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H&R Block At Home

_ Basic level starts at $19.95.

_ Online and desktop versions available.

_ Apps available for iPad, iPhone and Android phone.

_ Live help available via phone.

Still the nation’s largest tax preparer, H&R Block Inc. made some gains on TurboTax last year with its online offerings. Its new software is easier to use than in the past, with simple guidelines and questions to help taxpayers navigate their returns.

Block’s presentation is more businesslike, with fewer graphics and icons. Like its rival, it has numerous spots where you can choose to go it alone or rely on built-in guidance to ask questions about various deductions and credits.

The company this year also is introducing “Block Live,” online prep done by one of its tax professionals using video chat. A simple federal form is free, and a standard 1040 starts at $99. State forms start at an additional $39.

A hybrid version called “Best of Both” allows you to complete your returns on your own time, then submit it to Block for a professional review. That extra level of service costs $79.95.

Returning customers may have their personal information loaded from past returns. The software is capable of extracting information from other software, if it is stored on your computer.

Like TurboTax, Block has a prepaid card for customers who don’t have bank accounts and want to receive their refunds via direct deposit. Through Feb. 4, the company will allow its Emerald Card users to deduct the cost of their federal tax prep from their refunds at no charge.

Emerald Cards do not carry a monthly usage fee, but charge $2.50 for each ATM withdrawal and $1 for balance inquiries or denied withdrawals.

TaxAct

_ Wide variety of free forms; basic level starts at $9.95.

_ Online and desktop versions available.

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