capsule review

Tax-Preparation Software

For six years now, Mac users have had only two choices in tax software: TurboTax, from Intuit, and TaxCut, from H&R Block. Although neither would win a beauty contest, each program has evolved to look more and more like its competitor. However, TaxCut retains some clear advantages over TurboTax.

The heart of both programs is the interview, which guides you through the tax-preparation process. TaxCut has the edge here--it asks fewer irrelevant questions. And when you click on a frequently asked question, TaxCut's answers are succinct without sounding like an IRS manual.

TaxCut also handles the personal touches better than TurboTax. For example, TaxCut responded impressively when we listed an occupation title (writer): it offered advice on a home-office deduction.

The Joys of Data Entry

Last year, TaxCut introduced a great new feature that let you mark a data entry as tentative, allowing you to finalize it later. TurboTax added the same feature this year.

Both programs can now download 1099 information from financial institutions such as brokerages and banks, and W-2 information from payroll institutions. This feature aims to save you tedious data-entry work; though it wasn't ready for testing in either program at press time, TurboTax appears to have more participating institutions.

Both products let you import data from Quicken. However, unless you've been meticulous about categorizing tax-related transactions all year long, a Quicken import is of limited utility.

One important difference between the two is that TaxCut includes both an OS X and a classic­Mac OS version; TurboTax runs only on OS 9 and earlier. We used TaxCut in OS X with no problems, but TurboTax crashed the Classic environment at least once on our OS X machine. Neither program had any problems running under OS 9.2. TaxCut is also significantly less expensive than TurboTax, at half the latter program's price. (Each program also offers one state return and one electronic filing, after rebate.)

Heavy on Resources

Beyond the interviews, both programs are stuffed with extras. Apparently, you can't do your taxes in a software program without watching a talking head earnestly explain everything from nanny taxes to deductible home-equity interest. In general, though, TaxCut's heads had more interesting things to say, and they were less likely to veer off into infomercials.

Naturally, both programs are crammed with tax-reference materials from the IRS and from third parties--information you won't need if the interviews are effective. Both also offer links to "live" tax advisors.

Macworld's Buying Advice

Either H&R Block's TaxCut or Intuit's TurboTax will get the job done, but TaxCut has a slight advantage when it comes to presenting information clearly, with a minimum of accounting jargon. Add the fact that it's Carbonized for OS X, and TaxCut gets our refund check

Head Start: TaxCut is good at getting to the point quickly, as evidenced by its video-based advice from Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine's editors.
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