TurboTax Deluxe for Mac 2003, by Intuit
Posted: 19-Mar-2004

4 1/2 out of 5 Mice

Vendor: Intuit Type: COMMERCIAL

Reviewer: Jim Melton Class: PRODUCTIVITY

Overview
I do not petition for more tax breaks. I ask only for instructions an ordinary PhD in economics can follow.

- Alan Blinder, PhD

Death and Taxes. Some things are certain, but that doesn't make them pleasant. Your Macintosh may not help with everything, but it can make preparing your tax return easier. TurboTax Deluxe is one of the leading tax preparation software packages for Macintosh. It guides you through every step of preparing and filing both your Federal and State tax returns. Due to continual changes in the tax code, the product is updated every year. This product is intended for the individual preparing his/her personal tax return.

Requirements
TurboTax Deluxe for the Macintosh supports both OS 8/9 and OS X. There is a separate TurboTax for PCs, but this review doesn't cover that product. Unfortunately for Mac users, Intuit charges a $10 "Mac tax" (Deluxe for Windows is $39.95, but Deluxe for Mac is $49.95).


Setup
Installation is straightforward; there are separate installers for OS X and OS 8/9. I only installed the OS X version. Strangely, though, the OS X installer required that no other programs be running during installation. While this is common for OS 9 and earlier, it is inexplicable for OS X.

The CD is not required to run the program, but embedded in the interview process are numerous video clips of experts explaining various facets of the tax code. If the CD is not present, these clips will not be available.

After running the installer, the first invocation of the program checks the internet (if available) to see if a newer version is available. The tax code is incredibly complex, and extremely fluid, so this is an important step (that will be repeated at least one more time before you file your return).

Next, you are prompted to download the state version(s) of TurboTax you want to use. One free state download is included with the product; other states may be purchased. I found this arrangement much superior to having to purchase the state product and waiting for a rebate.

In Use
The normal way to use this program is to go through an interview wizard that asks you all the questions required to prepare your return. If you used TurboTax last year, you can import your personal information (name, address, SSN, dependents, refunds, etc.) from last year's form. You can also import financial information from Quicken. Since I didn't use TurboTax last year and I don't use Quicken, I skipped these steps.

The interview process is straightforward and easy to follow. The interview questions are heavily hyper-linked, with access to detailed definitions of terms and explanations of the tax forms. If you wish, at any point you can go directly to the tax forms and make your entries manually. Every field supports a detailed view. Simply double-click on a field and a mini-spreadsheet pops up, so you can itemize the things that go into the field value. This spreadsheet is for your use only, and is not communicated to the IRS. However, I found no use for this feature; the places where I might have been inclined to itemize (vehicle property tax, charitable contributions, etc.) were already itemized within TurboTax. For example, for the property tax item, each vehicle I own was prompted for individually.

TurboTax Deluxe is intended to handle all the different tax situations that individual filers may encounter. Certainly the "normal" permutations are covered (Schedules A, B, C, D, K); it is not possible for any review to cover every possible scenario. I prepared two returns: a simple 1040A return, and a more complex return with itemized deductions and a variety of income types.

I found the depth of the interview questions somewhat tedious (I had to answer "No" to a lot of questions), yet strangely reassuring that the software wouldn't let me inadvertently forget to enter key financial data. As you enter numbers, a running total of your tax obligation (taxes due or refund) is displayed in the top-right corner of the program's window.

Once you complete your return, you have the option of printing paper copies to file or filing electronically. Printing is as straightforward as clicking on "Print". You have the option of printing only the required forms, or forms and supporting worksheets. For your personal records, you might want the supporting worksheets, but be sure not to send them to the IRS. In years past, the IRS had a "PC return", where the salient data items were formatted to facilitate data entry by the IRS; I don't know if that format is supported by the IRS any more, but it was not a print option in TurboTax Deluxe 2003. If you are sending in your forms by mail, and want to do double-sided printing, TurboTax is not double-sided friendly. You'll want to print each form separately to make sure that the correct forms are on each side of each page.

Filing electronically incurs a nominal cost ($14.95 for Federal, $10.95 for Colorado state), but TurboTax Deluxe includes an offsetting rebate for the Federal filing cost. Filing your state return electronically is not covered. The cost of filing can be deducted from your return (for another fee of $19.95), or it can be paid with a major credit card. Once you file your return, you are still obligated to ensure that the IRS and your state have accepted your return. With some programs, you have to record and remember the DCN (Declaration Control Number); TurboTax Deluxe performs the validation step behind the scenes and tells you in plain English when your return(s) have been accepted (note that the state return may take significantly longer to process than the Federal one).

The entire process is painless for the most part. For users of past versions, there is nothing new in this year's version except for the updated forms and logic. The interface is nearly identical to last year, and is a bit dated, but still easy to use. It is kind of cumbersome the way you have to switch from Federal to State and back again when printing (cannot print both at the same time).

Summary
TurboTax Deluxe simplifies preparing your tax return to the point that it is almost enjoyable (your enjoyment will likely depend on if you are getting a refund or paying additional taxes!). I like the confidence of knowing that all the calculations are done by the computer, and there are no transcription errors copying from one field to another. There's also a review process at the end that performs a run-through of all the forms to see if you forgot anything. The interview process is very comprehensive, minimizing the likelihood of unreported income or missed deductions. It annoys me to pay for the privilege of electronic filing (which the IRS prefers, anyway), but that is not a fault of this product; the electronic filing is provided by a third party. And when you purchase TurboTax Deluxe, you get a rebate for the cost of electronic filing for your Federal return. TurboTax Deluxe will save you money in not having to hire a tax return specialist, and save you headaches by walking you through the process and performing all the calculations for you. I highly recommend it for anyone needing to answer to Uncle Sam.

Pros

  • Import financial data from prior returns and Quicken
  • Easy to follow interview process
  • Guaranteed accurate calculations
  • Polished, intuitive interface
  • Detailed, multi-media explanations for forms and tax code

Cons

  • $10 Mac tax
  • Odd installation process for OS X
  • Not double-sided print friendly
  • Dated interface


Overall Rating

4 1/2 out of 5 Mice