With tax season now in full swing, your Android smartphone or tablet can serve as a really helpful assistant for getting answers to your tax questions, finding out quickly whether a refund is due, or even filing your tax return. Here are nine Android apps which can ease the tax prep process in various ways.
Quite admittedly, some of these apps do have limitations. At this point, prepping your taxes on a mobile device -- particularly a smartphone -- isn't necessarily as easy and breezy as performing these processes on a PC. Drawbacks of specific apps are noted below. On the other hand, the obvious advantage of mobile apps is that you can work on your taxes from anywhere.
I tested the apps below on Android devices. (If you're an iOS user, you'll find many of these same apps in Apple's App Store, along with others, some of which are designed for the iPad only.)
TurboTax SnapTax, by Intuit Inc.
The main gimmick of SnapTax is present right there in its name. Instead of copying all the information from your W2 form by hand, SnapTax asks you to take a picture of it with the camera on your device. It then converts the photo into usable information.
The photo recognition is definitely not fantastic, but the results are better than you might expect, and even with the careful proofreading that you should do, you can still save time over entering everything manually.
Once you've entered the data, you follow a guided process to fill out other details. You can file your taxes straight from your device, although Intuit charges a $25 e-filing fee for returns submitted in this way.
Intuit's TurboTax desktop app has a reputation for user friendliness, and the user friendliness definitely carries over to SnapTax.
The lack of complexity can be a double-edged sword, though. SnapTax is fairly basic in what it supports. It's designed for people whose tax situations are simple. The app supports W2s, as well as 1099s for interest income and unemployment benefits, but not things like charitable donations, mortgage interest, and IRA contributions.
TurboTax hs stopped producing an earlier app called TurboTax for Android Tablet. However, SnapTax runs on Android tablets, in addition to Android phones. You can also file taxes from an Android tablet using TurboTax Online; system requirements for this approach include a Chromium browser; 512 MB RAM; and 1024-by-768 screen resolution or higher.
H&R Block At Home 1040EZ, by H&R Block Digital Tax
Like SnapTax, H&R Block At Home 1040EZ is a full filing suite which offers the option of taking a photo of your W2 to import it. However, H&R's app also lets you download your W2 from the internet, an equally fast and even safer way to import your data.
Unfortunately, though, the Android app runs on phones only, forcing you to do your taxes on a rather small and maybe less comfortable screen.
H&R Block's Android app is fairly unstable, too. More than 40% of its Google Play reviews are one-star, and there are complaints up there about the app refusing to run.
Also, this app's filing abilities are a lot more limited than SnapTax's are. It only supports taxpayers who are single or married filing jointly with no dependents and who rent or lease their homes, leaving a lot of people out.
But it does support a couple of types of 1099s that SnapTax doesn't (dividends and education credits), and if the app does work for you, you can file straight from your device for free, without the $25 fee that Intuit charges.
Like Intuit, H&R Block and 2nd Story Software (see below) are also major producers of PC tax prep software.
TaxACT Central, by 2nd Story Software
TaxACT Central is a companion piece for 2nd Story Software's PC tax software. As such, it's of less use than the competing packages by Intuit and H&R Block for use on a smartphone.
Starting this year, TaxACT does offer mobile editions of TaxACT Free Federal Edition, software that lets you file your taxes on your device. These apps even include all e-fileable returns, supporting both simple and complex tax situations. Yet the Android version of Free Federal Edition is for Android tablets only.
TaxACT Central also incorporates some tips, some links to get the TaxACT desktop software, and a feature for checking your e-filing status right from the app.
Still, while TaxACT Central is a nice assistant, it's definitely not in the major league of tax apps, nor does it really do much that you can't already do either through your phone's web browser, or via the IRS's own Android app featured below.
IRS2Go, by IRS
Yes, you read that right.
The IRS officially has an Android app.
Of course, this isn't used for actually filing your taxes, which you have to do elsewhere.
The app does offer information on how to contact the IRS, along with email lists for tax tips and other miscellany.
Moreover, the main purpose of IRS2Go is to let you check on your tax refund status.
There have been some complaints on Google Play about the app telling people they have incorrect log-in information.
Once you get it running on Android, though, it's an extremely simple and straightforward way to go about finding your return's status.
TaxMode is a much skinnier app than most of the others here: it's exactly what the name implies, a calculator for your taxes.
Punch in a few figures like your income for the year, withholdings, deductions, etc., and within seconds it can give you a pretty close idea of what your tax bill or refund will be.
Give it all of your details, and it can spit out your tax numbers exactly.
Some input options are limited to the Pro version, priced at $2.99, but the free version still gives you a fairly accurate accounting.
The catch, though, is that while the can do the calculations for you, that's all it does: you can't file online with TaxMode.
The app will calculate the right values to fill out your 1040 or other standard tax forms.
But it's mostly only useful if you're going to file by mail, which seems a little old-fashioned compared to the other available options.
BNA Quick Tax Reference, by Bloomberg BNA
Another example of being exactly what it says on the label, this app is a reference guide for doing your taxes.
Instead of trying to guide you through step by step, it takes an open book approach.
Do you need to know the exact tax rate on gifts above $5,000? Or the contribution limit for IRAs?
Or the corporate tax on $30,000 of income?
It's all right there, in a convenient and easy set of references.
You'll still require another app for actually filing your taxes, but if you just need to look something up about tax rates, or use the simple built in calculations to tell you the amount of tax on a given figure, it's a very handy helper app.
Handy Scanner PDF Creator, by Halfmobile
Even if you have a more complicated tax return that you can't do straight from your device, there are still apps out there that can help you make it simpler and faster.
Handy Scanner is one of them, designed to help you track expenses, document reciepts and contributions, and otherwise track all those complicated little things which might turn into big deductions come tax time.
It uses the camera on your device to "scan" documents or receipts, automatically filtering the image and cropping it to the page in order to produce a "scanned" copy which can be exported as a PDF file or JPEG images.
In practice, it's pretty easy to use, just snapping photos and describing the resulting documents. It even automatically syncs to Dropbox for you, and by uploading to Google Docs, you can convert documents to editable text (or try to, as how well it works will vary a lot with the quality of the image.) Still, just being able to try counts for a lot.
While Handy Scanner does offer a free version, it's very limited. With the free version, you can only scan 20 documents, of up to five pages each, and you can only use the low or medium quality settings.
The free version is ad-supported, and it also leaves watermarks on the PDF files it creates.
In short, you should definitely think of the free version as being more of a demo than a fully usable app. Any kind of serious usage will demand that you purchase the Pro version.
Mileage Log, by Infinity Software Solutions LLC
While it's too late to use this app in preparing your year 2012 taxes, you can start using it now to get ready for future tax returns.
Keeping track of your car's mileage might not be something you'd immediately consider when thinking about your taxes, but you should.
Miles traveled for business, moving, medical needs, and even charity can be used as writeoffs on your taxes.
That time that you had to drive 100 miles for some bit of business? That's worth a $55 deduction at 2012 rates.
Traveling 800 miles to move to a new city? An $184 deduction for you.
For frequent business travelers especially, keeping track of milege can make a big difference.
Mint.com is from the same company that makes TurboTax and SnapTax, and it integrates with TurboTax when it's time to do your returns. But its main function is keeping track of your money -- all of it, at all times.
Mint's flexibility and depth make it a gem both for day-to-day management and for tracking deductable expenses and charitable contributions that are all important come tax time.
Mint is designed to interface directly with your bank's online system, so that you get a live tally of your accounts any time you check.
It will also log your bills, let you know when they're going to come due, and allow you to see breakdowns of your budget. For example, it tells you how much money you have coming in for the month, how much has gone out, and your main areas of spending. It tracks individual transactions, too.
Mint supports both smartphones and tablets. It will also sync with the company's website so that your data is available across all your devices and online, making it a snap to manage everything universally.
You can even sync it across multiple devices, enabling both you and your spouse to stay on top of things, for instance.
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