It's tax season. You have until April 17, 2018 to file your tax return. If you can't afford or don't want to hire an accountant to do the heavy lifting, you still don't have to do it all yourself. There are several different programs on the market that will make filing your taxes a breeze. This list breaks down the pros and cons of each one.

Best all around: TurboTax

TurboTax is probably the most widely recognized tax filing program. This is an application you download to your computer for offline use. It has five pricing levels from free for basic filers to self-employed. There is also the TurboTaxLive level for $170 which gives you a tax professional who will look over your return before filing. State taxes cost an additional $39 per filing.

TurboTax has been on the market for several years and is therefore the most robust. The user interface is clean and simple. To file, you answer a series of questions. It feels more like talking to a real human than a computer. While its pricing might be more heft than others on the market, you do get excellent service and support. As a veteran in this market, you certainly can't go wrong with TurboTax.

Best for additional support: H&R Block

H&R Block is TurboTax's most direct competition. The prices on this program are slightly lower, but you'll still get the same basic functionality. There are four pricing tiers here that cover basic filers for free and goes all the way up to include self-employment income. State tax filings cost an extra $37 per state. H&R Block is also a program that you download to your computer.

It's just as easy to use. You answer a series of questions regarding your finances and life situation. This process will maximize your deductions. Throughout the process, the app will also periodically check in with you and make sure you're feeling confident about what you're doing. Because H&R Block has many brick and mortar locations, you also have the option of walking into any of them for help during the process. This is a newer program but still just as solid. It's a perfect option if you like having the option to talk to someone in person if you need it.

Best for business: TaxAct

TaxAct is a much newer program, but still offers all the options that you'll get from the previous and more. It also offers options for not-for-profit corporations and even professional tax preparers. If you've used TaxAct in previous years, you can quickly and easily import your data too. That's a perk you'll probably get to cash in on next year.

The key difference here is that TaxAct is an online-only application. You don't need to download anything to your computer. And the browser-based interface lets you use it on almost any device, though you can download mobile apps if you prefer. The user interface for this program is a lot much simpler and stark compared to the others, but it gets the job done. You can even snap a picture of your W-2 and have the program take out the relevant information for you. TaxAct is a bare bones app that will get the job done. Its wide range of pricing tiers might even give you a better deal than its competitors.

Best on a budget: IRS Free File

Not many people know that you don't have to actually pay anyone to file your taxes. The IRS provides its own tax prep software for free. All you have to do is go to their website. However, you can only use it if you make under $66,000 in income. It's geared toward lower income Americans, but it will get the job done without incurring any extra cost. You can also file for free with your favorite commercial software if you prefer.

You also get access to free state tax returns. No need to pay extra to file those either. Another drawback is that it may not be as friendly to use as the commercial options. You'll need a little extra help if you're completely unfamiliar with the process. But if you qualify and just don't want to or have the extra money to buy software, IRS Free File is a good resource.

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The Federal Reserve sets the guardrails for the federal funds rate, and through that helps control the money supply for the nation.

When you take out a loan for a car, charge something to your credit card, or get a personal line of credit, there is going to be an interest rate that applies to your loan.

A lot of different factors go into what you will be charged, including your own personal credit score. But even those with flawless credit still see a minimum charge that they can't get around. That all goes back to the Federal Funds Rate.

One thing consumers rarely realize is that all of our banks are lending money to each other every night. Banks are legally required to maintain a certain percentage of their deposits in non-interest-bearing accounts at the Federal Reserve to ensure they have enough money to cover any withdrawals that may unexpectedly come up. However, deposits can fluctuate and it's very common for some banks to exceed the requirement on certain days while some fall short. In cases like this, banks actually lend each other money to ensure they meet the minimum balance. It's a bit hard to imagine these multibillion-dollar financial institutions needing to borrow money to tide them over for a bit, but it happens every single night at the Federal Reserve. It's also a nice deal for those with balances above the reserve balance requirement to earn a bit of money with cash that would normally just be sitting there.

The Federal Reserve The Federal Reserve


The exact interest rate the banks will charge each other is a matter of negotiation between them, but the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) (the arm of the Federal Reserve that sets monetary policy) meets eight times a year to set a target rate. They evaluate a multitude of economic indicators including unemployment, inflation, and consumer confidence to decide the best rate to keep the country in business. The weighted average of all interest rates across these interbank loans is the effective federal funds rate.

This rate has a huge impact on the economy overall as well as your personal finances. The federal funds rate is essentially the cheapest money available to a bank and that feeds into all of the other loans they make. Banks will add a slight upcharge to the rate set by the Fed to determine what is the lowest interest that they will announce for their most creditworthy customers, also known as the prime rate. If you have a variable interest rate loan (very common with credit cards and some student loans), it's likely that the interest rate you pay is a set percentage on top of that prime rate that your lender is paying. That's why in times of low interest rates (it was set at 0% during the Great Recession), a lot of borrowers should go for fixed interest rate loans that won't increase. However, if the federal funds rate was relatively high (it went up to 20% in the early 1980's), a variable interest rate loan may be a better decision as you would be charged less interest should the rate drop without the need to refinance.

The federal funds rate also has a major impact on your investment portfolio. The stock market reacts very strongly to any changes in interest rates from the Federal Reserve, as a lower rate makes it cheaper for companies to borrow and reinvest while a higher rate may restrict capital and slow short-term growth. If you have a significant portion of your investments in equities, a small change in the federal funds rate can have a large impact on your net worth.

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