has been about five years since I last used Tax Cut to prepare my income
tax return. The program was DOS based, and other than quickness and basic
adequacy for the job, left few fond memories.
Perhaps it was the contrast of the earlier experience with the present one that has in part resulted in my admiration for this program, but there is much more. Being no stranger to Windows based tax preparation programs- having used them for the past four years- I see something special in the integration of this program. The beautifully designed interface allows you to move effortlessly between the interview and forms sections. When questions arise, clear and concise tax advise, as only Kiplinger can give, is only a click away.
My test system is a AMD 586-133, 16 MB of RAM, 4X Toshiba CD-ROM, with graphics accelerated by a #9 Motion 531, 64bit card. The operating system is Win95. The program loaded without any problems after a considerable pause waiting for the installer to load. The only actions required during installation were disabling all running programs and confirming the directory where the files were to be copied. A program group was created with several icons for starting the main program, viewing readme files, and uninstalling the program. A Tax Cut 96 entry was also placed on the Win95 start menu.
When the program is opened, a folder-like interface is presented with a series of tabs along the top. Also, the first of many videos is presented, offering the user an opportunity to view a welcome and introductory clip. Each tab represents a different part of the tax preparation process. They include start, Q & A, forms, audit, reports, state, print and wrap-up.
The start tab presents three pages which briefly layout the flow of the program. Next, a blank tax return is created, which the user names and saves. A set of basic questions is presented. Are you importing data from a financial management program, such as Quicken or Money? Are you basing your calculations on last years return? Finally, you are asked whether you wish to use the interview method or go directly to the forms.
The interview option takes you to the Q&A section, where you answer a series of questions and the answers are placed on the proper forms. This will probably be the method of choice for most users since guidance and explanations are offered in abundance. As topics are completed, they are checked off a list, so it is easy to see if all areas have been finished. Although the interview can be completed in a preset sequence, the user can also move from one area to another as it suits his needs. If you are more comfortable seeing where the data from the Q&A goes, you can keep the relevant form open while you fill out the interview.
If you prefer to go directly to the forms, help is never far away. The trusty F1 key brings help for the current area of the program. A series of Ctrl+ shortcut keys pop up your choice of IRS instructions, Kiplinger tax tips, or an explanation of the form itself. The Kiplinger Tax Tips option is an incredibly rich resource of concise and complete information on almost any topic of interest to most taxpayers. In my opinion, this resource alone makes the program a standout.
Placed throughout the interview or Q&A section are a series of buttons which provide access to short video clips on various tax topics. The clips play in windows, and at least on this computer, play smoothly with clear crisp audio. Each clip features average taxpayers working their way through various dilemmas. The program could certainly handle your tax return without the video clips, but I found them comforting in that they assured me that I was not alone in this time of grief.
Once you have answered the last question and completed the last form, the next step is to audit the return. The auditor has two functions: first, it searches for “red flags” that might cause the IRS to set your return aside for further scrutiny, such as numbers out of line with an accepted range or missing items ; second, it analyzes the return looking for possible deductions you might have missed. If any areas are found that need further scrutiny, Tax Cut lists the entries, explains possible corrective actions, and takes you to the proper form without ever having to leave the auditor.
The last two steps are review and printing. The review tab displays all forms in an easily readable chart, so that you can check each entry that you have made. The print tab offers a triple option of printing a standard tax return, a PC Format return, or downloading the data for electronic filing. If you are not sure about electronic filing, the program includes an Electronic Filing Auditor that verifies your return is suitable for this method, prepares the return properly, and even dials the correct number through your modem.
Tax Cut is available for the PC in standard or multimedia editions, which are priced under $30 and $50 respectively, with 23 state editions available at less than $25 each. A version for the Macintosh is also available. A Tax Cut web site made its debut this year at www.conductor.com.
Here you can find out more about Tax Cut, order or download software,
or get answers to commonly asked questions. Online support is also available
on Prodigy, CompuServe, and America Online.
Deluxe Multimedia (additional requirements) 486SX PC or faster, SVGA monitor with 256 colors, 2X CD-ROM or faster, speakers and sound card.
Robert Oliver operates a specialty metals fabricating shop in Converse, TX. He has been involved with computers for fun or profit for about 25 years.