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9 smartphone apps to help with taxes

By Jodi Helmer and Michelle Crouch

Paying Uncle Sam may be a little easier this year, thanks to a flood of new and improved tax apps for your smartphone.

9 smartphone apps to help with taxes

You can estimate your taxes, track charitable donations, check the status of your refund, find the answer to a tax question and, yes, even file a simple tax return from your smartphone. For the second year, both H&R Block and TurboTax have apps that allow taxpayers to file a 1040EZ from their device.

"More and more people are getting comfortable banking or making other financial transaction using apps," says Chris Jackman, product manager for H&R Block. "It makes sense to give [taxpayers] the ability to use an app to file their returns, too."

More than 60 percent of U.S. mobile subscribers own smartphones -- up 10 percent over 2012, according to a 2013 Nielson report.  In addition, 48 percent of consumers used their phone for mobile banking, according to a 2013 report by the U.S. Federal Reserve. 

H&R Block and TurboTax are targeting these tech-savvy smartphone users with apps that allow them to use their mobile network to file their taxes.

I filed my 2013 taxes:

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In 2012, Samson Adepoju, a public relations manager in New York City, said he used TurboTax's SnapTax to take photos of his W-2 and other tax forms, and then transferred the information to the firm's online software, which he used to finish his return. "Instead of typing everything in manually, I took a few pictures," he said. "It definitely saved me time."

Here are a few tax time tasks you can do with your smartphone, and a sampling of apps that can help:

1. File your taxes
The apps from TurboTax and H&R Block are free to download (you may pay an e-filing fee), but they're not for everyone. If your income is more than $100,000, you own a home or you plan to take advantage of credits and deductions for items such as tuition payments and charitable donations, you'll need to find another way to file.

TurboTax's app is slightly more sophisticated, and it allows you to file if you have dependents, while H&R Block's doesn't. But H&R Block's filing fee is lower.

The coolest part? Both apps ask you to snap a photo of your W-2 and then use it to auto-fill much of the information on your tax form. The tool can be a little finicky, though, so make sure you double-check the details it enters. Then answer a few questions, pay the filing fee if necessary, push a button and -- voila! -- you've filed your taxes.

TurboTax SnapTax TurboTax SnapTax
Cost:
It's free to e-file a federal 1040EZ and $14.99 to e-file state taxes
Platform:
iPhone, Android. New this year: Users can also complete their returns in Spanish.
Details:
Promises to get your taxes done in 10 minutes. It's suitable for taxpayers who have W-2, interest or unemployment income, do not own a home and earned less than  $100,000 ($120,000 for married filers). Even if you don't qualify to file taxes with the app, you can still use it to take pictures of your W-2 and 1099-INT forms and transfer the information to TurboTax's online software, saving you from typing it in. 


H&R Block 1040EZ H&R Block 1040EZ

Cost:
$9.99 to file federal and state taxes beginning Feb. 16
Platform:
iPhone, Android.
Details: Asks you a few qualifying questions and then walks you through the process. The app pulls information from the photo of your W-2 into your return. If you don't qualify to use the app, you'll be directed to the firm's website, where you can find an H&R Block office and make an appointment or use the online software. All returns filed with the 1040EZ app are backed by the worry-free audit guarantee.

2. Estimate your taxes or refund
If you're wondering how big your refund will be or how much you'll owe this year, apps from TurboTax, H&R Block and Jackson Hewitt can give you a ballpark estimate. Before you start, make sure you know the amount of tax withheld from your pay, which you can find on your pay stub.

TaxCaster by TurboTax TaxCaster by TurboTax
Cost:
Free
Platform:
iPhone, Android
Details:
Reviewers have found this app's estimates to be pretty accurate, and it's also among the easiest to use. Another nice feature: If you use TurboTax to do your taxes, it tells you which version you need.  

3. Track your refund
After asking a few basic questions, different apps can keep you posted on the status of your tax return and predict when you can have that cash in hand.

IRS2Go IRS2Go
Cost: Free
Platform:
iPhone, Android
Details:
The official app of the Internal Revenue Service. You'll need your Social Security number, ZIP code, filing status and the anticipated amount of your refund. The newest version includes a status tracker to monitor where your return is in the process; for e-filed returns, you can check your status within 24 hours of filing (it takes up to four weeks to check the status of a paper return). You can also use the app to have your tax return transcript mailed to you, or to get tax tips and the latest IRS news.  

MyTaxRefund MyTaxRefund
by TurboTax
Cost:
Free
Platform:
iPhone, Android
Details: Another app from TurboTax. You can use it even if you didn't use their software to file your taxes. Connect it to your online Intuit Mint account to be alerted when your refund check is deposited at your bank.

4. Find an answer
Get instant answers to thousands of tax-related questions organized by category.

AskaCPA AskaCPA
Cost: Free
Platform:
iPhone, Android
Details:
If you don't see your question in the archives, you can submit it and a local CPA is supposed to answer it for free. Unfortunately, there's no guarantee of a response. (We didn't get immediate responses to two questions we submitted.) Still, the information in the archive alone is so thorough it's worth the free download.

5. Track your expenses

I filed my 2013 taxes:

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The IRS requires you to keep business receipts for at least three years, but that can add up to a lot of paper -- not to mention a mess to dig through at tax time. Instead, try an app that lets you use your smartphone's camera to take photos of receipts and create an organized digital record.

Shoeboxed Shoeboxed
Cost:
Free for up to five receipts a month; pricing plans starting at $9.95 for 50 receipts a month.
Platform:
iPhone, Android
Details:
Snap a picture of your receipt and Shoeboxed creates a file with the date, total, payment type, store and category. You can export the data from your smartphone directly to Excel, QuickBooks and other programs.

Expensify Expensify
Cost:
Free for up to 10 receipts per month; then 20 cents each
Platform:
iPhone, Android, Windows Phone and Blackberry
Details:
In addition to scanning and digitally storing your receipts, this app also lets you track miles and hours worked. You can then email yourself or a tax professional a report of your expenses right from your phone or upload everything to QuickBooks.

6. Track and value charitable donations
Having a tough time remembering everything that was in that bag you left at Goodwill and estimating what each item might be worth? Use an app to keep a running tab.

iDonatedit iDonatedit
Cost:
$2.99
Platform:
iPhone, Android
Details: This app tracks the noncash items you give to charity, with the option to attach a photo of each item. Once you give your item a category and a grade (good, better, best), the app offers a suggested value, which can be helpful since most of us don't know how much a 3-year-old pair of pants is worth. You can also record cash donations. Then you can email your donation reports to yourself or straight to your accountant.

USING TAX APPS: 5 TIPS

Winn Schwartau, chairman of Mobile Active Defense, a smartphone security company in Atlanta, shares the following tips on protecting your information and reducing errors when using tax apps:

  1. Buy or download apps from a reputable store. Imposters may try to spoof a brand name such as TurboTax or H&R Block to mislead you into downloading an app that will steal your data.
  2. Password protect your smartphone, and never store financial information or login details on your device.
  3. Don't enter personal information or access your tax app when your phone is connected to a public Wi-Fi hot spot, where it's easy for your smartphone to be hacked. Connect to your carrier's network instead.
  4. Double- and triple-check all information before you file, since it's easy to make fat-finger mistakes when you're using a touchscreen. Camera tools that pull information from a photo can also introduce errors.
  5. If you lose your phone, ask your carrier to do a remote wipe or an erase. (Use a cloud backup service so you won't lose everything.) 

See related: Pros and cons of paying taxes with a credit card

Updated: April 7, 2014


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