Last week, Rich Preece, Director of Product Management for TurboTax , gave me a quick run through the new features of TurboTax for the 2009 tax year. Since I haven’t been using TurboTax to prepare my returns (I use an accountant because of the business), I wanted someone at TurboTax to walk me through the features that were different from last year. While the bulk of tax preparation doesn’t change from year to year, features change, move around, and in order to capture the important ones, I’ll need the help of someone who plays with it everyday.
To Rich’s credit, it was a very straightforward demonstration of the features with an explanation of why things were done a certain way (for example, why they added flagging/bookmarking) without any cheerleading or attempt to paint things more favorably.
Rich told me that the stimulus packages of the last few years affected 95% of households and some to the tune of nearly $13,000 in total available stimulus money. When you consider the various first time homebuyer credits , Making Work Pay, Making Home Affordable , etc., it’s really not surprising to learn that this year’s tax return is probably going to be one of the most convoluted and complicated ones in recent memory. TurboTax has accounted for that by adding in alerts for all of the various stimulus package items and makes a point to ask you about them.
Added Business Intelligence
TurboTax will analyze your return, as you complete it, to try to find things you may have forgotten along the way. I don’t know what they call it but I think of it as business intelligence. The software knows your situation and should take advantage of common scenarios to give you suggestions. Some examples of this feature are – if you tell TurboTax that you own a home but you don’t put down property taxes, it’ll ask you about property taxes. If you say that you started a business, it’ll check to see if you took a deduction for business mileage and medical insurance.
One new feature of TurboTax is the ability to flag certain parts of your return so you know to return to them. You flag it and a listing appears in the sidebar, so you know you need to return to it.
TurboTax learned that a lot of people, to move from screen to screen, were putting in dummy data as placeholders. Sometimes you would need a social security number that you didn’t have or perhaps there were additional 1099’s you hadn’t received it. In fact, when I was preparing my 2006 taxes, I put in a placeholder figure for 1099-MISC income and promptly forgot about it! (I had tofile an amended return )
Audit Risk Results
This isn’t a new feature but it’s been revamped using data from thousands of tax returns to give you a better idea of where the red flags are in your return. Rich said the goal isn’t to scare you into not deducting something but to direct your attention to it so you don’t make a silly mistake that causes you to get audited.
Here’s the prime example of something simple that will automatically trigger an audit. If claim a dependent, you’re required to put down the social security number of that dependent. When the IRS processes returns, it records each social security number as they are claimed and automatically flags returns that claim a social security number its already seen. Let’s say you’re filing a married filing separately return, it’s not uncommon for the two filers to both claim the same dependents. If you don’t community, one of your is going to get audited. One phone call and you can avoid an audit.
Those were the big blockbuster types of additions to the package. Another feature that I think has been fleshed out a lot more is their Live Community bulletin board system. As you prepare your return, there’s a little Live Community widget in the sidebar that has various questions (and answers) related to the section you’re in. When I used TurboTax a few years ago, this area was pretty barren and it seems like this year it’s far more active.
Anyone can answer a question but when you see a PRO label beside their name, it means they’re an accredited tax expert of some kind (either a CPA or an enrolled agent). If you see SUPERUSER, it just means they’ve been recognized by the community as having given some good answers.
I think that about covers all the biggest changes to TurboTax, I’m sure the TurboTax people will be monitoring this post so if you have any questions, leave them in the comments.