A Less-Taxing Solution
There’s a wealth of desktop and Web-based tax programs available, some for free. Which one is right for you?

For a very long time, doing your taxes yourself meant a cleared space on the dining room table, a pile of sharpened pencils, a big eraser, a calculator with a fresh battery, and hours upon hours of writing little numbers in tiny spaces, erasing little numbers in tiny spaces (and woe to you if you ripped a hole in the paper by erasing too vigorously), and looking up instructions and tiny numbers in little tables, all in a very confusing booklet. Whew. Even reading about it can be confusing and exhausting.

“Do it yourself” tax software programs have been around for quite a few years now, but due to fierce competition, there are more choices and options than ever, and figuring out the solution that best meets your needs can be as confusing and exhausting as the old “pencil and eraser” way of doing your taxes.

To add to the confusion and to complicate your decision making even more, there are now oodles of ways to prepare and file your taxes online, via the Web and software designed to run on it.

Then there’s the “free way.” That is, a score and more of online tax preparation programs that are free to use, providing you meet certain generous income requirements.


The thing is, you really can’t go wrong using any one of the Web- or desktop-based tax preparation methods. All of them provide fairly straightforward ways for you to enter your financial information and deductions, guarantee accurate computations, and help you to maximize your refund and file an error-free return.

The differences come in main areas, namely ease of use, complexity, and price.

There are three main contenders for supremacy in the tax preparation software arena: TurboTax by Intuit, TaxAct by 2nd Story Software, and TaxCut by H&R Block Digital Tax Solutions.

TurboTax is the best-known of the “do-it-yourself” tax software packages, and is also the most expensive – it has little fees here and there that really can add up to quite a chunk of change by the time you’re done preparing and filing your taxes for the year. In general, however, TurboTax offers the most “hand-holding,” and for first-timers to either tax preparation or tax software, the extra price can be worth it. The extra help is also beneficial for those filing a complicated tax return and wanting to go it alone (without a human tax preparer).


TurboTax does offer a free Webbased online option for preparing and efiling your federal taxes. This option is very limited, however, and is best for those who have few or no deductions, one income, are part time workers only, or who want to quickly file a 1040EZ.

TaxAct by 2nd Story Software is another worthy contender in the tax software field. As far as pricing is concerned, all of its options are by far the least expensive for preparing and filing taxes. It offers many of the same features and benefits of Turbo Tax, but offers a free desktop version (available via download or $5.95 for a CD), which TurboTax does not. The main difference between the two brands (other than price) is the amount of “handholding” you get. TaxAct does offer considerable help and advice (depending on the option you choose), but the user interface is not quite as straightforward and easy to use as TurboTax.


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