Personal Finance 
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Intuit Quicken Premier 2009 & TurboTax Packs Giveaway

When Intuit offered up three copies each of Quicken Premier 2009 and TurboTax, I jumped at the chance to give away more free stuff to you all. We’re deep into tax season and with the economy where it is, I’m sure everyone is looking for a little edge. Intuit’s been very generous with Bargaineering readers, already I’ve given away two copies of Quicken Premier 2009, one to a forum participant and another to a commenter in the Your Take question on money management software.

The Quicken Premier 2009 and TurboTax Packs contain a CD containing Quicken Premier 2009 and a pre-paid access card to TurboTax Deluxe (both federal and state!) edition. Quicken Premier has a retail value of $80 and TurboTax Deluxe, federal and state, is worth at least $65 – so these packs are worth almost a hundred and fifty dollars!

So, how do you win? It’s easy.

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 Taxes 
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Free Tax Filing Resources

1040 Tax FormsWe’re deep in the throes of tax season and with the economy in the sorry shape that it’s in, I’m sure many taxpayers are looking to gain an edge. I mean we’re already paying taxes, surely it makes less sense that we have to pay to figure out how much we’re going to pay in taxes right? Fortunately, there are a lot of different ways you can get tax filing software or assistance absolutely free.

In addition to the nationally available programs I’m about the list, there are also a lot of local programs. Each state’s tax website will usually list the free tax filing resources or services available in the state. many of these are simply listings of data made available through the IRS Free File system but you might be able to find some gems in there as well.

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 Taxes 
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2009 Tax Software Shootout: TurboTax vs. TaxCut

In the world of tax preparation software, the big players are Intuit’s TurboTax and H&R Block’s TaxCut. You have smaller players like TaxACT, but the two biggest in terms of branding and market share have to be TurboTax and TaxCut. They battle each other each year but when you really get down to the basics, both products offer the same thing – tax preparation that won’t cost you hundreds of dollars.

Don’t buy the commercials that say you have to go to a tax preparer because you can’t ask the box. A friend of mine once walked into a branch of H&R Block and had her fairly straightforward taxes prepared for $350. She didn’t have any special circumstances whatsoever! Her problem was that she didn’t know how owning a home would affect her taxes. She heard needed to itemize, had no idea what it meant, and that cost her $350. Fortunately for everyone else, you don’t have to know much to prepare your taxes with software because the software will do it for you. I don’t fault H&R Block, they’re a business and they need to keep the lights on, but she could’ve gone with software and saved herself some serious coin.

So, which company should you go with? Intuit’s TurboTax or H&R Block’s TaxCut?

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 Taxes 
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Complete 99% of Your Tax Return Now

Income Tax OfficeDid you know that 30% of taxpayers file by the first week of February? I found it difficult to believe but apparently it’s true, according to an email I received from the folks at TaxCut. 30% of people file between January 1st and February 7th. Of course, the other 70% file on April 15th!

Why File So Early?

People file early because they want their tax refund as quickly as possible. Why wait until April 15th to file when the government owes you money? If your only income is from your job (and maybe some bank interest), chances are you the government owes you a tax refund unless you adjusted your tax withholding. If you didn’t adjust your withholdings on your W-4, I’m fairly confident the government will owe you money and by not filing ASAP you are extending the interest free loan.

The reason why people even have to wait in until the first week of February is because employers and banks have until January 31st to mail out W-2s and 1099-INTs. However, that doesn’t mean you have to wait until the first week to begin the filing process. If you have your December pay stub, you will have pretty accurate numbers to use as placeholders. You can look up all your bank interest by calling or logging in to your bank account and looking for a tax form. While I would wait until the official W-2 form arrives before e-filing (especially since they will ask for information not typically printed on your stub), nothing stops you from filling out the form now and updating the numbers when your W-2 arrives.

What You Can Do Now

So, want to get a jump? First, check to see if you qualify for free tax preparation. There’s no sense paying for software if you can get it for free. If you earn under $52,000 a year, you can access the IRS Free File Program (details to come Jan 16th) as well.

If you don’t qualify, you have the option of going online or buying the software in a box. In the past, I used TurboTax Online a few times. I don’t think there’s much difference between TurboTax and TaxCut, outside of pricing. I personally like the online version because I’m comfortable entering all that sensitive information online but if you aren’t, the software from a box is just as good.

With the exception of your income, you already have every other piece of information. You already know all of your tax deductions, all the tax credits you should be eligible for (if not, the tax preparation software will ask you), and everything else the form or software will require. You’re just missing the official income numbers, which will arrive by early February. Fill out everything else and wait for your official tax forms. With your placeholder numbers, you have a good idea of the refund (or tax due). If you end up owing tax, just wait until April! :)

I always e-file and I always opt for direct deposit. By e-filing, you don’t have to worry about the post office losing it or having your sensitive information floating around. By direct depositing, you get your money much faster. If you e-file your taxes on February 6th and requested direct deposit, you can get your rebate within two weeks. Last year, if you filed within the first week of February, you received the direct deposit by February 13th! (2008 schedule)

(Photo: thetruthabout)


 Taxes 
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PC Magazine’s 2009 Editor’s Choice: TurboTax

TurboTaxPC Magazine named its 2009 Editor’s Choice for personal tax preparation software and the winner was Intuit’s TurboTax, beating out H&R Block’s TaxCut and TaxACT. Before you run out and just buy a copy of TurboTax, read the review itself. The advantage TurboTax has over the competition is in their breakdown of difficult and complicated topics. TaxCut won more points because of pricing and matches up in terms of functionality, it was TurboTax’s goes the extra mile in explanations. TaxAct is billed as the product if you’re “more budget-conscious and knowledgeable.”

PC Magazine’s Editor’s Choice

In PC Magazine’s review of TurboTax Premier 2008, a product that retails around $90, they compare the three products on a variety of levels. The real distinction is in what PC Magazine calls “guidance systems:”

There’s a much clearer distinction between the competitors when it comes to their guidance systems. TurboTax makes help more obvious in many places, and gives more—and more useful—explanations more often. Take home-office expenses, for example. After you’ve told TurboTax the dimensions of your home office, it asks for a list of expenses for your entire home, like insurance, mortgage interest, and real estate taxes. It tells you up front that it will prorate those expenses for you, and warns you not to duplicate some amounts you’ve already entered.

TurboTax also offers direct importing of W-2 data from ADP, Paychex, and ProBusiness; TaxCut doesn’t. TurboTax’s FAQs are more context sensitive, TaxCut are less so. It sounds like TurboTax has a lot of nice features that can make your life a little easier, if you’re the type who transposes numbers incorrectly often enough.

Pricing

However, when it comes to pricing, H&R Block’s TaxCut wins out. Their TaxCut Premium Federal + State + E-File 2008 only runs you $45 compared to the TurboTax Premium, which goes for $90. Twice the price for a few bells and whistles? I’m not sure if it’s worth it.

All that goes out the window if you qualify for free tax filing. If you qualify for free tax filing, just go with the one you’ve always used and the one you feel most comfortable with. I have always used TurboTax because I could file for free and it didn’t matter which I used. When you’re filling out a 1040EZ and you aren’t paying a cent (except the e-filing fee), it doesn’t really matter which one you use!

Summary

If I had to choose which one to use, I’d go with the cheaper one. I have a pretty simple tax situation without any crazy investments or schedules I need to account for. If you have a more complicated tax situation, but not so complicated you need a living breathing accountant, maybe it would serve you better to use TurboTax and it’s superior interface and greater degree of handholding. Either way, using one of these packages beats walking into a tax accountant’s office!

Which do you prefer? Do you agree with PC Magazine that TurboTax is better? Or are you a TaxCut fan?


 Taxes 
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Tax Filing Extension Deadline Approaching

For those of you slackers out there (I mean, really busy people who waited six months after the first tax filing deadline…), the October 15th extended tax filing deadline is a week and a half away. TurboTax is still offering the same promotion for extended tax filers that they offered back in March and April this year:

  • Free Edition is still free, 1040EZ & simple returns, with free eFile,
  • $49.95 Deluxe Edition for folks who don’t qualify for the Free Edition, it also includes free eFile,
  • $74.95 Premier edition for those with investments and retnal properties, free eFile,
  • Finally, $99.95 home & business with free eFile.

Free Edition Users: There is really no reason why you should be waiting this long to file your taxes. There is a pretty good chance that you are owed a refund, in which case you given the government an even longer than reasonable interest free loan (not that they’re complaining, they need it!), and your taxes aren’t nearly as complicated as you think they are. (oh, and you may have been delayed getting that tax stimulus check everyone else has already spent!)

Everyone else… you have a week and a half, get on it!


 Taxes 
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TurboTax Raises Prices, Punishes You Lazy Bums

Procrastination usually doesn’t usually have concrete and actual added costs in your personal life. You put off rolling over an IRA or changing your 401(k) contribution, you don’t feel any costs (you may lose potential gains or avoid potential losses, but it’s never that concrete) However, in the case of tax preparation there is a real cost to putting it off.

TurboTax does this every year (as long as I can remember) so you have absolutely no excuse. Silver lining finders will say that they incentivize people to file their taxes early by increasing the cost to file two weeks or so before April 15th, cynics will say that TurboTax is gouging people. Either way, it costs you five bucks more you lazy bum. The new prices are (price doesn’t include state filing):

  • Free: Still Free!
  • Deluxe: $49.95
  • Premier: $74.95
  • Home & Business: $99.95

Fortunately, you can’t increase the price of FREE, so their Free Edition is still free (here’s the full rundown on all the free tax filing resources).

Doing your taxes is unavoidable. Almost everyone has to do it (you should file even if you don’t have to this year because of the economic stimulus check) and everyone has to do it by April 15th. In fact, since most people get a refund, you have a vested financial interest in doing your taxes as early as possible so you can get your own money back as soon as possible; so why do people avoid it? They avoid it because it’s a pain in the you-know-what.

Think of all the other things that you wouldn’t do willingly but that you still do because it’s good for you… like get up early in the morning to go to a meeting at work. Like run on the treadmill to shed a few pounds. Like not eat double stuffed Oreos because they make your butt look fat. Like wake up early to dress your kids and make sure they eat breakfast. Like go with your spouse to Bass Pro Shops/Gander Mountain (or Ann Taylor/Macy’s/MAC). Like watching The Little Mermaid every single day for two months because your daughter loves Ariel and Sebastian.

See how many things we do that we don’t like to? (or don’t do but would love to?) Taxes are like those, except instead of a spouse/child getting upset, it’s Uncle Sam and he holds a serious grudge. If you were going to do your taxes on TurboTax but didn’t because you were putting it off, it’s too late; just don’t make this mistake next year! There’s no reason why you should give TurboTax your money when you can use it to buy your kid a new Disney movie to love every single day for two months. :)

(by the way, you have less than two weeks left!)


 Your Take 
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Your Take: Professional Tax Preparation or a Box?

I’ve been working full time for five years now and have used TurboTax for the last four (I did it by hand the first year, I have no idea why!). I’ve never walked into a tax preparation store like an H&R Block or a Jackson Hewitt but my friends have and walked away with experiences that hardly warranted the $300 fees they paid. On one hand, my tax situation had been fairly simple for the last four years. Single income (one year I had two W-2s but that’s hardly rare), standard deduction, twenty minutes in TurboTax and I was done. I went to an itemized deduction two years ago because of the mortgage interest but that hardly registered. Two years ago I even added on a Schedule C for income generated from side ventures, again that wasn’t much of a curveball for TurboTax. I don’t have a complicated situation… why would I pay $300 for someone to ask the same questions a box would ask?

What’s your take on tax preparation? Worth it? Not worth it?


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