TurboTax Premier, by Intuit, is an efficient way to wade into your state and federal tax returns, as well as your investments. Structured as a series of questions and split into sections, the application guides you through each section, asking you to fill in values such as your income, interest and dividend information, social security details, and other relevant financial data.
TurboTax is available in four versions: Basic, Deluxe, Premier, and Home & Business. The Basic package is designed for a straightforward tax return. The Deluxe version integrates the Deduction Maximizer, which is worth the extra money if you’re claiming federal and local deductions. TurboTax Premier’s financial and portfolio tools are very useful if investment information will factor into your return. The Home & Business version includes all of the features of the other versions plus a tool to help you locate Schedule C deductions to potentially boost your business write-offs.
You can get off to a quick start on your 2007 return by importing data from Intuit’s Quicken or QuickBooks, or even past TurboTax returns; or you can start a new return and enter all your data manually. Upon arriving at a new section, TurboTax reminds you of the documents you’ll need to refer to, as well as which deductions are available to you. The program calculates whether itemized or standardized deductions are the better option for you, and it includes handy features like error tracking, which compares your entries with commonly entered responses to check for possible mistakes. If you don’t feel confident about your return, Intuit offers the option of buying Audit Defense—a service that provides you with representation from a trained tax professional in case the IRS audits you.
One of TurboTax’s strengths lies in its Deduction Maximizer program. It can help you locate deductions you might have otherwise missed, and it even lets you know if a partial deduction can be claimed in a particular area.
Another great feature is the Basis Pro program, which helps you calculate the cost of your stock and mutual fund transactions. It can be very useful if you’re a casual investor or if you don’t have all of your financial records on hand. The application, which opens on its own when you move into the investment portion of your return, offers a series of questions to help you delve into your trading habits for the year. It makes financial calculations based on your answers and folds these numbers into your return.
Although the program does its job well, there are interface details that can be confusing. Most steps are apparent, and I moved through my return with relative confidence. However, after entering my business expenses, such as office supplies and rent, into the income section, the program asked me the same questions as it did in the deductions section, leaving me confused as to whether to reenter data. A warning eventually appeared cautioning against reentering data, but at some points, I was unsure how to proceed. Despite this, the program offers feedback where it can and typically does a good job of pointing out the best way to proceed through each step.
TurboTax does what it can to stay current with IRS documents, and the program downloaded no less than five available updates after I installed and first launched it. These updates installed and brought me up-to-date with current tax codes and TurboTax bug fixes.
The financial tools within the program can help sort through items such as IRA, 401k, and Roth IRA accounts. Even if your knowledge of account specifics is limited, TurboTax is useful in determining figures such as capital gains and how they fit into your federal return.
Macworld’s buying advice
Facing renewed competition with the return of H&R Block’s TaxCut to the Mac, Intuit has done a great job with this year’s version of TurboTax. (Be sure to check out our our comparative review to see how TurboTax matches up with TaxCut.) The program can make the tedious process of filing tax returns easier, via its helpful feedback. Despite a few confusing interface details, TurboTax is worth its asking price.
[ Chris Barylick is a technology journalist whose work has appeared in Mac Observer and the Washington Post . Despite having gone to business school, tax season still gives him the willies. ]With TurboTax Premier, you can tackle federal and state forms in tandem.