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1.  What is the difference between a Turbo tax CD, Turbo tax On-Line, and Turbo tax Desktop??  I use the CD in the past, but maybe On-line version more convenient?  I don't know, please so advise! 

2.  Also, I need the Home and Business version, Federal and CA State filings, for 2018, 2019, 2020, and 2021.  Where can I purchase all 4 years to complete??   Thank you, Mel Kim, a long term T.T. user

[email address removed]   best

4 Replies



The Online web version is different than the Desktop CD/Download program you install.  The pricing structure is totally different.  


Online is only for the current year.  You pay to prepare the return whether you efile or print and mail.  Efiling is free and included in all versions.  And state is a separate additional charge in Deluxe and above.   Oh and Online is only good for 1 Account and 1 return.


In the Online versions you have to use a higher versions to enter certain types of income like investments and self employment.  Online you can’t see the actual forms like the Desktop program until you pay.


You can access an online return from any computer and device.  Your return is stored at Turbo Tax.  So be sure to download the pdf and .tax files to your computer when you are done or you may not be able to access it when you need a copy.  Or if you ever need to amend.


You can see the prices and start an Online return here, 




Desktop vs Online



Some advantages of the Desktop CD/Download program over the Online version,  https://ttlc.intuit.com/community/choosing-a-product/help/what-are-the-advantages-of-the-turbotax-cd...


Desktop you buy and install the program which can do unlimited returns.  The returns are only saved on your computer and can not be accessed from anywhere else.  And not saved at Turbo Tax.  So Be sure to save Frequently and make backups.  You get 5 federal efile for free.  In Deluxe and above you get 1 state PROGRAM download to prepare unlimited state returns (in that state).  Each state return including the first one is $20/25 to efile or you can print and mail the state for free.


Desktop also has many other features and advantages over the Online version.  You can do more than 1 return.  You can see and enter into the actual forms.  And you can use a lower version because all the Desktop versions have ALL the same forms.  You just get more help in the higher versions.  In online you have to upgrade to enter certain kinds of income.  Like Premier for investments.


You can buy the Desktop CD/Download program now here,




You can only buy the Desktop program.  You buy the last 3 years of Turbo Tax here.  And you can use any version.   All the Desktop programs have the same forms. You just get more help and guidance in the higher versions. 


You will need a full Windows or Mac to install it on.


You will have to print and mail in prior year returns.  And if you are doing more than 1 year, send each year in a separate envelope. Sometimes the IRS will just staple all the sheets together and miss a second return.  Be sure to attach copies of your W2s and any 1099s that have withholding on them.  Don't forget state.  You have to mail federal and state in separate envelopes because they go to different places.  Get a tracking number from the post office when you mail them for proof of filing.





To do a prior year return you have to buy the Desktop program here... 2018 is no longer supported so you can either get the forms and fill them in manually or see local tax professional assistance. 


You will need a full Windows or Mac to install it on.


The "desktop" version is purchasable as a boxed CD or a downloadable installer, and is installed on your own computer.

The online version runs off Turbotax's servers and can be accessed from any web browser as well as smart phone apps.

See below for more.

Turbotax online is a different product from Turbotax Desktop (which comes as a download or CD to install on your own computer).  They have different prices and different capabilities.  The key differences are:

  1. 1. Most Turbotax desktop products include one free state module.   With turbotax online, each state is $35 extra. (With turbotax desktop, e-filing a state return is an extra fee in most states, but it is still cheaper in the end than the online product.  Or, you can avoid the fee by mailing your state return.)
  2. Turbotax desktop allows direct access to all forms and worksheets. This is good for troubleshooting, error checking, and making manual adjustments in rare cases where they are needed.  Turbotax online hides the forms and worksheets, and only allows you see them after you pay.  The worksheets and forms are never directly editable.

  3. 3. Turbotax desktop version Deluxe and higher all include schedule C for self-employment, schedule D for investments and schedule E for rentals.  The higher priced versions have more help and support, but the forms are available in the lower priced versions if you know what to look for.  With turbotax online, you must upgrade to Premier or Self-Employed to get those forms.

  4. 4. With turbotax online, each tax return requires a separate user account and password and will charge the full price.  Turbotax desktop can prepare an unlimited number of tax returns, with e-filing allowed for up to 5, all for the same initial price for the CD or download.  (Each state e-file has a separate e-filing fee, but you can avoid that if you prefer to mail your state return.)  Each return is in a separate document like having different Word or Excel documents.  This allows to you prepare test returns for tax planning, or to prepare returns for family and friends (use of Turbotax by paid preparers is a violation of the license and of IRS regulations.)

  5. 5. Turbotax online can only be purchased directly from Turbotax. Discounts are not always available and the price goes up the closer you get to April 15.  Turbotax Desktop can be purchased as a download from several discount retailers (like Staples and Amazon) and the CD can be bought from many more (including Target, Walmart, Costco, Best Buy); and usually at a significant discount compared to the Turbotax direct price.  (But avoid web sites you've never heard of, they are probably selling pirated or infected copies.)

    I only recommend Turbotax Online for people who qualify for free filing. Otherwise, the desktop version is more cost-effective and has more capabilities.


Try to do the years in order starting with the oldest one.  Then you can transfer into the next year.  If you use the online version  for 2021 you can transfer from the 2020 Desktop program.   Post back if you need to do that when you start 2021.  You can use Online for 2021 until Oct 15.  Then it shuts down to get ready for the next year.


CD and Download are the same thing.   You are using your harddrive to store the program.  Either you buy the CD (but few have CD drives anymore) or download the software from the Turbo Tax or retailer's web site. 


"Online" is just what it means.  The software (and your data) remains on the TurboTax server.  As more people move to devices that do not have harddrives (i.e. their phones, etc.). Only 2021 tax return is available using the "online' version.  Prior years require the CD/ Download version,.


There are differences.  the CD / Download version allows you to prepare unlimited tax returns (think your family) for the price of the CD (some versions include one state in the pricing and some do not). 


The Online version is PER RETURN.  Each return is priced on its own based on the complexity of the return.  


I find that if you are doing multiple returns for family members and have a laptop or PC, the CD / Desktop version is much more economical. 


You can purchase past years (back to 2018) on the Turbo Tax website for download to your PC / laptop.  Do note that if you are trying to complete 2018 at this time, the window to collect a refund from the IRS ended on April 15, 2022; however, if you owe taxes from 2018, you still owe them - the liability never goes away.


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