Software Review: It's Never Too Late To File Your Taxes
Filing your federal and state income tax has come a long way in the past few years, what
with the advent of the Internet and World Wide Web. Now you can file your taxes over your
modem - it's called E-Filing, and for women who own their business, this can be a godsend. As
April 15th draws near, and passes, many people rush to file their taxes last-minute - or file
extension deadlines, and there's no better, or quicker way, than E-Filing.
Below is a comparison review of four of the most popular tax software programs available: ExelTax Personal, TurboTax Deluxe, TaxCut Deluxe and TaxACT. I've given them each
a short review, then a side-by-side comparison so you can choose which
program fits your needs, whether you file a 1040-EZ, 1040-Long for your small businesses or if
you itemize your deductions. I used myself as an example ((self-employed as a writer), which
means I file a 1040-Long, Schedule C, 1099-MISC and a few other forms.
Even though the folks at Lamson felt that just about anyone who does their own taxes could use
this program, I still think it's aimed at tax preparers. But as long as you have done your taxes
with some sort of software program before, you should have no problem using ExelTax.
There were a few glitches that made it hard for me to use:
The first thing that threw me off was that ExelTax has a DOS feel to it - the interface isn't as user
friendly as the other programs. The HELP Database is not comprehensive and not very helpful.
I had to pull out my IRS tax forms book to figure out what I could and couldn't deduct on the
Schedule C. Nothing is done in order like the other programs - you really have to know about tax
forms to know which ones you need to fill out (especially bad if you are a novice software tax
- If you hit TAB key to go to next line, it doesn't - you need to use up/down arrow keys or you
will get a nasty little beep.
- From the very first screen, it shifts so much that it's hard to type in any needed information;
the characters were out of sync so that if you need to fill in a part or "X" something, it doesn't
look like it's in the right place - very confusing
- Everything was in CAPS, which was bothersome to me (maybe not to others)
It was altogether clunky and hard to understand at times. I couldn't find or figure out which form
to use to depreciate purchases made for my office during 1998, which would have probably
lowered my final amount due. However, this was the only program that included all state tax
forms for one price, whereas the other programs either charged you per state, included one state
or made you pay for all states on one CD-ROM.
No updates are available via the web site, which is also confusing to get around in.
This program is good for accountants who are used to non dressed-up software programs, but if
ExelTax wants to hit the consumer market, they need to frill up their program a bit and make it
much more user-friendly.
I give this program $$$ out of five $'s (however, if you are a tax preparer/accountant, you'd
probably give this $$$$ out of five)
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Nice GUI (graphical user interface) and the intro video is nicely done and informative - truly a
must for beginning users of tax software. It also has videos you can watch throughout the
process, especially good if you are looking for advice or are not sure about something.
The intro selections allow you to check the web site immediately for any program updates, much
better than TaxAct (where you had to go to the site yourself). I did find one glaring bug - in the
Updates section, you're supposed to be able to click on "One-Click Updates" and be
automatically taken to the web site. When I did this, I got a box asking if I wanted to save this
file as a .tax file. Huh?
So I clicked on "TurboTax Web Site" instead and followed the links from there to download the
update. The download took just over 30 minutes (with a 56K modem at 54.6K), but was worth it
- better to have the latest info than to screw up your tax return.
It turns out that initial request to save the file meant you were being asked if you wanted to save
any work you'd already done - I wish that was made a bit clearer - if it confuses me, it'll confuse
a novice to no end.
A nice feature of TurboTax is that it imports .txf files from Quicken, QuickBooks or other
accounting/personal finance programs.
I found there were more questions asked in this program, but I didn't mind. They also had more
information as I went along, whereas with TaxAct, I had to go to the HELP files if I had a
question or if it wasn't clear to me; ExelTax made it hard to find the answer to just about
I also found TurboTax offered more options on what kind of assets you have - a much better
separation (i.e. computer equipment; cellular telephone; office equipment; furniture).
The alerts were helpful - there were even links to information about how the IRS selects returns
to be audited, what happens if you are audited, etc.
I do have to admit that at times I got a tad confused with this program, but the HELP files and
videos helped quite a bit.
The non-Deluxe version of this program is $20 less, but the Deluxe version is well worth the
price, especially if you're a first-time user.
I give TurboTax Deluxe $$$$ out of five.
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This is the program I used to prepare and file my 1997 tax return, so I was eager to see what it
would come up with for a figure after working with the other three programs. As before, its GUI
was pleasant and it also had videos to watch for tips and information about various tax forms,
new laws, etc.
First bonus point - State tax returns are free with the Deluxe Multimedia version of
TaxCut. I took the five minutes it asked for to download the state version I needed (you are
allowed one free state version).
Second bonus point - This was also the only software to come to me in its original retail
packaging, including box and miscellaneous papers in the box (ExelTax did send their box, but
folded in the press kit). I always like it better when I can review a product the way a consumer
would get it.
Third bonus point E-filing is free with TaxCut.
When starting up TaxCut, there's a bit of music, but no intro video - you get right down to
preparing the return. If you've used TaxCut before (like me) or TurboTax, you can import the
previous year's data; also, if you use Quicken, SmartMoney or other accounting software,
tax-related transactions can also be imported.
You can go the "Fast Lane" (recommended for those with few expenses and deductions) or the
"Full Interview" - I chose the Full Interview.
I found a huge bug - At one point I wanted to find out what "listed property" meant and clicked
on the underlined words, which should have taken me to the description. It took me instead to
the "FIND" search engine. So I typed in "Listed property" and then clicked on the appropriate
match, then on the "GO" button. It took me to "Estates and Trusts." And the wording was
garbled in the top button bar. Then when I went back to the program and clicked on "Listed
Property" again, it finally took me to the right description. I closed the program and tried this
another time - the same thing happened. A big minus right there!
Another glitch was when I was listing my assets. I listed my new computer system, clicked on
the appropriate answers, then when I went to click on YES for "Does this property qualify for a
Section 179 deduction?" the next screen came up as "ERROR: Could not find Q&A Screen." Not
very comforting finding these two bugs - it made me wonder how many other bugs there might
TaxCut calculated I owed $1,000 more than the other three programs, who were off by about
$10-20. This did not comfort me. I decided to use one of the others to file my taxes. I hope
Kiplinger fixes the bugs before next year's taxes are due - I do like their overall program content
I give TaxCut $$$$ out of five
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This is the program that impressed me the most. Not only was it the least expensive ($9.95
downloaded from their site or on CD or get the Standard Filing Edition FREE - yes, you read
right - downloaded from their site), it was also the easiest to use. The GUI was nicely done, the
main selection page easy to select what you wanted to do from (even if you were going over
something you already filled out) - the whole layout of this program was a breath of fresh air!
Whereas TaxCut and TurboTax were better in a sense with their advice and tips videos, I found
TaxACT's HELP files and pull-down menus just as good, if not better. They offer a
comprehensive list of online tax advice sites, as well as a really good HELP section. This is a
no-nonsense, easy-to-use program for anyone.
Needless to say, TaxACT is what I used to E-file my tax return and I give it
$$$$$ out of five - a perfect score!
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||Windows & Mac
||Windows & Mac
|10MB (10MB actual)
||30MB (25MB actual)
||20MB (30MB actual)
||20MB (17MB actual)
||Federal & States
||Federal; All States $27.95
||Federal, 1 state included
||Federal, State $12.95/ea
||Phone (toll call)
||Toll-free & web site
||Phone (toll call) & web site
||$9.95 (download from site)
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J.A. Hitchcock is a regular
contributor to Compute ME.
Visit her web site at
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