H&R Block at Home Premium: Good Choice for Self-Employment Tax Returns
By Yardena Arar
At a Glance
Exceptionally pleasing design puts help close by
Includes great audit defense service
Moderate price includes free session with tax pro
Minor organizational flaws
Needs more-detailed info on business deductions
Still lags behind TurboTax in data-import tools
H&R Block at Home Premium delivers great value for small-business owners whose tax situations are basically straightforward but who would appreciate access to a human being for a question or two–or audit support, if need be.
H&R Block at Home Premium tax software has packaging that designates the product as intended for self-employed individuals and rental-property owners. However, unlike Intuit TurboTax Home & Business, which starts with questions about business income and expenses, H&R Block at Home Premium uses a classic tax-software interview structure in which Schedule C and other business income follows wage and interest earnings. This isn’t a problem, but it does set a different, more consumery tone.
The H&R Block at Home Premium package costs $65 (as of February 15, 2011); the price also covers a free state-tax program download and five free federal e-filings. You have to pay an additional $20 to e-file a state form, though.
Block’s strengths include a neat and clean design, with a multilayered tab structure and good navigation tools for returning to specific areas. A right-hand sidebar provides FAQs and tax-guide links, program help, a search utility, and an ‘Ask a Tax Question’ area for searching Block’s knowledge base and–if all else fails–starting a free session with a Block tax advisor (another Block benefit). Tickers on the upper right show you what your federal and (if you’ve downloaded your free state software) state tax or refund would be based on the data you’ve provided so far.
H&R Block at Home Premium supports transfer of data from last year’s tax returns if you created them in either TurboTax or H&R Block’s own file formats. It also accepts imports of financial data from Quicken, Microsoft Money, or any other application that supports .txf (Tax Exchange Format) files. Block says it supports pretty much any version of the two major packages, no matter how old, but the import process can get complicated: You get one-click import buttons only for Quicken 2010, Money Plus 2008, and Money 2007. For other versions, Block provides instructions for exporting one or more data files into a format that the Block software can accept.
Remember, however, that importing finance data is really helpful only if you’ve set up associations with tax-form line items within the software–and if you’ve been good about entering all relevant transactions.
H&R Block at Home Premium continues to expand the list of payroll providers, brokerages, and other financial institutions from which it can import W-2s and investment-income forms. Intuit may maintain its lead in the number of institutions supported, but in my tests the Block software was able to import data from all my institutions (for the first time). This feature can be a huge time-saver, especially for investors.
For a product that caters to self-employed taxpayers, H&R Block at Home Premium is awfully stingy in its drop-down list of occupations at the beginning of its questionnaire: It offers but 20 choices, including ‘homemaker’, ‘self-employed’, and ‘other’. This may be nitpicky, but I found the occupations on the list (which also included ‘cashier’, ‘coach’, and ‘philanthropist’) rather arbitrary.
In the years before broadband became ubiquitous, embedded videos were once a benefit of desktop tax software. But the video collection that H&R Block at Premium offers early in the interview process is actually a set of links to videos on YouTube.
Block’s Schedule C interview covers all the bases, but is a little confusing in its organization. After asking about home-office, vehicle, and depreciable asset expenses (covering generally expensive equipment with a useful life of more than a year), it introduces a Business Expense Assistant that queries you about other types of expenses, from advertising to office supplies and travel. The software doesn’t make clear why the office, vehicle, and asset expenses aren’t covered by the Business Expense Assistant.
Still, the Business Expense Assistant does a credible job of explaining what to include in each covered category, and–almost equally helpful–what not to include. For example, under office expenses, it tells you that a router for a network should be listed as a depreciable asset.
H&R Block at Home Premium also includes audit defense assistance: Should the IRS audit your return, a Block tax pro will help you prepare for and even accompany you to the audit. This is a great peace-of-mind benefit for which TurboTax charges an extra $40.
Overall, H&R Block at Home Premium (formerly TaxCut) continues to provide a worthy and slightly more affordable alternative to TurboTax. While it doesn’t provide as many examples of business deductions as TurboTax Home & Business does, it is a good choice for people who neither want nor need the supercomprehensive detail of Intuit’s product–and who would appreciate access to a Block tax pro if the need arises.
Editor’s note: H&R Block offers several other editions. The $20 Basic edition includes federal-return software for simple tax situations and five free federal e-files (you must pay $37 to download a state program and another $20 to e-file a state form). The $45 Deluxe edition provides more detailed tax help plus audit support from an H&R Block tax professional; it comes with five free federal e-files and a free state-tax software download, but state e-filing costs an additional $20. The $80 Premium & Business edition includes the Premium software reviewed here plus support for the forms required for partnerships, LLCs, corporations, S corporations, estates, trusts, and nonprofits. It comes with five free personal federal e-files, a free personal state-tax software download, and unlimited downloads of state software for business entities; a personal state e-file costs an additional $20.
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