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Tax-Preparation Software

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This year, the contenders in the tax-preparation software arena are more competitive than ever. In one corner is the revamped, refined, and rechristened Quicken TurboTax Home and Business (formerly known as MacInTax), from Intuit. In the other is Kiplinger TaxCut Macintosh Deluxe, from financial heavyweight H&R Block. Both programs let you import data from Quicken or other financial software, both now have one-click updating commands for downloading the latest tax information and forms, and both let you file electronically or print returns for mailing. But when it comes to guiding you through obtuse federal tax code, the less-expensive TaxCut once again comes out ahead: it has better, more-accessible help, and it's easier to use.

Look and Help

The packages have similar interfaces. In each, the main screen asks a series of questions that guide you through the tax-preparation process; a column on the screen's right-hand side contains questions linked to answers concerning the topic on the main screen. The software makes calculations and enters results in the appropriate tax form, which is shown in a scrolling window at the bottom of the screen.

Despite these similarities, it takes a little longer to learn to use TurboTax's interface features than TaxCut's. TaxCut also offers more and better help, and it brings the help to you rather than making you search for it.

TaxCut generally gives you more FAQs than TurboTax, and its questionnaire is sprinkled with useful videos that offer advice about tax law. The Help button in both programs brings up a window with tips and facts, but TaxCut presents information that's more pertinent to the screen at hand.

Auto Entry

TurboTax does have a handy feature that will be helpful for some people. Automated Tax Return can import data via the Internet from selected employers and roughly half a dozen investment companies. Although this may save you some typing, it's probably inapplicable to most users.

TaxCut has some features of greater benefit to more users. For instance, the program displays an i icon next to the currently selected field. Clicking on it lets you add an itemized list to a figure or mark a field entry as tentative. TaxCut asks you later if you want to finalize tentative items.

Nontaxing Interface: Kiplinger TaxCut's hyperlinks and Help button offer abundant assistance with the tax code.

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