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Software Review of:
TaxACT 2002 Standard
It's Up to You

 

Screen shot of TaxAct Standard 2002

Larry Grosskopf is a Clinical Psychologist at the San Antonio State Hospital, with an interest in computer technology.  He and Marta are raising two well-loved children, daughter Zoë, now 9, and Jackson, who just turned 8.

From the March, 2003 issue of PC Alamode Magazine

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 FREE, 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.


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