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TaxSlayer 2021 (Tax Year 2020) Review 2021

TaxSlayer started as a tool for accountants and professional tax preparers more than 50 years ago. The company entered the individual tax preparation software market in the 1990s and has had a big presence ever since. This year we’re looking specifically at TaxSlayer Classic, which supports all major IRS forms and schedules at a very affordable price. The service provides an effective outline for common Form 1040-related topics and a searchable database of help files, as well as guidance sprinkled throughout. It was the most-improved tax website for the 2019 tax year, thanks to a redesigned user experience and comprehensive mobile apps, and its 2020 version offers more of this kind of improvement, in addition to changes made to the e-filing experience. Note that this is an early preview of the service, so we’re not assigning it rating until we see the final version and the final versions of the competition.

How Much Does TaxSlayer Cost?

TaxSlayer is available in four different versions. Simply Free is, well, free for both federal and state returns for Form 1040 filers; W-2 and education deductions and credits are included. Classic ($17 for federal returns) adds support for all major IRS forms and schedules. Additionally, it imports W-2 data from payroll providers and pulls key information in from the previous year’s file. TaxSlayer Premium includes all the features from Classic and adds enhanced support options, audit assistance, live chat, and unlimited phone access to tax professionals for $37. Self-Employed ($47) adds extra guidance for self-employed filers. Filing your state taxes for 2020 (which is what you’ll be doing in 2021) now costs $32 per state.

Those are attractive prices, but it’s tough to compete on price alone in the tax field. Credit Karma Tax offers a service that handles all IRS forms and schedules—and state returns—for free, though its help system is less developed than TaxSlayer’s. FreeTaxUSA also offers comprehensive topic support and good help tools on the cheap. Its federal preparation and filing is free—state returns are $12.95 each—but you need to pay extra for expanded support.

Some tax prices tend to go up as the season goes on, but I’ve never seen TaxSlayer increase its prices for the federal versions.

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Tax in the Cloud

Regardless of which tax preparation service you choose, you have to provide the same information you would if you were filing on paper or in a tax preparer’s office. Online tax preparation is something of a hybrid of those two methods: It’s basically aju9 lengthy question-and-answer session. Using a wizard-like tool, most services can guide you through all the issues pertinent to your financial situation. Sometimes you respond with numbers, words, or phrases, but often you only have to select from a list of options. The site then performs any necessary calculations and fills in your answers on the correct government forms and schedules. One benefit is that you don’t need to understand the tax schedules themselves or figure out how they’ve changed from year to year.

TaxSlayer schedule A sectionTaxSlayer does provide some proactive guidance as you work your way through the 1040.

Every service allows experienced tax filers or those with simple returns to select the tax topics they know they need to complete, skipping the full step-by-step wizard. Whichever method you choose—TaxSlayer offers both, as I’ll explain—these services offer numerous forms of help along the way, including links to more thorough explanations and voluminous help databases. Some also provide personalized help via chat, email, and/or phone. Relevant data is transferred to state returns, where additional work is usually necessary. After you enter all the required data, these sites perform a final review and look for errors and omissions in your return. Once you make the corrections, you can enter payment information to cover that site’s costs and file your return.

Building Your File

After you choose a version of TaxSlayer, you set up an account by creating a username and password. If you filed your 2019 return with TaxSlayer, the site imports key information, which saves a lot of time and helps to ensure accuracy—assuming you got it right last time, of course. You can also import PDF files prepared by competing services for the 2019 tax year. Whether you’re returning or starting fresh, you’ll still have to answer some basic questions upfront.

TaxSlayer filing statusYou can see tax topic explanations and get guided help as you respond to TaxSlayer’s questions.

TaxSlayer Classic lets you simply select the forms and schedules you need to complete, using a process called Quick File. You enter a keyword or the title of a form or schedule, and it populates a drop-down list with one or more relevant entries. The site then focuses on those specific topics, though you still have the opportunity to take care of other tax-related issues. This tool has come a long way since it was introduced. It’s slowly evolved to the point where it’s effective whether you’re searching for an actual form or schedule name or a keyword or phrase.

TaxSlayer federal taxes sectionAt the beginning of each major section, TaxSlayer lists the tax topics that will be covered there.

If you skip this screen, TaxSlayer presents you with the more traditional data-entry options offered by some competing tax sites. At the beginning of the first section (Income), you can either choose Guide Me, for an interview-style Q&A that steps you through every topic until you’re done, or Enter Myself, which lets you manually select the topics you need to complete. 

If you go with the latter option, the site displays a list of all income topics it covers, such as W-2, the new 1099-NEC, and Profit or Loss from business. Unexplored topics display a Begin button to the right, but this switches to an Edit button after you enter any data, so you can always go back in and make changes. Once you finish a subtopic, TaxSlayer takes you back to the master list until you’ve exhausted every issue that applies to you.

A New Look for TaxSlayer

Besides the functional changes to the old Quick File feature, TaxSlayer has again refreshed the site’s user interface. It now looks much more state-of-the-art, which makes a difference when you’re doing a task like tax preparation. Bravo!

TaxSlayer Classic displays a vertical toolbar on the left that breaks down the site into its primary sections, including Federal, Health Insurance, and State. It doesn’t, however, go into deeper detail, except for some submenus under Federal. To see what types of topics are covered under a header, you have to choose the Select My Forms option rather than the step-by-step interview. Unfortunately, this is the only way to see a navigational outline such as that offered by FreeTaxUSA. In some complicated sections like the Schedule E, you can choose to be guided through the topic even if you chose the Select My Forms option.

Other than the toolbar and help (more on that later), TaxSlayer Classic doesn’t use the outer edges of the screen for anything else beyond a real-time number representing your current tax obligation in the upper right, along with a link to the Help functions. Most navigation is simple. You use buttons to either advance to the next screen or go back to the previous one. The site executes its two primary navigation options just fine, for the most part, though there were times when I needed a Back button that wasn’t there.

TaxSlayer walks you through the Form 1040 in roughly the same order the actual form does. You’ll start with the Income section, then you’ll move on to Deductions, Other Taxes, Payments & Estimates, Miscellaneous Forms, and Health Insurance. You can click on each section header individually or just follow the sequential flow of the site. If you decide midstream that you want to switch to the other navigation option, you can just click the Federal tab and select it. All of the data you’ve already entered will be saved.

Once you complete all the federal topics, TaxSlayer Classic transfers the relevant information to your state tax return if you need to file one, much as its competitors do. It uses similar methods to help you complete your state return as it did for federal.

Good Help, Bad Help

If your income tax return is uncomplicated, you can probably get through the filing process without a lot of assistance. But TaxSlayer Classic supports all the major IRS forms and schedules, so some users are likely to need guidance along the way. The site does offer phone and email help at the Classic level, but those avenues should really be last resorts for tax filers. It’s usually faster to consult educational materials that are right at hand, and providing them in an easy-to-understand format is one of the main jobs of any tax website aimed at consumers.

The built-in help on TaxSlayer’s interrogatory pages is limited in scope and in the number of articles. Sites like H&R Block Deluxe and TurboTax Deluxe provide thorough explanations of tax topics and required information directly on the page. Click on hyperlinked terms in the text, and small windows pop out with deeper detail.

TaxSlayer isn’t quite as thorough. For example, you can sometimes click on a Learn More (or questions mark) link that opens explanatory text in the left vertical pane. This panel usually displays a clear explanation of the topic and tells you where to enter your information on the site, though there’s no navigation link like there is in TaxAct. It may also direct you to an IRS publication—not a very elegant solution, though other services sometimes do this, too. Taxpayers use tax prep services so they don’t have to deal with complex IRS language, so this is disappointing.

TaxSlayer does have some excellent help articles in its searchable knowledge base. I got numerous good hits when I searched for topics. These results sometimes included links to related pages on the site itself. I was glad to see that the search results didn’t contain any articles that veered off topic or were written by members of a user community, as happens sometimes in TurboTax.

This impressive compendium of information, though, doesn’t automatically open to the current topic when you click the help link, as it does in H&R Block Deluxe. But it seemed to return better results to searches than it did last year. The more specific you can get when you enter a search word or phrase the better, as is true of all tax preparation services.

TaxSlayer schedule c sectionSometimes you click buttons to answer queries in TaxSlayer, and other times you enter data in fields.

The expertise that TaxSlayer Classic displays in its help articles isn’t exposed where you need it most—when you encounter a phrase or question that you don’t understand on the interview screens. You can often find what you’re looking for by using the site’s help resources, but the best services put the information right there on the page. For example, the Schedule C Expenses page would be improved if there were links to explanations of individual deductible items. And the Qualified Business Income Deduction (QBID) page could use more imbedded help since it’s a fairly new and complex tax deduction.

Overall, TaxSlayer would be more effective if it integrated more on-the-fly advice, especially for sections that deal with complicated and potentially unfamiliar issues like self-employment and capital gains.

Reviewing Your Return

After you complete all of the screens that apply to you, TaxSlayer presents a detailed summary screen that displays the site’s main topics, along with the dollar total for each entry (or a 0 if you didn’t complete an entry). Clicking on one takes you to the relevant section, where you can edit or delete any data. This provides a thorough last-minute check and the opportunity to see each major topic areas broken down into its subtopics; it’s as close as TaxSlayer comes to offering a comprehensive navigation outline.

TaxSlayer tax review summaryAfter you’ve completed all relevant sections in TaxSlayer, you can see a summary of your return’s bottom-line numbers.

The service also combs through your return, looking for missing or questionable data, and provides links so you can go back and make corrections and additions. It doesn’t, though, offer to take you back to the main review page afterward, like Jackson Hewitt does. TaxSlayer also doesn’t go directly to the fields that need correcting, like TaxAct does.

TaxSlayer app on iOS and AndroidYou can use the iOS version (left) of TaxSlayer to complete even complex tax returns. You respond to TaxSlayer’s queries using the Android app (right) the same way you do on the browser-based version.

Filing Your Taxes on a Mobile Device

TaxSlayer upgraded its Android and iPhone apps substantially last year. You can now do everything on the apps that you can do on the browser-based version. All forms and schedules are supported, so you’re able to complete a complex return on your phone.

TaxSlayer’s mobile tax-filing apps replicate the user experience of the desktop version. The only difference is that you’ll have to click a link in the upper left to open the left vertical menu. Like its mobile tax app competitors, TaxSlayer now lets you start your return on one device and switch to another, entering your username and password to log in.

Multiple Levels of Security

TaxSlayer’s security is evident from the moment you create an account and log in for the first time. The site has complex password requirements and employs a single-use verification code that can be sent to either your email or mobile phone. It also uses a wide range of security-related technologies, including SSL encryption; tools like firewalls and intrusion detection systems and data obfuscation; and safety mechanisms like security guards to prevent physical access to its datacenter. TaxSlayer has a team of dedicated cybersecurity experts that coordinate with state Departments of Revenue and the IRS. The company tells us that it does regular internal audits, as well.

Good Progress, Room for More

If you used TaxSlayer last year and were pleased with it, there’s no reason to switch this year—unless you want the additional guidance and superior user experience that services like TurboTax Deluxe offer. Its price tag is lower than that of many competitors, and its user interface and navigation tools should make your tax preparation pleasant. Its onsite help is more targeted than it was before, and the service is capable of preparing and filing more complex returns than many of the other sites reviewed here. One final reminder: This is a preview of the service, so take everything in this writeup with grain of salt. We’ll return and update it well before e-filing opens for your taxes.

While you’re thinking about your once-a-year tax tasks, maybe it’s a good time to think about getting a better year-round handle on your finances. For your own money, you should read our roundup of the best personal finance software, and if you run a small business you should check out our overview of the best accounting software.

TaxSlayer 2021 (Tax Year 2020)


  • Inexpensive

  • Polished user experience

  • Supports all major IRS forms and schedules

  • Good knowledge base

  • Improved search capabilities, user experience, and mobile apps

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  • Little context-sensitive help on working screens

  • Some navigation irregularities

  • Review could be more targeted

The Bottom Line

TaxSlayer is an affordable tax preparation service that gets better every year. Returning users will find an improved user experience and comprehensive mobile apps, but not much context-sensitive help. Still, it lets you prepare a Schedule C for just $17.

TaxSlayer 2021 (Tax Year 2020) Specs

Imports Competitors’ Returns Yes
All Major IRS Forms and Schedules Yes
Comprehensive Navigational Outline No
Chat Help No
Phone Support for Tax Topics No
Hyperlinked Help In Interview Yes
Context-Sensitive Help Yes
Searchable Help Database Yes
1040 App Yes
Mobile Apps Yes
Responsive Design No

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