Frankenfight: Best Tax Software

Illustration for article titled Frankenfight: Best Tax Software

It's that time of the year again. No, we're not referring to tax season—we actually mean it's that time when you've officially stopped feeling guilty for backing out on any and all New Year's resolutions. But it just so happens that this glorious tradition lines up with our tax season procrastination.

So for this week's Franken, we've laid off the cool gadgets and cock jokes, instead stacking up the three best tax prep programs (TurboTax, TaxCut and TaxACT) to duke it out for our eternal affection/one-time use. Hit the jump for our Frankenreview from experts at Tax Software Review, CNET and About, and then share your best tax tips in the comments. Because my CPA's name is Gizmodo.

Illustration for article titled Frankenfight: Best Tax Software

Ease of Use
"TurboTax doesn't explain what "Distributions" means, or if your W-2 automatically deducts, say, your 401(k) contributions to keep that money safe from taxes. The video explains things better, but not well enough for novices. 1

One of the strengths of TaxCut is that you don't need to have accounting experience of any kind. Simply answer the questions the program asks you. If you are unsure of an answer you can check the extensive Help section for guidance. TaxCut automatically checks your return for common errors 2

I was very surprised by the amount of time it took me to prepare a tax return using TaxCut Premium. In just 30 minutes, I prepared a fairly complex tax return, from start to finish. 3


A unique feature TaxACT 2006 Ultimate Bundle offers is that you can choose between answering tax questions or directly entering data into the forms to complete your returns...The state program is even easier to use than the federal, all the federal information is automatically transferred, then simply answer a few questions and run the alerts and you are done. 2




TurboTax Deluxe offers every feature we looked for and includes some excellent compatibility options...[it also] reconfigures and recalculates entries instantly comparing different tax scenarios to help you maximize your return and plan for next year. TurboTax can evaluate your 401K contributions and estimate how much you can contribute before it affects your take home pay and so on....within seconds, you can evaluate all of your tax choices. 2


TaxCut Premium offers a comprehensive feature set that includes tax advice and a high level of compatibility with other products... The service also has many features for future planning, including a Retirement Savings Enhancer and Tax Planning reports. 2

[but]...we wished TaxCut Premium had a tool similar to TurboTax's Basis Pro, which uses Gainskeeper's historical data of stock prices to help you determine the cost basis of a stock or mutual fund. 1


... A feature we found missing in TaxCut is year-to-year deduction comparisons. 2

TaxCut failed to catch two mistakes when I input my W-2 data (I transposed numbers on my wages, and put a wrong figure for Social Security taxes). This is a fairly common data entry mistake, and TaxCut really should have kept this useful software feature. 3


[With TaxACT] investors can import capital gains transactions from GainsKeeper© and it has a handy "Life Events" feature. This feature can determine the future tax impact of life events such as marriage, adding children to your family, income adjustments, divorce, and more...[it also] includes most of the commonly used IRS tax forms and they guarantee their calculations. If fact, they will pay your penalties and interest if the software makes a calculation error. 2

[But] TaxACT Deluxe does not have a 401(k) Maximizer, a great tax planning tool I found inside the TurboTax software. 2



Illustration for article titled Frankenfight: Best Tax Software

TurboTax customers get free technical support by telephone, chat, and e-mail, which is a great deal. Intuit promises wait times of 10 minutes or less for phone queries—a promise that rang true in our tests. Support hours are Monday through Sunday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Pacific Time—and that's better than TaxCut, which gives its tech reps the weekend off. 1

For support, TaxAct offers a well-organized, searchable knowledge base on its Web site. Support is free via e-mail and at an Iowa telephone number, and TaxAct guarantees a response within 48 hours. During tax season, January 10 to April 15, support is available weekdays from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., Saturdays...and Sundays. 1

In Summary
TaxACT is highly recommended for people with relatively straightforward tax returns to prepare.... [and its] appealing price and premium features makes the software a top choice for many. 3


While no tax software is perfect, TaxCut did a thorough job of guiding us through the filing process. And if your overall goal is to save money up front, TaxCut's lower cost makes it an attractive alternative to Intuit TurboTax. 1

TurboTax Deluxe is the ultimate tax preparation product. This is the easiest product to use with one-button upgrades and thorough explanations of tax law changes 2"


TurboTax Delux w/State
TaxCut Premium w/State
TaxAct w/State

WINNER: In my non-CPA eyes, I would go with either expensive (Turbotax) to deal with a complicated tax return, or inexpensive (TaxACT) if I just needed a barebones filing. But TaxCut, while well-rated, seems to neither be as cheap as TaxAct or functional/accurate as Turbotax.


And don't forget...we need your deduction tips. Otherwise I may actually have to purchase one of these programs.

Great Tax Software Chart [Tax Software Reviews]

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Just for reference, the Internal Revenue Service uses TaxWise for returns preparation. (The IRS needs return prep software because it offers returns preparation services to needy folks and electronic filing services to its own employees.) Because TaxWise is the IRS software choice, it's also used by the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance and Tax Compliance for the Elderly programs, as well as by the AARP for their community assistance with taxes. Naturally, it's a fave of many CPAs and other tax pros for many reasons, including the way it integrates with other products they offer, such as return anticipation loans.

TaxWise, however, isn't suitable for most people. It's super-powerful and requires a skilled operator. If you don't know what you're doing, you can get yourself into a mess.