March 23, 2006


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Tax programs cometh
Defeat the IRS through software
By John “jaQ” Andrews

Disclaimer: John “jaQ” Andrews is not a tax professional. He knows even less about taxes than he pretends to know about technology. He still gets confused when supermarkets charge him the 8 percent meal tax for those pre-cooked rotisserie chickens.

I admit it: I still haven’t done my taxes yet. It’s not that I’m lazy, or distracted, or too busy playing eight-year-old Star Trek computer games — I’m just making sure that all my W2s, 1099s and other documents are in before starting. Yeah, that’s the ticket.

But really, the last few years my tax preparation has been relatively unstressful. It’s OK to wait until the last minute, because I have a secret weapon. No, I don’t have an accountant. I have software.

Confusing forms and schedules are transformed into simple questionnaires, presented on your computer screen with big fluffy “Next” and “Back” buttons. Your 1040 and other forms are automatically populated with the information you provide, and some info can even be imported from last year’s return (if you’ve used the same software before).

The software comes in two main categories.

Everyone loves free. Wouldn’t free government be great? Then we could get rid of all this tax nastiness to begin with.

But I digress. It used to be that e-filing your taxes cost money. For a growing number of people, though, it’s possible to not only prepare your taxes with free software, but to electronically file for free. There are various catches — it’s only free after mail-in rebate, or you have to put your refund on a debit card — but, bottom line, free is good.

The Internal Revenue Service is uncharacteristically helpful in helping you find free software. At their Web site,, just click the “Check Out Free File” link and then the “Get Started” button. That starts you on a magical journey of narrowing down your choices from the 20 or so listed. You’re most likely to qualify if your Adjusted Gross Income is less than $50,000 a year. You’re better off going for a familiar name like TaxCut or TaxACT.

Not free, but with lots of free stuff
The two main competitors in this category are TurboTax and TaxCut. If you like having your software in a box with a manual, go this route. They’re also a bit more robust and bug-free than free online services.

The real joy of these two products, though, is that you can score some really awesome free-after-rebate stuff if you buy them from a big retailer. For example, Staples recently advertised the following software a as free after rebates when purchased with TurboTax:
• Quicken Basic 2006
• Norton Antivirus
• Norton Internet Security
• Norton Personal Firewall
• Computer Associates EZ AntiVirus 2006
• Computer Associates Pest Patrol AntiSpyware 2006

That’s not “choose one,” that’s “get ‘em all.” I wouldn’t recommend that, necessarily (two anti-virus programs running at once = bad juju), but the option is nice. Buy during the right week and you might even score hardware, like a USB flash drive or a shredder or something.

Not that you’d need a shredder for your tax records. Nope.

Comments? Thoughts? Discuss these articles and more at

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