When tax refunds roll in, many people take that money and pay down debt. The problem is that you must actually deal with tax forms and filing taxes before you can get that refund. Some people opt for an accountant or tax preparation service.

In this age of an app for everything, though, more and more Americans use free tax software or tax return apps for the process. Keep reading and we’ll cover some of the pros and cons of using free tax software for your next return.

Pro – Cost

One of the major selling points for free online tax filing software is right there in the name: free. Of course, free is relative. In most cases, it means free for filing your federal return with the IRS.

This kind of software often charges a small fee for state tax returns. They may also offer some kind of audit protection for a fee. Even with these fees, it’s often much cheaper than an accountant or tax prep service.

Pro – Ease of Use

Tax return software usually focuses on ease of use. For example, they generally won’t present you with the actual tax form. Instead, they’ll walk you through a series of questions about your income, home, and family. The software then processes all that information and inputs the info onto the form where it needs to go.

Pro – Speed

Another key benefit of using tax software is the comparative speed. Assuming you’re taxes are straightforward, you can often complete the whole process and file within an hour or two. Manually filling out the form can often take much longer than that.

You spend the better part of an hour just on driving to an accountant or tax prep service, depending on where you live.

Con – Not Ideal for Complex Returns

Tax prep software caters primarily to people with straightforward returns. Small businesses, freelancers, or the self-employed, often need more complex tax returns that include a schedule C or a depreciation schedule. While some free tax software can handle these, professional tax services are often a smarter and better choice.

Con – No Human Touch

Free tax software can’t provide the human touch. You can’t ask it questions related to future returns. You definitely can’t get any personalized tax planning advice from it.

This is one area where an accountant can prove invaluable. An accountant can look at your current finances and offer informed opinions.

Free Tax Software and You

Free tax software has a place in the tax filing landscape. It’s often an ideal solution for people with modest incomes who file straightforward tax returns.

It’s cost-effective, offers ease of use, and usually proves fast for more people. It’s not ideal for every tax filer, though.

Small businesses, the self-employed, and freelancers often need more complicated returns best handled by a tax pro or tax prep services. The software also cannot offer you advice based on your finances.

Looking for more finance tips? Check out the posts over in our Business section.