First case in point: James usually waits until the week of April 14th to drag out the 1040. This year he nearly has our return finished, and the review deadline wasn't the only reason. Not only does TurboTax make filing our taxes easier and we've proven it will safe us money (by inputting last year's return which we had filed unaided). With all the tax advice TurboTax provides, it makes you more confident in filing your return, a computer CPA if you will. Of course we just qualify this all by saying we file a very relatively simple return (we don't want you to think this programs is going to put CPAs out of business), but it will improve your quality of life in the dreaded spring season.
We will warn you right off this review is done by a businessman-husband who does his own taxes but doesn't know piddly about computers and the computer-comfortable wife who doesn't know piddly about taxes. The program satisfied both of us, by making taxes computer-friendly and the computer tax-filing-friendly.
Installation is of TurboTax is simple. We have windows 3.1, which, since the program is designed for Windows 95, entailed a couple of extra steps but not enough to be inconvenient. The Quickstart guide warns you to disable all virus protection utilities right off the bat, then it's just a matter of inserting the CD and following the on-screen instructions. It takes no more than a few minutes.
Next, you must decide one of two methods of using the program: the Forms Method is basically the tax forms on computer, the only advantage here is TurboTax does the calculations automatically for you. However, if you use the Forms Method, you don't have a guide through your return. The method the Quickstart guide recommends is the Easy Step. It asks questions and based on your answers, decides which forms you need, does all the calculations and actually fills in the right forms for you.
The screen is organized in a tab system, at any time during the interview you can click for all your interview answers as they fill in the tax forms and worksheets; you can edit your answers in the current form; you can track your progress with a ‘Where am I?' tab; you can search for a specific interview topic and go there simply by clicking on the text. But best of all, perhaps is that you can get help about the program or the tax issue at hand with a click on the screen. The help may be a sentence or could lead you to an instructional video complete with sound.
After moving through the program we were impressed with how user friendly it was, and how much tax advice was included. Then, came the real test: Would it save us any money? We hoped that it would save at least enough money to pay for itself, but it did much better than that.
We inputted out data from our 1995 1040, which we had filled out the old-fashioned way with no professional help. Again, our finances are relatively uncomplicated, we have three kids and had a lot of medical expenses last year. TurboTax increased our refund by about 35 percent! The program just paid for itself and more!
James especially was impressed with the ah-hahs we ran across: Did you know your car registration is deductible? Or that you can deduct your mileage to and from doctors? These are questions that pop up on the screen as you make your way through the Easy Step method. These are little things but we found quite a few of them and they can add up to welcome savings on what you owe or increase the size of your refund (every little bit helps).
James was also pleased with the way the program comes loaded with enough tax advice to satisfy even tax junkies, but presented in a way that doesn't force us to have to wade through a bunch of stuff we don't care about to find the exact piece of advice we're looking for.
The program gives you a few places to look for tax help and advice. You have access to two on-screen books, Money Magazine's Income Tax Handbook and How to Pay Zero Taxes, which can give you some helpful advice on strategies that may reduce your taxes. The program also has IRS Publications on-screen that will give you the tax code. The portion of the code that you need is only a click away as you are going through your return. There is also some integrated video advice from tax experts that should be helpful.
To tell you the truth, we really did not have time to fully explore or utilize all the information that is available through the program. You know how fast deadlines come up. If we had, I am sure we could have found more ways to save money on our return. However, that is the beauty of this program -- if you don't want to you don't have to sift through the garble that makes most people's eyes glaze over.
TurboTax also will let you do some pre-planning for 1997 but we ran out of time before we could get into that. But I am sure -- based on what we have seen -- that it probably has some useful guidance in it.
Now, we don't use another financial program (yet) but TurboTax is designed to not only trasnfer data from last year's TurboTax, but also to import data from Quicken 2,3,4,5 and 6, as well as from QuickBooks (for Windows, version 3.0, release 6 or later). The instructions in the TurboTax book are detailed and clear, and include graphics.
To make sure we weren't looking at the program with the joy of tax program ignorance, we asked friends and colleagues about their tax programs. All the people we asked (who used tax programs) used TurboTax. All were pleased with its performance and were repeat customers.
Now, for those of you who used TurboTax last year, the 1996 version does offer new features:
A word of warning, the Headstart Edition like we used is not capable of electronically filing the return, only the Final Edition can allow you to do that. But if you purchase the Headstart edition, Intuit will automatically send you the Final Edition.
TurboTax also offers a money-back guarantee. It says if you are penalized because of a calculation error in the program, they will pay you the penalty plus interest.
As for price, you might want to shop. In January, we could find TurboTax Deluxe in San Antonio (on sale and with a mail-in rebate at CompUSA) for under $30. CompUSA shows TurboTax Deluxe's "average" price to be $32.85. Best Buy said it was selling it for $39.99. Or, you can order direct from Inuit at 1-800-4-INTUIT. The Final Edition is now available so you may want to skip the Quickstart edition and go straight for the Final version.
Minimum system requirementsJames graduated with an accounting degree from Texas A&M and is now production manager of TexAce corporation. Linda is a novelist who writes under the name Laura Bradley. Her book, set in San Antonio, Wicked Liaisons, is now available at local bookstores.