03-31-09 - Taxes

I did my taxes this year with TaxACT . Mainly because I put it off too long to get a decent accountant, but also because they were so simple this year it seemed worth it to just do myself.

I liked TaxACT, I recommend it. I used TurboTax years ago and it was a bloody nightmare. By the time I was half way through I wished I had just used pen and paper. TurboTax was a weird annoying interface that didn't match the real form exactly and I couldn't figure out how its questions matched up to the data I had to enter.

TaxACT starts out with the same kind of annoying retarded interface where it just asks you questions; it tries to be like a "Wizard" for tax info, like "what kind of taxes do you want to do today?". Fortunately you can just close that down and go directly to the forms. It has all the forms with number entry boxes, and it does all the bits of copying numbers from one box to another and adding and subtracting and whatnot.

Sometimes when I do taxes by hand I feel like the IRS has created one of those math puzzles where you do a bunch of steps and always come up with the same answer, like :

enter your pre-tax W2 income in box 41
take the last digit and subtract it from nine and enter that in box 42
divide box 32 by box 33 and put the remainder in box 43
evaluate the gamma function of box 44
take the last three digits of box 44 and add them together, enter in box 45
copy box 41 to box 46
that's your income

anyway, TaxACT does all that bit for you.

Some caveats about it :

1. It claims to be free but it's not. I didn't need the premium version ($10) but if your taxes are complex at all (eg. itemized deductions) then you do. I did have to pay for direct deposit ($8) (it says free efile but doesn't mention you have to pay if you want the DD) and the California add-on ($14). Still cheaper than TurboTax.

2. Every time you try to enter a derived value it says "this is a computed value, do you wish to do the worksheet" , say yes and go do the worksheet. If you don't, it messes up its spreadsheet computation tables.

3. It can be a little hard to go "back" to forms you've previously done and want to edit. The best way I found is just to browse the index of all forms, and select them manually. Another trick is if you want to go to a worksheet that filled in a certain derived quantity, you can just try to edit the result and it will pop up the dialog mentioned in #2 and then you can say "take me to the worksheet".

Anyway, still not a huge advantage over just using pen and paper, and it does have the disadvantage that you have to copy in all the data off your 1099's and W2's and whatnot manually if you want to efile.

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