Well, I did it — I completed and filed my tax return (almost) all by myself. This accomplishment marked a major departure from years prior where my father took all of the notes, stubs, and other various pieces of paperwork that seemed important and turned them into a coherent tax return that would be accepted by the IRS. However this year he suggested I give it a shot myself, while he’d still be there to look over the results before I sent them off.
Under this new arrangement, it was up to me to figure out which tax prep software I wanted to use. As a Quickbooks Self-Employed user, my first instinct was to head for TurboTax. Unfortunately, given my self-employed tax situation, their online option would set me back at least $120, not including the additional state filing fee. That’s when I recalled seeing several ads for Credit Karma Tax during my visits to the free credit monitoring site. Seeing as Credit Karma’s offering promised that it was 100% free, I figured it was worth giving it a shot. After all, if I ran into trouble, I could always pony up for another option — and if it did work, I’d be saving $150+.
So how did it go? That’s worth discussing in-depth. However, since I have no experience with other tax prep options or even taxes in general, I hesitate to call this a “review” of the product. Instead, here was my experience using Credit Karma Tax.
Getting Started with Credit Karma Tax
The first step in signing up for Credit Karma Tax was an easy one as I am already a Credit Karma user. Of course, if that’s not the case for you, you can always sign up for a free account and log in with your username and password. Just so you’re aware, in order to complete your return with Credit Karma Tax, you will be required to enter such sensitive data as your address, phone number, social security number, and more. Thus, if you don’t trust the company enough to share such data, you’ll want to look elsewhere.
Once you’re all signed up, one of the first tax questions you’ll encounter is whether you have a W-2 to enter. Additionally the site will ask you a few questions and help you determine what other tax forms you’ll need to fill out. I presume that, for most people, this will make filing fairly easy to understand — especially if you have a W-2 and aren’t itemizing deductions. But for others there are several other forms available as well. As a result, both newbies and experts will likely be able to use the service efficiently.
What I Liked About Credit Karma Tax
As silly as it might sound to say, one of my favorite aspects of using Credit Karma Tax was the aesthetic. I wouldn’t go so far as to suggest that the site’s design made doing my taxes fun per se, but if I’m being honest, it did seem to make the process less stressful. I also appreciated how each section was organized, making it easy to go back and double check certain aspects of my return.
Another check mark in the platform’s “pro” column is that it allowed me to find all of the forms I needed to maximize my refund. Beyond the basic 1099 and W2 entry options, I was able to itemize my business deductions, claim a home office deduction, and nab a saver’s credit for our retirement contributions. All of these would have added to my bill had I been using another service but, with Credit Karma Tax, I had no worries that I would suddenly hit a paywall.
Speaking of price, that’s clearly the big selling point of Credit Karma Tax. In fact, when I was telling my dad I was taking it for a spin, he was incredulous about it being free — he simply didn’t understand what the business model for such an offering was. I’ll admit I was confused too, with both of us somewhat bracing for a bill at the end. Alas, it never came. Moreover the only ads I recall encountering (which is how I always assumed the service was monetized) came at the very end after my filing was complete.
Finally, while Credit Karma Tax does allow you to e-file for free, it also offers you the ability to download your tax forms in PDF format. This is extremely helpful for a few reason. First, seeing all the data I entered into Credit Karma placed on the actual tax forms reassured me that this was legit. In my case it also made it a lot easier to have my dad review my return before I officially filed. Lastly, since you should always keep copies of your past returns just in case, having that PDF download made it simple to get that done.
Where Credit Karma Tax Could Improve
Although I enjoyed and very much appreciated my Credit Karma Tax experience overall, there are a few areas where things could improve. Among them, in the cases I did need to make changes to a certain section, I was a bit annoyed to find that I couldn’t really skip the exact question I needed and instead had to click through a series of pages to get there. Granted some forms did allow you to view everything at once, but this wasn’t the case across the board.
Another minor gripe I had was that it didn’t seem like the service was going to automatically offer me a saver’s credit form (Form 8880). Then again, since I looked it up on my own before trying to complete my filing, I can’t say for sure that it wouldn’t have come up. Plus, since I knew to look for the form, it was very easy to search for it and pull it up — even by using keywods and not the form number itself.
In terms of my personal experience, there were also a couple of times where I wished Credit Karma Tax offered a little more information about what I was supposed to do. Although the site does have little question marks next to certain prompts so that you can get more info, it seems many of these explanations were simply taken from the IRS site. While that type of authoritative information is good to have, it doesn’t do much in the way of making things clear to inexperienced people like me. There were also some cases where I needed to refer to older tax returns and, yes, call my father (just once!) to make sure I was doing everything correctly. I should note there is apparently a live chat option available on the site that others might want to try utilizing before resorting to parental support like I did.
Beyond what I encountered, I’ve also read that some states aren’t yet supported in Credit Karma Tax and that those who lived in more than one state during the year also don’t have a way to file on the platform. I’m sure there are a few other exceptions as well but, for the most part, it seemed to cover a wide range of filers — and all for free.
Final Thoughts on Credit Karma Tax
Despite a few moments of head scratching and frustration, Credit Karma Tax allowed me to file both my federal and state tax returns without paying a penny. To me that’s truly amazing and definitely commendable. Moreover, even though I did have to place that one call to my dad in the process, he found no errors on my finished return, which is also a testament to Credit Karma’s product.
Lastly something else I want to mention is that, in addition to allowing you to download your returns in PDF form, Credit Karma Tax also offers links to the IRS website where you can check the progress of your refund. If nothing else, this is just more confirmation that the service did indeed file for you and that you (hopefully) won’t be getting any threatening letters in the mail. Plus, if you need to, the platform does give you the ability to file an amended return.
Overall, I’m still amazed that Credit Karma Tax is free and I’m really glad I decided to try it out. With this being only the second year the service has been offered, hopefully it will continue to improve with time and give the other guys a real run for their money.
This article was first published on Dyer News.