Evil or not, paying the IRS (U.S. Internal Revenue Service) is just a part of life. With the April 15th deadline rapidly approaching I decided to file a little earlier and get the drudgery out of the way, especially since there was a refund to be claimed. Why leave that on the table too long? The package I used this year was TaxAct, and I'm confident I'll be using it again next year.
Years ago when I was single, had no assets, made a paltry salary, and my home state (Connecticut) was income tax-free, paper forms served the IRS filing just fine. I think the whole process took less than an hour for me. Made a photocopy, licked a stamp and off it went. A couple of weeks after came the meager refund and the process was over.
As life and finances became inevitably more complicated, and tax preparation software packages gained traction, I switched to TurboTax (from Intuit) and was a satisfied customer for a number of years. Then came 2003 and Intuit's spyware fiasco when under the guise of DRM (Digital Rights Management) they bundled an elusive spyware with TurboTax. Thankfully, the spyware was widely reported before I purchased the product, and TurboTax lost my trust forever.
That year, TaxCut (from H&R Block) probably saw a surge in their market share and I also ended up as one of their happy customer. TaxCut had the same quality as TurboTax. What I also liked about TaxCut was the ability to prepare my entire tax return before I was asked for payment before printing or e-filing. There was also a full rebate to e-file the tax return which made the product even more enticing. But then TaxCut decided to commit the cardinal sin of charging upfront for the product.
This year when I received my TaxCut CD and popped it into the drive, I was accosted by the payment demand before I could run the program. While considering forking over the money, I saw an online ad for TaxAct touting their free tax product and free IRS e-file to boot. I had seen their ads in the past and had wondered about their quality and their honesty, but having nothing to lose I decided to give TaxAct a try this year. I refuse to do my taxes online, so I opted for the download version and went to work.
TaxAct surpassed all my expectations for a free product. I dare say it was nearly on par with TurboTax and TaxCut. There was the burden of entering all the personal information (there is no import facility, at least with the free version) and there were a good number of up-selling and cross-selling attempts which could get irritating at times. The help screens were somewhat drab, possibly lifted right out of the IRS publications, and in one instance I had to refer to my last year's TaxCut worksheet to understand a question, but the rest of the process was as smooth as that of the competitive products. The interview questions were relevant and easy to comprehend, there were real-time calculations, error-checking was a breeze and the IRS e-file went without a hitch.
The only true limitation was the disabled print-to-PDF option (available with the paid versions). But even that wasn't much of a limitation since I already had a PDF printer driver, so I generated PDF copies of my tax return by printing to that device.
As for filing the state tax return, TaxAct offers a paid upgrade version of their product to handle that. But these days most states have web-filing available, and the process is much simpler than the federal return. For most people their state tax is a figure based on their AGI (Adjusted Gross Income) save a couple of deductions. One hardly needs a tax software product for that.
If you believe that software should be free, but have had misgivings about free tax preparations products, give TaxAct a try. They made a believer out of me, free and high-quality. And if they had a donation option, I would have definitely kicked a few bucks their way.