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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What do you do when financial hardship hits and you can't make your monthly mortgage payments? This is a question on many homeowner's minds as nearly 17.8 million Americans are reportedly unemployed during the coronavirus pandemic.

When homeowners face financial hardship, such as the loss of a job, they often look to obtain a forbearance agreement from their lender. A forbearance happens when your lender grants you a temporary pause or reduction in monthly payments on your mortgage. Forbearance is not the same as payment forgiveness, in that you still have to pay the entire amount back by an agreed-upon time.

Mortgage lending institutions differ on their mortgage relief policies and qualifications; however, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act were signed into law in late March of this year to protect government-backed mortgages.

Federally backed mortgages include:

  • Fannie Mae
  • Freddie Mac
  • The Federal Housing Administration (FHA)
  • The US Department of Veteran Affairs (VA)
  • The US Department of Agriculture (USDA)

Under the CARES Act, homeowners with a federally backed loan who either directly or indirectly suffer financial hardship due to coronavirus automatically qualify for mortgage forbearance.

Even if your mortgage is not secured by one of these agencies, you still can call and see if you qualify, as many lenders will still offer the option in order to avoid foreclosures.

Under the CARES act, homeowners can claim mortgage forbearance due to financial hardship from COVID-19 for up to 12 months without requiring any documentation or verification. During the forbearance period, mortgage lenders cannot charge late fees or penalties.

Additionally, as long as your mortgage is current at the time you claim forbearance, the lender is required to keep reporting your mortgage as paid current throughout the entire period.

At the end of the forbearance, the CARES act protects consumers from having to make a lump sum payment. Instead, you will be given a repayment plan from your provider. Since repayment options vary, it's important you ask your provider about all of your repayment options.

Possible Repayment Options:

You may be eligible for a loan modification at the end of your forbearance. With modification, the mortgage terms are changed in order to add payments that were missed during the forbearance onto the end of the loan, extending the term.

Another option that may work for some is a reduced payment option. This allows you to keep paying monthly payments at a reduced amount. The amount missed is usually added back into the monthly payments at the end of the forbearance.

For example:

Regular payment: $1000 per month

Reduced payment: $500 per month

Payment after forbearance period: $1500 (until caught up)

Balloon payments, or lump sum payments at the end of the forbearance, are prohibited under the CARES Act. However, mortgage lenders may require homeowners who are not protected under the CARES Act to make a balloon payment at the end, so again it is best to check first with your provider.

Mortgage forbearance should only be considered in true financial hardship. In other words, just because of the pandemic, you should not take a forbearance on your mortgage if you can still afford your payments. Likewise, if you are able to start making payments before the forbearance period is up, it's best to do so as soon as possible.

The Next Steps:

Before you get in touch with your mortgage servicer, save time by gathering as much documentation about the mortgage as you can. Also, be ready to list your income and monthly expenses. Due to an influx in calls, financial institutions are experiencing extremely long wait times right now, and having your information at the ready will help.

Have questions ready to ask. Here are some questions you should be asking:

  • What fees are associated with the forbearance?
  • What are all the repayment options available to you at the end of the forbearance?
  • Will you be charged interest during the forbearance period?

If your forbearance is approved, make sure to keep all documentation pertaining to it. Make sure to cancel any automatic payments to the mortgage during the forbearance period, and keep tabs on your credit report to make sure your lender doesn't report the loan as unpaid.


For more information on forbearance, contact your lender and discuss your options. If you need more assistance with understanding your options, you can contact a local agent for the housing counseling agency, or call their hotline at 1-800-569-4287.