Monday, January 22, 2018
Business

Test driving tax prep software

Here's a look at my experience with three better-known tax prep programs — TurboTax, H&R Block at Home and TaxAct — in preparing my family's 2012 return.

TurboTax The TurboTax desktop and online programs make doing taxes as simple as can be. I downloaded the desktop version of TurboTax Premier for $89.99 — though I learned later that I could have paid $10 less if I'd bought it on CD at my local Staples. The download took only a few seconds, as did the import of information from our 2011 return. All of the unchanged data from 2011 — names, addresses, federal ID numbers, even descriptions of business expenses — popped into the right places on the 2012 forms. Even the names of the charities we support carried over. The software also imported my wife's W-2 and all of the information on our investments from Vanguard, T. Rowe Price and Fidelity. All I had to do was key in details for a few local banks and update the amounts we had given to charity.

The online version of TurboTax, by contrast, didn't import as much. My attempt to transfer our 2011 return failed, and an import from one of the fund companies went awry.

Otherwise, the online program looked and worked much the same way as the desktop software. I didn't have to pay to try it because TurboTax, like H&R Block and TaxAct, doesn't require online users to pay until they file their returns. Had I filed with the online version of TurboTax Premier, I would have paid $49.99 for a single federal return — the price as it was discounted at the time. But TurboTax says it could rise to as much as $74.99, its list price, by today's tax filing deadline.

When I had a question about recording tax-exempt interest, I clicked on the help link, and TurboTax offered a choice between a call and an online chat. Within seconds, I was e-chatting with Marilyn G., and she pointed me to the right spot on the return. We were done in less than five minutes, and I paid nothing extra.

Where TurboTax irks is with its pitching of additional products and services.

H&R Block In past years, I've liked H&R Block's desktop software. It didn't import quite as much information as TurboTax did, and occasionally didn't provide some obscure piece of tax guidance that I could find in TurboTax. But I enjoyed its eye-pleasing, easy-to-use interface and concluded that, for most people, it could do a fine job. This year, I had problems installing it.

Stymied, I trundled over to Staples, where I bought Block's Premium software on CD for $59.99. After that 30-minute detour, I popped in the CD and set about installing the software and the latest updates. During the update installation, the program quit. I restarted. Finally, it worked.

Were the glitches my fault? Maybe. But I was working with the same Mac and antivirus program as last year, and if any software should be idiot-proof, it's a tax preparation program.

After installation, Block's desktop program was fine. As in years past, it didn't import as much information as TurboTax, but it otherwise handled our return without problems.

Block's online offering operated just as smoothly. And because it didn't have to be installed, it spared me a spike in blood pressure. Had I used it to file, I would have paid $49.95 for a federal return.

Block's assistance also impresses. If you use its software to file your return, the company promises that one of its tax experts will represent you, free, if you're audited.

TaxAct TaxAct's selling point is price. The desktop version of its Ultimate Bundle, which includes electronic filing of a federal and a state return, costs $21.95. TaxAct doesn't sell a desktop version for the Mac. This year, I opted to try the online offering. I plowed through our return without difficulty, though I did have to type in more of our information because TaxAct imported less than TurboTax and Block did.

In addition to being inexpensive, TaxAct is quirky. Its maker, 2nd Story Software in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, does some things differently from its competitors. Its interview questions come in a different order, and some of them address surprising topics.

Only TaxAct, for example, asked me whether I had a conscientious objection to Social Security and had filed Form 4029 documenting it. Members of some religious denominations can be exempt from Social Security taxes, as long as they promise not to take benefits.

Comments
Sheriff Bob Gualtieri severs contract with CareerSource Pinellas

Sheriff Bob Gualtieri severs contract with CareerSource Pinellas

Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri severed his agency’s contract with CareerSource Pinellas on Monday after learning that the jobs center told the state it helped 624 sheriff’s employees get hired since 2014.The sheriff said he has no record of CareerSou...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Water Street Tampa sketches vision for Marriott Waterside (with video)

Water Street Tampa sketches vision for Marriott Waterside (with video)

TAMPA — Water Street Tampa developers outlined some broad goals for their planned $40 million renovation of the Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel & Marina in a video posted to social media on Monday.In short, they want a hotel that feels inclusive, not ...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Solar industry on edge as Trump weighs tariffs on panels

Solar industry on edge as Trump weighs tariffs on panels

Associated PressDALLAS — Some in the U.S. solar-power industry are hoping a decision this week by President Donald Trump doesn’t bring on an eclipse. Companies that install solar-power systems for homeowners and utilities are bracing for Trump’s call...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Tampa Bay ranks No. 5 for top moving destinations

Tampa Bay ranks No. 5 for top moving destinations

TAMPA — Tampa Bay was the No. 5 moving destination in 2017. Penske Truck Rental’s annual list ranks metro areas based on the number of one-way moving truck rentals to them.The Tampa Bay region, which includes Sarasota, held its position from 2016. It...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Free clinics respond as more people head to the ER with dental problems (w/video)

Free clinics respond as more people head to the ER with dental problems (w/video)

Charles Lee had been dealing with an excruciating toothache for days. The pain made it hard to eat or sleep or focus on work. But Lee, 54, didn’t have dental insurance. His job as a delivery truck driver offered only a supplemental policy that was to...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Fur and fury at 40,000 feet as more people bring animals on planes

Fur and fury at 40,000 feet as more people bring animals on planes

When Marlin Jackson arrived at his row on a Delta flight from Atlanta to San Diego in June, the middle seat was already occupied by a man with a sizable dog on his lap. Jackson squeezed by them to his window seat, and the Labrador mix lunged at his f...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Teens who spend less time in front of screens are happier - up to a point, new research shows

Teens who spend less time in front of screens are happier - up to a point, new research shows

In recent months, Silicon Valley executives have been speaking out about the purposely addictive designs of smartphones and social media, which make them hard to put down for anyone, but particularly teenagers. Now, a new report puts numbers to the w...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Sirata Beach Resort is getting a $15-million facelift

Sirata Beach Resort is getting a $15-million facelift

ST. PETE BEACH — A year ago, the longtime owners of the Sirata Beach Resort & Conference Center acknowledged they couldn’t afford the improvements it needed. They sold the 382-room hotel to a Texas company.Now the new owner has launched a $15 million...
Published: 01/22/18
This is how MoviePass hopes to make money off your low-cost subscription

This is how MoviePass hopes to make money off your low-cost subscription

MoviePass is a film nerd’s dream. The subscription service allows users to see one movie a day at a theater for a single monthly cost. The service isn’t new, but it’s become popular among a lot more than movie buffs in the past few months.During its ...
Published: 01/22/18
Florida pump prices jump 10 cents, highest in four years

Florida pump prices jump 10 cents, highest in four years

Gas is off to an expensive start this year — the most expensive start since 2014. Florida pump prices jumped 10 cents in the past week to hit $2.54 per gallon Monday, 18 cents more than last month, according to AAA The Auto Club Group. Tampa Bay gas ...
Published: 01/22/18