&R Block Self-Employed Online accommodates everything in Premium Online + self-employment expenses of $5,000 or greater.
Online Assist: If you would like a real CPA or EA to review your Self-Employed Online return through H&R Block Online Assist, your total cost is $139.99 for your federal return and $36.99 per state return.
|Interest and Dividend Income||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Earned Income Credit (EIC)||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Child Tax Credits||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Student Loan Interest Deduction||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Childcare Expenses Credit||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Retirement Savings Credit||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|State and Local Taxes Paid||No||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Home Mortgage Interest||No||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Self-Employment Income||No||No||Yes, but only including expenses less than $5,000||Yes, including $5,000 or more in expenses|
H&R Block User Experience
H&R Block’s user interface is clean and unobtrusive.
While sometimes I think it does assume a certain level of tax knowledge from the user, it makes up for this by providing foolproof options down the line.
Choosing Your Version
Similar to other tax software programs, H&R Block’s website greets you with several options. You may choose all, some, one, or none to accurately describe your tax situation.
Based on your selections, H&R Block will recommend one of its versions to you.
Choosing anything other than “Have kids” will trigger one of the paid options to be recommended.
Not sure which version is best for you? My motto is “go cheap.”
If after going through the software it becomes clear that you need a pricier version, you can always upgrade then (you don’t pay until the end of the tax return preparation process anyway).
Personalizing Your Experience
Next, H&R Block asks you if you want to help it “personalize your experience.”
Translation: do you want us to share all the juicy details found in your tax return with our partners so we or they can pitch you financial products that may be of interest to you?
By way of example, let’s imagine that you have student loans, and this is reflected in the information you provide H&R Block in the course of preparing your tax returns.
H&R Block may then theoretically serve you student loan refinancing offers.
Of course, these offers may actually be very good offers, but personally I would prefer to simply educate myself on, say, my student loan options rather than depending on a tax return preparation company to provide me with this information
If you feel the same, just click “No Thanks” at the bottom right of the consent screen. In no way will this affect the preparation of your tax return.
Prior Year Import
H&R Block then asks you how you prepared your tax return last year — whether you did it through H&R Block or some other company.
If you prepared your return through some other company, then H&R Block gives you the option to import a PDF of your previous year’s tax return.
This will help speed up the tax return preparation process, as well as ensure that you don’t forget to include any information that was on your return last year, so I personally think that you should do this if you are able.
Next up is your personal information.
These questions are very standard, so I’m not going to speak very much to them.
In this section you share information such as your:
- Date of birth
- Marital status
- Social security number
- Phone number (only shared with IRS)
- Citizenship status
- Residence status
- Student status
- Dependency status
Yes, this is some of the most personal information about you, but keep in mind that sharing it is absolutely necessary to preparing and filing your tax return.
Based on the information you provided, H&R Block will determine your filing status. If you’re not sure about the software’s determination, you can check the “I want to see if I qualify for another filing status” box, which will take you through some questions again.
After being informed of your filing status, you will be taken to the Income section, where you tell H&R Block how much money you made during the tax year.
The first component of the Income section is reporting your W-2 wages.
After inputting your employer’s name and EIN, H&R Block will see if your W-2 information can be automatically imported.
If not, you have the following three options for transmitting your W-2 data:
- Uploading a PDF
- Taking a picture
- Entering your W-2 information manually
I tested entering my W-2 information manually, and I did notice that H&R Block had more checks in place than when I input my W-2 information into TurboTax. For example, H&R Block prevented me from progressing until I input my employer’s address.
After completing your W-2 input, H&R Block asks you some more questions about your income sources.
I stated that I had received interest income during the year and was given an option to either import my Form 1099-INT or just input it manually.
Either way, the interface was easy-to-use.
Once you’ve wrapped up the income section, it’s time to move on to deductions.
Right off the bat, H&R Block asks about these four deductions:
- Vehicle Tax or Personal Property Tax
- State and Local Sales Tax
- 1098-E Student Loan Interest
- 1098 Home Mortgage Interest
These are obviously not all the deductions available to taxpayers, but perhaps they’re the most common ones among H&R Block users.
Anyway, I selected “1098 Home Mortgage Interest” to test the input, and similar to Form 1099-INT, I was given the option to either upload my form or input the data manually.
Choosing the latter, I indicated that I paid $9,800 of mortgage interest during the year. This was very simple to do, and the number I selected was intentional as I describe below.
H&R Block Deluxe Upsell
The 2019 standard deduction for single filers — which I indicated I am — is $12,200. I had already indicated that I had paid $2,500 in state tax withholding during the year, so I indicated $9,800 of mortgage interest to set my itemized deductions at a total of $12,300.
This is only $100 more than the standard deduction, making the tax savings of itemizing my deductions minimal i.e. somewhere around $12.
I did this to see how transparent H&R Block would be when pitching its upgrade.
And you know what? I was pleasantly surprised. H&R Block’s upsell is pictured below.
Yes, it’s an upsell. But it’s an honest upsell.
H&R Block is very upfront that, at least as federal taxes are concerned, itemizing my deduction will only increase my refund by $12.
And then it plainly shows the price of the upgrade: $22.49 with additional state filing fees as applicable.
I feel that in this case, the user is well-informed with respect to the costs and benefits of the upgrade.
This is in stark contrast to my test of the TurboTax platform, which said that I needed to upgrade to a paid version, even though the tax benefits of doing so would be less than the cost of the upgrade!
After the Deductions section, H&R Block asks you questions to determine your eligibility for various tax credits.
Similar to the initial deductions screen, H&R Block starts by asking you if you’re eligible for the following four credits:
I thought this was a little odd since I’m not sure if the average taxpayer would know, for example, whether he or she qualifies for the Earned Income Credit.
I would recommend that on the following screen — where more credits are mentioned than the four on the initial screen — you go through each of the dropdowns underneath “Let’s find all your credits” and read H&R Block’s description for each one.
Taxes, Penalties, and Payments
Finally, H&R Block takes you through the Taxes, Penalties, and Payments section.
To kick it off, H&R Blocks asks you if any of the following four options applies to you:
- Return for IRA and Retirement Plan Tax
- Additional Medicare Tax
- Alternative Minimum Tax Adjustments
- Federal Estimated Tax Payments
You’ll also be asked if you had health insurance in 2019 in order for H&R Block to calculate any potential state health insurance penalties. The federal Obamacare penalty ended in tax year 2018.
The next few screens will ask you various questions to see if your tax situation requires any additional forms.
These are things like:
- Do you want H&R Block to create estimated tax vouchers for you (Form 1040-ES)?
- Do you want to apply your refund to next year’s return?
- Do you want to designate $3 to the presidential campaign fund?
- Did you experience identity theft and receive an Identity Protection Pin (IP PIN) from the IRS?
These questions are all rather self-explanatory.
After you get through this section, H&R Block will do a final review of your federal return to ensure accuracy. That said, remember that at the end of the day it’s up to you to make sure that you went through the software correctly.
H&R Block Plus Upsell
H&R Block hit me up with an upsell to the H&R Block Plus, which is essentially a storage option for your tax return.
Honestly, I don’t see a whole lot of value here. You can — and should, because you’ll need it next year — to store your own return and access it 24/7 yourself.
Perhaps the benefit of the automatic import of your tax data next year might be worth it if you have a ton of tax data that would take you a significant amount of time to manually input next year.
If this is the case, then you really just have to weigh the cost of H&R Block Plus to what you think the value of your time is worth.
The next few screens will go over your state tax situation.
It’s fairly self-explanatory, so I’m not going to spend time going through it.
Ability to Handle Complex Returns
The walkthrough above was based on a relatively simple tax return that qualified for H&R Block Free Online.
However, no review would be complete without assessing the software’s ability to handle more complicated tax returns.
What I Mean by “Complex”
When I say “complex,” I’m not referring to Bill Gates’ tax return or even the tax return of a multimillionaire small business owner — these people should use a tax professional to prepare their taxes.
What I am referring to, however, is a tax return that is more complicated than normal — perhaps “middle-class complex” is the right term.
I’m envisioning a tax return that involves the following
Now, I’m not talking about some billionaire’s tax return with hundreds of K-1s, foreign transactions, and all kinds of disclosures that need to be made. Frankly, people like that shouldn’t be using TurboTax; they should probably be working with a tax professional.
When I say “complex return” in this context I’m describing “middle-class complex,” i.e. a return that involves all of the following:
- Small business reported on Schedule C
- Stock sales reported on Schedule D
- Rental property reported on Schedule E
- A K-1 reported on Schedule E
H&R Block’s Performance
So I ran a test tax return with all of the items mentioned above through H&R Block and was very happy with the results.
H&R Block explained the concepts well, and the results were accurate.
Check out the video below for my walkthrough.
H&R Block App
H&R Block has several apps, but the app that you use to prepare your 2019 tax returns is called H&R Block Tax Prep and File.
Easy to Use
The app has a similar interface to desktop and asks all the same questions, except the aesthetic feels a bit “brighter.”
Your data carries over seamlessly between the desktop version and the app so you can work on
A Bit Slow
The app was easy-to-use, but it wasn’t quite as fast as the TurboTax App.
Also, occasionally after I scrolled down in the app, I couldn’t select the “Next” button unless I scrolled up again.
For these reasons I gave H&R Block a slightly lower rating for mobile support than I gave TurboTax.
H&R Block Customer Service
H&R Block offers two in-software options for customer service: the search function and the virtual assistant. These should be viewed as technical support — not tax support — options.
There is also, of course, the option to pay H&R Block to have its team of tax professionals give you tax support as you file your returns.
The most basic support function is the search function, which can be accessed by clicking the encircled question mark in the upper right-hand corner of the screen.
You type your question or topic in the search bar, and the software shows you questions that other users have submitted to H&R Block along with H&R Block’s response.
So unless your specific question has been asked before, it won’t show up.
For example, I searched for a fairly basic topic: “lost my W-2”.
Unfortunately, none of the options shown really addressed the issue.
Although the search function isn’t all that impressive, H&R Block more than makes up for it with its Virtual Assistant tool, which can be accessed by the white encircled ellipsis in a green speech bubble in the lower right-hand corner of your screen after you click on the Search Function encircled question mark.
The Virtual Assistant is essentially a chatbox for product support and technical issues.
If the chatbox algorithm can’t help you with your issue, you will be transferred to a live representative.
I tested the Virtual Assistant on two occasions, and both times the question I asked was answered promptly and accurately.
Online Assist is H&R Block’s paid on-demand tax help service that pairs you with a tax expert, Enrolled Agent (EA), or Certified Public Accountant (CPA) with whom you can chat on demand.
You can use either a live chat or a screenshare to communicate with this individual.
Admittedly, this is a pretty cool feature, but I’m not sure that someone whose tax return data is all transmitted to them on forms someone else prepared — such as a W-2 or 1098-E — needs a tax professional to look over their return.
This would definitely be more useful for ensuring that all rental and business deductions are captured, i.e. for customers of the Premium Online or Self-Employed Online versions.
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Logan is a practicing CPA, Certified Student Loan Professional, and founder of Money Done Right, which he launched in 2017. After spending nearly a decade in the corporate world helping big businesses save money, he launched his blog with the goal of helping everyday Americans earn, save, and invest more money. Learn more about Logan.