Jan 13 2020

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Credit Karma Tax 2019 (Tax Year 2018)

Free. Supports most IRS and state forms and schedules. Clean, simple interface. New guidance options. Much improved mobile access. Context-sensitive FAQs and chat help.


Missing some important forms. Search tool not always accurate, and overall support still sketchy. No site navigation tool.

Bottom Line

The completely free Credit Karma Tax supports most IRS forms and schedules for federal and state returns, though it lacks some common ones. Support and mobile access have improved, but it has a ways to go to catch the leaders.

Credit Karma Tax made a good first impression when it debuted two years ago—especially considering that it provides free tax preparation and filing, and supports most major IRS forms and schedules. State filing is also free. That makes it a unique offering, and it’s good-looking tax preparation software with intuitive navigation tools, to boot. Its help content, however, is still insufficient, though somewhat improved this year. Free is appealing, especially at tax time, but competitors explain the tax code in much more detail, and that might end up saving you both money and time in the long run. Take a look at our Editors’ Choice, H&R Block Deluxe instead, for its broader applicability, better support, and superior user experience.

Similar Products

H&R Block Deluxe 2019 (Tax Year 2018)

Intuit TurboTax Deluxe 2019 (Tax Year 2018)

TaxSlayer Classic 2019 (Tax Year 2018)

TaxAct Deluxe Plus 2019 (Tax Year 2018)

FreeTaxUSA Deluxe 2019 (Tax Year 2018)

Liberty Tax Online Basic 2019 (Tax Year 2018)

From Credit Checks to Taxes

You’ve probably heard of Credit Karma, which was founded in 2007 and claims roughly 85 million members. Credit Karma provides free credit scores and reports on a weekly basis, showing the factors that contribute to them, too. The service monitors for suspicious activity and alerts you to potential problems. You do have to sign up for a Credit Karma account to even get access to Credit Karma Tax, which may be off-putting for some. Honestly, however, keeping an eye on your credit is a good idea, and Credit Karma may help.

The company gets paid for the credit card and loan recommendations it makes to you in the main Credit Karma service (the tax service doesn’t display ads). Some users may not appreciate this, but I didn’t find it intrusive in my testing, and it seems like a more-than-fair trade-off. If your tax situation is simple enough, most of the competition offers a free level, and FreeTaxUSA is free for the federal return, though it charges $12.95 for a state return.

A Familiar Approach

If you’ve ever prepared taxes by hand, you know what a time-consuming, confusing, and frustrating process it can be—especially if your return requires filing multiple forms and schedules in addition to a 1040. You have to do all of your calculations by hand, and that’s after finding the correct forms, schedules, and tax documents you need. Likewise, you have to transfer the correct figures from the correct forms and schedules onto the correct lines on the 1040. Furthermore, despite what you might have heard, filing your taxes did not get simpler this year.

Like all tax preparation services, Credit Karma Tax provides an online alternative to paper-and-pencil tax preparation. It takes control of the whole process like a human tax preparer in an office might do, asking you questions and recording your answers. You simply read the questions on the page and provide answers by clicking buttons or entering data, before moving on to the next set.

Credit Karma Tax works in the background as you progress and enters your answers on the correct lines on the appropriate forms and schedules after doing all the necessary calculations. If you run into an unfamiliar concept, there’s often (but not always) help content you can consult. When you finish entering everything that pertains to your federal tax situation, the site transfers the relevant data over to your state return, if you’re required to file one. All personal tax preparation services operate this way.

Basic Information

If you want to use Credit Karma Tax, you first have to sign up for the Credit Karma service, as previously mentioned. You supply some personal details, including the Social Security numbers of anyone whose name is on the return.

The site’s Life Events feature displays a list of tax-related situations like college, home ownership, and medical expenses. The events you select appear in Credit Karma Tax’s main dashboard, which you use to navigate the software. TaxAct Deluxe Plus goes a step further on this front, providing information up front about how these events may affect your returns. TurboTax Deluxe weaves the extraction of this knowledge into its ongoing virtual conversation with you.

The Credit Karma Tax User Experience

Credit Karma Tax’s user interface is attractive and lively in many places, especially considering this is only the service’s third annual iteration. It’s simple, clean, and uses a pleasing combination of fonts and colors in a well-designed layout. Graphics are minimal, and some screens are absolutely unadorned, which probably contributes to its speedy screen changes.

The site’s navigation system changed last year. Its original start-to-finish step-by-step wizard disappeared, replaced by a dashboard of sorts. This vertical list of topics is arranged more or less the way you would work your way through the 1040 and its supporting documentation, similar to the go-it-alone option other sites offer. You fill out your household’s personal details first and then move through other topics and subtopics, such as your W-2, your health insurance status, self-employment or side gigs, home ownership, tax payments, and deductions and credits. Topics that you didn’t select in the Life Events introductory screen, or for which you’re not eligible, are hidden, but you can click a link to reveal them.

Buttons that run down the right side of the dashboard indicate the status of each topic. If you haven’t visited it, each button says Start. If you have, it says Edit. A column just to the left of these buttons displays totals for the data you’ve supplied.

Once you enter a topic area, Credit Karma Tax makes statements or poses one or more (sometimes many more) questions on every screen. You respond in one of a handful of ways. Some screens contain blank fields for your answers. Sometimes you select an option from a drop-down list or click a button to provide your response. On screens that contain an exceptional number of questions, like those supporting the Schedule C, you can toggle back and forth between a full-form view and one that reduces the number of questions on each page.

Progressing through the site is mostly easy—unless you want to jump quickly to another topic. Sometimes, you simply click Yes or No buttons to move on. Other screens have Back and Next buttons that return you to the previous screen or move you forward. But there’s no comprehensive navigation outline or tool you can use to easily get to a different topic area.

This is a serious deficit. You have to keep backing up (or going forward) or click the X in the upper right corner to get to the main dashboard again and switch to another content area. Instead of one long interview session with the option to move to another topic out of sequence, it always brings you back to the dashboard after you complete a section.

Another problem is that some elements remained unfinished when I tested the service. I tried to claim a Dependent Care Credit and was able to enter the provider’s profile. But the next screen wanted me to select the relevant dependent; that information hadn’t been carried over from the Basic Info section. I had to enter some of that individual’s identifying information again. Also, the site doesn’t support some critical forms, such as part-year or multiple state returns, Form 2210 (Underpayment of Estimated Tax), and Form 8885 (Health Coverage Tax Credit).

Reviewing Your Return

After you complete every relevant section, the service reviews all the answers you provided. If Credit Karma Tax finds an error or omission, it offers to take you back to the offending screens to fix them. This didn’t work so well last year, but it’s improved since then. It still falls a bit short of the excellent review system included with TaxAct.

The site displays entries for every problem it finds and explains the errors well. When you click the big “Fix It” button, you’re taken to the exact screen in question to make your corrections. It did have a little trouble with one deduction that was a part of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act: the Qualified Business Income (QBI) deduction. It kept telling me that I needed to confirm the related values, but we’d already done so—more than once. Eventually, the error cleared.

Help Improved

Anyone who has ever prepared his or her own taxes knows that questions always arise, and that getting quality help is absolutely critical. Credit Karma Tax hasn’t had the years (or even decades) to build up the support resources that its competitors have, so the guidance it offers is still pretty sparse in comparison. It does a fairly good job of letting you know what it’s looking for on every screen, but it doesn’t hyperlink complex terms the way TurboTax does, for example. Credit Karma Tax often doesn’t even fully explain the current question or concept.

The service does display a small circled “i” at the end of many lines—more often than it did last year. These links offer a brief explanation of the current topic, but many are quite sketchy and not particularly useful. For example, when you click on the question mark after Office Expenses, the help window reads, “Include on this line your expenses for office supplies and postage.” What’s the difference between that and Supplies? There’s no explanation. In addition, the site sometimes directs you to consult an IRS publication, which is a dismal failure for a tax software help system. Credit Karma Tax does generally rephrase tax law into simpler terms for most topics, but not in as much depth and breadth as competitors do.

You can also enter a search term to request more information about a topic, but you usually only get links to related data-entry screens, along with articles that at least come close to matching your query. H&R Block Deluxe , in particular, is much better at returning relevant, helpful answers to searches. If you’re really stumped, you can start a chat with a Credit Karma Tax support team member.

New this year are context-sensitive FAQs that slide out from the right side when you click the question mark in the lower-right corner (you access chat here, too). This works quite well and seems very focused on the screens where I tested it.

Identical Mobile Access

Last year, Credit Karma Tax only offered limited mobile access to its tax preparation and filing tools. This year, the site you experience on your mobile device—even a small smartphone like the iPhone SE—is the same as what you’ll see on your desktop browser (only smaller, of course). Note that Credit Karma does not offer a dedicated mobile tax app. Instead you can simply accessm the same site via your browser and it’ll be customized for your screen. I tested this for both iOS and Android, and found the functionality to be very good on both, and the experience to be very similar to what I saw via my desktop.

Credit Karma Tax is the only mobile site that is totally free for both federal and state preparation and filing. It uses responsive design for mobile access, which works well for the topics covered. The site looks good on a smartphone, and navigation works as it does on the website. The help features offered in the browser-based version are intact—even the chat assistance.

Last year, Credit Karma Tax’s mobile site limited you to only a handful of tax topics. If you had to go beyond those, you were forced to finish your return on the desktop computer. This year, you have no such limitations. You can prepare and file a return with the same forms and schedules supported in the desktop version.

While Credit Karma performs creditably on mobile devices, PCMag’s favorite way to file taxes from a phone or tablet this year is Intuit’s TurboTax Tax Return App, thanks to its top-notch interface and accessible, innovative help options.

Room to Grow

Credit Karma Tax claims to support major IRS forms and schedules, and indeed it does, at no charge for either federal or state preparation and filing. As mentioned above, though, it’s still missing some forms. Furthermore, some complex topics, like investment sales, do not receive the step-by-step data entry and guidance that sites like TurboTax offer. You’ll have to fill in a table.

A personal tax preparation website must have exceptional help resources if it hopes to serve taxpayers who need to wrestle with complicated topics like investment sales and self-employment. Credit Karma Tax provides the tools for dealing with such complexity, and has improved its support options greatly in some areas, but it’s still lacking compared with the competition. It’s a solid third effort from the company, and it might do the trick if you have a relatively simple return or you really know your way around a 1040. If either—or, better, both—of these conditions apply to you, by all means, give Credit Karma Tax a shot. It is free after all, and if there’s one thing everyone thinks about at tax time, it’s dollars and cents.

But everyone else—and especially anyone who moved, bought or sold property, started a business, got married, inherited money, and so on—is better off paying to go with our Editors’ Choice winner, H&R Block Deluxe.

While we’re on the subject of finances, you should give some thought to taking care of your money year-round. For your own money, you should read our roundup of the best personal finance software, and if you run a small business you can take a look at our collection of the best accounting software.

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