I was a bit of a masochist this year. I actually did my federal taxes twice, trying to figure out if there is a cheaper alternative to using TurboTax. But TurboTax, in spite of costing more, ended up being the cheaper option by a long shot.
The whole United States tax system is a mess. That the average citizen can't pay their taxes without some kind of help just irks me. That so many people rely on that fact for their livelihood (tax accountants, software makers, etc.) and that it is easier for congress to throw something into the tax code than introduce real legislation convinces me that it is unlikely to change anytime soon.
General rant aside, I also get tired of paying \$60 for TurboTax every year, so I cancelled my automatic subscription, determined to try something else this time around. After reading some reviews, I decided to go with TaxACT Online, which looked to be reasonably good and quite a bit less expensive. The nice thing is that you can use the application for free until you're ready to actually file or print your return.
There were a few times that I felt unsure about what I was doing while doing my return -- I had some employee stock purchase program things last year to complicate matters. I eventually made it through, though, itemizing my deductions since I've got mortgage interest and lots of charitable donations. My remaining federal tax liability at the end was around \$500.
That felt wrong to me. I don't think I've ever owed federal taxes beyond what had already been withheld. State taxes, sure -- I frequently owe some there -- but owing federal taxes was enough to encourage me to take a run through TurboTax's estimator. That gave me hope that I might be able to get a more favorable result.
Doing taxes is far from fun, but it was definitely easier with TurboTax Online. I felt more like I was being guided along rather than being presented with a bunch of text to read and some form inputs to fill in. I was also able to import a lot of data electronically, which helped with both speed and accuracy. When I finished my federal return (for the second time), I came out with about a \$1500 refund.
Maybe I did something wrong with TaxACT. Maybe I did something wrong with TurboTax, but the refund was more in line with previous years. Certainly for my situation, TurboTax was clearly worth the price of admission.