The best tax software can allow you to manage your tax returns without the need for an accountant. This is especially if you are self-employed and want to keep on top of everything.
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Working for yourself as a contractor can be a challenge enough at the best of times, especially keeping on top of your day-to-day admin tasks, but tax software can at least ensure that you're paying the right level of tax.
This means you also need to keep on top of your accounts, so having good billing and invoicing software (opens in new tab) or even a complete accounting software (opens in new tab) package can be a real help here.
Luckily, there are a number of software packages available specifically developed to ensure that you don't just file your taxes with HMRC but also ensure you cover your allowances and other tax deductions that will ensure you don't end up over-paying your tax.
Be sure to check that the accounting package you’re interested in using is fully compatible with HMRC’s Making Tax Digital vision.
Increasingly, small business owners, freelancers, sole traders and, in fact, anyone who needs to file a UK tax return will be affected by Making Tax Digital. This is particularly relevant if you have to submit VAT returns.
Here we'll look at the best in accounting and tax software, both personal and business, currently on the market in the UK.
- We’ve also rounded up the best payroll software
Sage Business Cloud Accounting (opens in new tab) is just one part of a larger portfolio of products from Sage, which is a very well known name in the UK. As you’d expect, it’s therefore up to speed when it comes to HMRC’s Making Tax Digital campaign, while offering something for business of all sizes.
Sage often has deals available on its packages, so prices change quite often. However, there’s currently a Start accounting package, which offers entry-level accounting and is aimed at sole traders. Next up is a Standard accounting package, which is aimed firmly at small businesses. Sage also has a Plus package, which offers more advanced features for small business needs.
All of these editions allow you to add on Payroll functionality for an additional monthly fee on top of your subscription cost for the package itself. The accounting tools also allow you to build up a dynamic picture of your business prior to filing your tax return each year.
You can submit VAT returns to HMRC with all of the packages, while other key features include being able to connect to your bank accounts, send and track invoices along with being able to share your accounting data with your accountant. There’s a good degree of support too including online, email and phone. The cloud-based software works across all platforms too.(opens in new tab)
QuickBooks (opens in new tab) doesn't just cover one tax solution because it’s actually a brand name that is applied to a variety of digital compliant software options from Intuit. Therefore, one of several QuickBooks packages might fit the bill for tackling your tax affairs, because each of the different models has been tailored to suit various kinds of user.
Crucially, QuickBooks gets updated regularly, with several new features added recently, such as a built-in income tax estimator and a new month-end tool for professional accountants.
The good thing about all of your options is that QuickBooks has been designed to keep things as simple as possible, while also ensuring that you’ll be well equipped for dealing with the government's Making Tax Digital plans for the future.
Staying on top of your accounts and ensuring you’re ready to handle any subsequent dealings with the tax man means QuickBooks is a solid choice for handling everything from self-assessment through to tracking, calculating and submitting VAT returns.
You can choose from Simple Start, Essential, Plus packages or a dedicated Self-Employed option. In addition, QuickBooks often runs promotions, which could see discounts over your monthly payments for using your chosen service.
All plans include free award-winning UK phone support, no contract, mobile apps for iOS and Android, plus free and easy data migration. QuickBooks is HMRC recognised and can be integrated with over 700 add-ons.
QuickBooks also has the capacity to help you with payroll, with a selection of add-ons designed to ease that side of your business activities. Those continuing updates also mean that you can be sure you're using a software package that functions in harmony with the latest developments surrounding tax legislation and so on.(opens in new tab)
Xero (opens in new tab) is cloud-accounting software that lets you cover many different bases within one package. It allows you to carry out invoicing, inventory control, payroll and even expense claims as well as covering all of your bookkeeping and accountancy tasks.
Usefully, Xero is also fully compliant with HMRC’s Making Tax Digital strategy, which is especially practical if you’re in the position of having to file VAT returns.
There are three different packages. The cheapest package has the most limitations so, for example, you can only send 5 invoices and quotes. The costlier editions don't have these constraints.
At the other end of the spectrum, the Premium edition can handle multiple currencies. However, all versions allow you to submit VAT to HMRC for Making Tax Digital. Xero can connect to your bank accounts too, which provides an invaluable way of keeping your accounting overview dynamically up to date ready for tax filing time.
The cloud-based software is intuitive, user-friendly and works via any desktop web browser and on any platform too. Xero also boasts a very good iOS and Android app edition, making it a solid all-round tax software solution.(opens in new tab)
FreshBooks (opens in new tab) is a cloud-accounting solution that’s fully Making Tax Digital compliant and is aimed at small business owners of all sizes. FreshBooks comes in four different packages, starting with Lite, which is aimed at self-employed professionals.
The Plus package is targeted at growing small businesses and a Premium edition is aimed more at ventures that have growing numbers of staff. FreshBooks also has a Custom Pricing option for businesses that need to scale up their accounting and taxation requirements.
However, even the basic Lite package features a sizable list of functions, such as integration with bank accounts, practical tax time reporting and all of the tools needed to meet Making Tax Digital for VAT requirements. Move up through the packages and each one delivers more functionality as your business needs it.
FreshBooks comes with a comprehensive suite of support options, and while it can be used online on any platform via a web browser the mobile app editions for iOS and Android are also very easy to use.(opens in new tab)
Zoho Books (opens in new tab) forms just one small part of a much greater business concern based in India that offers all manner of solutions for anyone and everyone. With its clean and simple cloud-based interface the latest incarnation of Zoho Books makes a great cost-effective option if you’re a freelancer, sole trader or someone running a small business.
The benefit with Zoho Books is that it’s also quite scalable, so therefore offers beefier versions for those with larger business concerns, or anyone intent on expanding their operations. While the desktop route is a solid one Zoho Books also has an impressive app presence, making it a good mobile bet too.
Zoho Books has, it explains, a pricing plan for everyone and the service has actually become a little cheaper than it used to be for each of the current packages. There’s also a free 14-day trial available. Choose from Basic, Standard and Professional options, or give it a test run for nothing.(opens in new tab)
Freeagent (opens in new tab) is a fully featured accounting suite that covers tax records as well, and is a powerful, comprehensive option that suits small to medium businesses or individuals with a lot of records to keep. You can either opt to manage everything yourself or grant your accountant access to Freeagent as well, with the software able to make life easier for both of you along the way.
It's certainly one of the most modern tools here, with a slick and stylish interface on the web and mobile, and a pile of useful features: automatic bank feeds, project time tracking, support for invoices and payroll, and so on.
For tax management specifically, Freeagent keeps records of everything as you go, so you know exactly what you owe and why at the end of the year. You can submit your returns directly to HMRC through Freeagent with just a few clicks of the mouse, with tax forecasting and real-time updates included too.(opens in new tab)
Unlike Sage or Freeagent, GoSimpleTax (opens in new tab) isn't a complete accounting solution for freelancers and businesses – it focuses specifically on getting your taxes in order, and it does a very good job of this. Depending on your setup though, you'll have to do more work or get extra software to handle all the other components like invoicing and payroll.
The software takes you step-by-step through the process of filing your taxes, making sure you're using the right terms and preparing the right forms, and looking out for any errors that might be creeping in (which could really cost you). You'll also get suggestions on where you could make some savings, which is always welcome.
Everything slots in neatly with the online HMRC interface, so you don't have to waste time jumping from one app to another. As well as the web interface, you've got mobile apps you can use to input figures and get a handle on how your tax burden is looking (the mobile apps can even scan in receipts).
What we like most about the software though is that you don't really need any expertise to complete a self-assessment of your tax responsibilities. As much as possible, the interface is written in jargon-free language, with clear indicators for where you need to input figures and how they get processed.(opens in new tab)
TaxCalc (opens in new tab) is on a mission to make filing your taxes as simple as possible, and we'd say it's doing a pretty impressive job of it: the software is packed with useful features for getting your documentation in order, and the system is officially recognised by HMRC, so all submissions should go smoothly.
Whether you're an individual, a limited company or an accountancy firm, TaxCalc has a software solution tailored specifically for you, and it can even plug straight into bigger accounting packages such as Xero. In some cases you can get your documentation in order in as little as 30 minutes, TaxCalc claims.
The intuitive, step-by-step web interface guides you through the process of filing your taxes from start to finish – from picking the right form, through entering all the details about how much you've earned, to submitting the form and making sure there are no errors. The tax you owe is calculated in the background as you go.
This isn't the most comprehensive or the most well-designed tax software we've ever come across, but it is friendly, functional and accessible, and comes with all the tools you're going to need to hit that tax deadline.(opens in new tab)
No one wants to spend an age getting their tax affairs in order, and few products take you through the process of filing returns as quickly and as simply as Nomisma (opens in new tab) does. It also gives you a variety of basic bookkeeping tools, so if you're looking for something that does more than just taxes, Nomisma might be it.
On the business management side, the software lets you track invoices and orders, keep on top of bills and contracts, and produce a variety of reports on the state of your financial affairs (including VAT comparisons where needed). Not only can it save you time, it can save you money by letting you know where everything is at any given point.
In the tax filing and self-assessment components, you'll find the software is fully HMRC compliant and registered with the government, so you can submit your documents without leaving Nomisma. A lot of the data you're going to need can be auto-populated from the bookkeeping module, but you can buy the tax module separately if needed.
Throughout, Nomisma gives you a clean and modern-looking interface to work with on the web, and if you've got a mobile phone there's an app available for keeping tabs on expenses while on the go. It can also help your accountant calculate the figures at the end of the year, if you've got one.(opens in new tab)
As we said at the outset, tax software packages come in all shapes and sizes, from very basic tools to get you over the line right at the end of the process, to fully fledged accounting suites that include everything you need to run a small business. If you just want some straightforward help as tax deadline day approaches, give ABC Self-Assessment (opens in new tab) a try.
Whether you're submitting your self-assessment as an individual or a partnership, or you have some other complication to contend with – you're non-resident in the UK maybe – ABC Self-Assessment will point you towards the right form.
While ABC Self-Assessment presents an interface that's not much different to the one you'll get if you log into the HMRC website and do your self-assessment there, it does streamline the process so you only see the questions and fields that are relevant to your circumstances. It's perfect if you don't want to spend much money but find the HMRC site a little overwhelming.
What you don't get are any accountancy or bookkeeping features, so the onus is on you to have kept decent records up until this point. You might find that ABC Self-Assessment works well with your existing financial software (or just your existing Excel spreadsheet).(opens in new tab)
Crunch (opens in new tab) is an interesting proposition, especially for the likes of freelancers, contractors, those who are self-employed and small business owners.
Crunch offers a free tier that allows you to try out the software with a small range of features. After that, there are three paid tiers: one specifically for self-employed traders, and two different ones for limited companies depending on the number of features required.
The Sole Trader package provides simple online accounting software, support, HMRC registration, as well as a Self Assessment submission tool.
The first limited company tier also offers online accounting software and support, as well as year end accounts, VAT and Corporation Tax filing. The final tier adds Self Assessment, an annual health check, as well as IR35 solutions.
Which tax package should I choose?
The range of best tax software covers all bases, so it’s more than likely there’ll be a package to suit your needs. Of course, we’ve all got different financial affairs to take care of, so it’s well worth picking through the different tax software packages we’ve got listed below.
Using a cloud-based tax software package has become hugely popular as all of your data is stored online. In many cases you can dip in and out of your tax filing, which can be handy if you need to go away and get more information. Tax software basically emulates HMRC forms and procedures, so that you can easily navigate tax form filling with built-in help and guidance along the way. Some tax software programs offer mobile editions, so you can even work on the go.
How do I choose tax software?
A few factors are worth considering before you pick one to take on your tax matters. If you’re one of the many taxpayers who take the standard deduction and have a relatively straightforward return to file then one of the cloud-based solutions in this guide will certainly help you to get the job done.
Those with challenging tax returns to file will need a little more software muscle, so a cloud-based package armed with more premium features might fit the bill. Again, there are rivals that largely offer the same features and functions, as you’ll see in the overview of each product above.
Finally, what sort of budget do you have for your tax software? There are free tax software packages, while others charge you based on the amount of features and functions you’re going to use. Meanwhile, tax software at the top of the pile lets you do everything and anything related to tax affairs, but you’ll probably pay more. Spend a bit more and you might even benefit from being able to combine cloud-based form filling with real-time tax advice from advisors.
- Take a look at the best accounting software (opens in new tab)