TurboTax for Windows. (tax-preparation software) (Evaluation)
by Alfred Giovetti
If you liked Turbo Tax or MacInTax for Windows, you'll love this newly updated tax-preparation program, TurboTax for Windows. It combines the best feature of the two older packages and boasts a number of new options.
After last year's tax season ended, ChipSoft, maker of the award-winning TurboTax, acquired Softview, producer of MacInTax for Windows. ChipSoft is dedicated to supporting former Softview customers and using its newly purchased technology to enhance both product lines.
It took me only about five minutes to install TurboTax for Windows, using Windows 3.0, and that included running the Windows-based printer installation procedure with the soft fonts. You may also install the program via DOS if you prefer. Once you've installed the program, you can execute it from DOS or Windows.
With TurboTax for Windows, basically you have a tax form on your screen that looks like the IRS paper form. As you fill in the information, line-sensitive instructions, help, and cross-linking to other relevant forms and summaries are available. Or you can use the interactive method called Interview with TurboTax, which asks you basic income-tax questions much as a tax preparer interviews a client. Your answers fill check boxes with yes, no, or numerals and open up new schedules that need to be prepared. Another helpful feature is Logical Next Step, which is a set of pop-up windows that help you decide what to do next.
You may answer questions in any order, and when you're ready to save the forms, you simply access a pull-down menu or press F3 from any location in the program. Double-clicking on the text portion of any line in the official forms gives you access to the official IRS instructions for that line. Clicking on the consult button of the onscreen status bar or the help bar gives you access to additional instructions and explanations of the tax code. The cross-reference button of the help bar immediately pops up the form or schedule where the number originates. Numbers and answers to questions are automatically carried to the appropriate blocks or lines in all other applicable forms. Double-clicking on any line or block will open an itemization or the related form that develops the figure, allowing you to prepare that form or schedule immediately.
Several interesting features make tax preparation with TurboTax for Windows a real joy. (Well, maybe not exactly a joy; after all, this is tax preparation.) Immediately after they've been entered, conflicting answers are pointed out by a pop-up warning screen that explains the problem in easy-to-understand language, which helps you answer the questions correctly. You can enter estimates and questinable items followed by the letter E or a question mark to allow these items to be used for what-if situations or to give you an eary estimate of your refund or tax due. The program then identifies these estimates and questionable entries so that you can enter the correct data later.
Once you've finished entering all of your data, TurboTax for Windows helps you check you forms for completeness, review then for audit potential, and make a final check before printing out the return. Also, once you've finished your federal return, you can transfer the data to one or more of the 15 available state income tax packages. The state forms show the same smooth linking of forms and schedules, all accessible by double-clicking on the appropriate numeric field.
The override function, a carry-over from earlier versions of TurboTax, continues to be useful. Override allows you to bypass normal calculations and defaults with otherwise correct information or to prepare forms where even the IRS instructions have proven incorrect. Many other programs don't have such a function, the lack of which makes it virtually impossible to prepare a return correctly.
TurboTax for Windows has a slew of new features for its 1991 version, but the one that I like the most will be a real time-saver for users of the 1990 TurboTax. You can now import the repetitive data from last year's TurboTax Personal 1040 into the new program. Names, addresses, bank account numbers, and other such constant data will be transferred to this year's schedules, leaving only the amounts blank for you to fill in. This feature is standard on professional tax-preparation packages but unique among personal packages.
TurboTax for Windows is the only true Windows-based tax-=preparation program on the market today. Other Windows-oriented tax-preparation programs are strictly character-based ports of DOS programs. The true Windows application gives this program the unique features of Windows. The screen looks like the IRS forms, and the printout looks like the IRS forms. TurboTax for Windows is the only program I know of that prints all the IRS forms that it supports in true WYSIWYG fashion. What you see on the screen is what actually prints, whether it be a 9-pin, 24-pin, or laser printer that controls the output. The dot-matrix forms are so close to the IRS forms that the IRS accepts them as official forms, not as facsimiles.
With 55 forms and schedules, TurboTax for Windows will accommodate many of the simpler income-tax calculations and some of the most complex, including the new four-page Earned Income Credit calculation. It also accommodates some 52 other schedules, work sheets, and supporting statements for specific calculations.
The program supports the forms for nine sole-proprietorship businesses, 27 rental properties, nine farms, 62 depreciation schedules for an unlimited number of assets, two employee business-expense schedules, 11 sales of personal residence, and ample multiples of many other forms. Except for the two employee business-expense forms, there should be enough forms for the average individual's personal tax return.
The ability to exchange information with other programs is a very important feature in modern software. Software that can update information to incorporate new items is a real boon. TurboTax for Windows allows you to import personal and business information from Quicken, the popular accounting and budgeting program. Also, you can import data from any text file produced by popular packages such as Lotus 1-2-3, WordPerfect, and others. And you can use the cut-and-paste feature of Windows to import data from other applications within the Windows environment.
TurboTax for Windows is not perfect. There's still room for improvement. My wish list includes an automated error-checking routine that would give a printable listing of possible problems. In addition to pop-up supporting schedules that merely add up a list of numbers, pop-up minispread-sheets and notepads would make the program more versatile. The program also suffers from the lack of a financial calculator. The final review of completed forms should have an automated audit-potential screen that offers normal ranges for many items and warns taxpayers of potential audit problems. Expansion of the excellent but limited interview feature of the program would also make this great package better.
While Congress seems to think that tax simplification is another form of making the tax code more complex and less fair, TurboTax for Windows takes tax simplification seriously and has made real inroads into making the process easier and more pleasant. While most of us can't say that we look forward to preparing our taxes, with the guidance and help of TurboTax for Windows, at least preparing our taxes can be a bit less paintful.