A couple of years ago, when I was first introduced to 2nd Story Software, I feared
that they would fall out of the tax software market. On the contrary, they
seem to be growing and getting better than ever. Despite the fact that
they were a startup company and there were two marketplace Giants to compete
with, they have persevered. TaxACT 2002 Standard is their product being
reviewed. However, it is only one of many products they offer. They have
a full product listing on their website
if you are interested.
What is interesting about this company, in my view is the innovative
feel and spirit they seem to want to capture in their products. They allow
you to obtain TaxACT 2002 on CD, which requires you to pay shipping and
handling, or download it from the Internet. A third choice is for you to
complete your tax return, using either the Standard or Deluxe version,
interactively online! You can do this by logging onto their
special website. Using this method, you don’t have to download or install
any software onto your computer; you just need to have access to the Internet.
I believe that providing the user with flexibility and a variety of options
is a sure-fire way to continue to expand ones presence and market share.
Speaking of market share, did I mention that the Standard version of this
software is absolutely FREE!!
Now that I have your attention, let’s march ahead and see what this
program can do. First of all, it is a full-fledged, unlimited, Tax software
program, yes, even the free version. What you get when you “upgrade” to
the TaxACT 2002 Deluxe version, is additional bells and whistles, such
as Tax Advisors that are built into the program and tax tips derived from
tax experts such as J. K. Lasser. The other main difference is that Standard
does not provide free electronic filing; it costs $7.95 per return, while
Deluxe provides one FREE electronically filed federal income tax return
and up to 4 more on that software license for $7.95 per return. TaxACT
2002 Deluxe, costs a mere $9.95, and in my opinion, it pays for itself
with the free electronic filing of your Federal income tax return. Even
if you do not use the extra features, TaxACT 2002 Deluxe appears to be
the better deal.
What are the system requirements? For TaxACT Standard, you will need
access to the Internet or a CD-ROM drive. Your Operating System should
be Windows 95, 98, Me, NT, 2000, or XP; the CPU should be a Pentium class
CPU (or equivalent); there should be at least 32 MB free hard drive space;
16 MB of RAM is required, with 32MB recommended; and finally, an SVGA or
better monitor. A mouse and printer are highly recommended.
The first step in using TaxACT 2002 is to gather necessary information.
The program asks you questions in a straight Q & A format, and then
enters data into the forms for you, based on your replies. Then, in the
Deluxe version only, “life events” or events that have a bearing on your
tax liability and income status are explored. Some of these are marriage,
buying a home, starting a business, inheritance, divorce, stock options
or disability. The Life Events Topic list lets you select one of these
topics to learn more about it. The Federal or State “Interview” question
and answer format makes it easy to enter required data. However, if you
are comfortable with the process and adept at filling out tax forms, you
may select the forms method and enter your data directly into the forms
yourself. I used the Interview method and quickly got the feel of entering
the data almost as if I were directly following the tax forms. It was rather
intuitive for the most part, but there were some areas that I had questions
about. These questions were not related to how the program was functioning,
rather to how to deal with certain aspects of my particular tax situation.
I could certainly stand to learn a thing or two more about my taxes. I
think that is one of the strengths of using tax preparation software –
I always learn something I didn’t know.
Once you have the data entered and things are more or less completed,
you can conduct a “Review” of your tax return. This is where the program
looks at questionable or erroneous information and prompts you to rethink
your input to improve the accuracy of the return. Another nice feature
is how the program maintains a running tally of your tax liability or your
tax refund, which changes automatically as pertinent data is input. The
program provides you with a very long and I would say, fairly comprehensive
list of forms and schedules for completion of your tax return. You can
download the forms and schedules along with your return if you want to
send it by “snail-mail” or you can file the return much more rapidly electronically.
Should you choose to use TaxACT 2002 Standard or Deluxe version, remember
this, TaxACT 2002 Deluxe version offers an accuracy guarantee as well as
a no questions asked “money-back” guarantee. In short, if you file a return
that includes a calculation error by TaxACT 2002 Deluxe and you are charged
a penalty, they will pay the penalty for you. Secondly, if you are not
completely satisfied, return the program within 30 days of receipt, for
a full refund. The final TaxACT 2002 step is to start planning ahead and
begin preparations for filing your 2003 taxes.
What didn’t I like about it? One thing I have noticed is the use of
Spam to get the word out about their product. I must have received a hundred
messages about TaxACT. To be fair, these messages were not from 2nd
Story software, rather, they were from some other individual or company
that was an “affiliate” of 2nd Story Software. Secondly, if
you are using the Standard version, you are (too) frequently offered the
chance to upgrade to the Deluxe version. On the minus side, it was annoying
but on the plus side, one simple click gets rid of the “upgrade offer”
screen. Another feature that I had mixed feelings about was the popup reminder
screen to save my data. This would often interfere with my inputting data
into the program. The good part, however, if you save when the reminder
pops up, you are unlikely to lose much data even if a computer or Internet
connection problem occurs.
You can find the TaxACT suite of programs online,
the price is $9.95 for the Deluxe version and absolutely nothing, as in
for the Standard version. On their website, you will find that there are
other related programs available, as well. If you have not already filed
your taxes electronically, go ahead and take the plunge! You have no excuse
not to do so now. At the very least, you can try it out and make your own
judgment as to the accuracy of the program.