Software Review: It's Never Too Late To File Your Taxes

by Jayne A. Hitchcock

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.

Lamson's ExelTax Personal

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. 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 user).
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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Intuit's Turbotax/MacInTax Deluxe

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 everything.
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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Kiplinger TaxCut Deluxe Multimedia

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 be.
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 and usability.

I give TaxCut $$$$ out of five

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Second Story Software's TaxACT Deluxe

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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PLATFORM Windows Windows & Mac Windows & Mac Windows
10MB (10MB actual) 30MB (25MB actual) 20MB (30MB actual) 20MB (17MB actual)
E-File $7.95 Free Free $7.95
FORMS INCLUDED Federal & States Federal; All States $27.95 Federal, 1 state included Federal, State $12.95/ea
UPDATES No Online Automatic/Online Online
SUPPORT Phone (toll call) Toll-free & web site Phone (toll call) & web site Online
PRICE $24.95 $49.95 $39.95 $9.95 (download from site)
RATING $$$ $$$$ $$$$ $$$$$

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J.A. Hitchcock is a regular contributor to Compute ME. Visit her web site at

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