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Given the complexity of our tax laws, you need tax software if you want to handle your own returns. Both Block Financial's $40 Kiplinger TaxCut '99 Deluxe Filing Edition and Intuit's $50 Quicken MacInTax Deluxe '99 simplify the tax-preparation process while maximizing the amount of money you get to keep. But this year's Kiplinger TaxCut is easier to use and navigate than Quicken MacInTaxand it's less expensive.
( Macworld's policy is to review only final, shipping versions of software. However, due to the time-sensitive nature of these programs, this review was based on late-beta versions.)
Kiplinger TaxCut contains provisions for personal taxes and home offices. MacInTax Deluxe lacks home-office features; for those you'll need the $65 MacInTax Home and Business edition. The latter offers more help with small-business taxes than does Kiplinger TaxCut, but TaxCut provides almost all the features most home-office users really need.
Both programs ask a series of questions designed to gather your tax information, and then they produce the appropriate tax forms. As you answer the questions, you can view any portion of the current form or jump to other forms. You can also enter or edit data directly on the forms if you wish.
One difference between the programs is that TaxCut asks questions in plain English; MacInTax often uses language straight from tax forms. For instance, MacInTax might ask you to choose between Start New Schedule E or Done With Schedule E, or whether you want to start a new Form 1099-MISC. The TaxCut software selects the appropriate form for you.
TaxCut also provides a cleaner interface. The main interview window is divided into three tabbed pages: Prepare, where you enter tax information; Review, where the software checks for missing information or items the IRS might flag; and File, where you print the returns or file electronically.
MacInTax Deluxe forces you to navigate through nine tabs, and the Home and Business edition adds a tenth. And MacInTax's interview process is not well organized; for example, the business edition asks for information about your business office immediately after you enter the percentage of your home used for a home office, making it easy to confuse business and home-office expenses. Other home-office questions come later.
At Your Fingertips Kiplinger TaxCut's Prepare screen lists frequently asked questions about tax topics.
Both programs provide easy access to a table-of-contents window that lets you jump to different parts of the interview. Unfortunately, Intuit has removed the Overview window, a handy navigation aid in last year's edition. Both programs provide commands that let you go back to previous screens, much like the Back button in a Web browser. However, the MacInTax Back command is a text hyperlink that appears in different locations on each pageannoying if you're backing up through several screens.
Help is a big part of any tax-preparation program, and both programs list frequently asked questionswith links to answerson the right side of the interview window. The questions are context sensitive, changing as you flip through interview pages. Both programs also provide a wealth of built-in reference material, including IRS documentation and tax-planning tips.
However, TaxCut provides more hyperlinked terms and makes it easier to find the help you need. When you click on the Help button, the program almost always brings up an explanation of what you're doing on a particular interview page. MacInTax doesn't always bring you to the information you need. For example, when you click on the Help button in a window called Get OrganizedDeductions, the program displays a Federal Information Worksheet. On the plus side, MacInTax's Guide Me link leads to detailed explanations, such as who qualifies as a dependent, and the business edition provides more built-in tax information than the other programs.
Kiplinger TaxCut and MacInTax Deluxe both include QuickTime movies that illustrate tax concepts and help you learn the software. However, TaxCut includes more movies than MacInTax Deluxe does, and TaxCut's material is better integrated with other help facilities. For example, if you click on the Help button, TaxCut provides more information on the movie's topic. MacInTax Home and Business doesn't include any movies.
Both programs also offer links to their own Web sites for more information. Once again, TaxCut takes you directly to the information you want, and the Tools menu includes an Update TaxCut command that automatically downloads any needed software updates, including those required to complete new tax forms. A similar MacInTax command takes you to a search screen at the Intuit Web site.
In past years, Quicken MacInTax has been the preferred tax program for Macintosh users. But this year's improvements in Kiplinger TaxCut make it the clear choice for your 1999 tax return. It has a cleaner interface, it's less expensive, and it doesn't require extensive knowledge of IRS forms and schedules.
RATING: PROS: Easy to use; good tax advice; help when and where you need it. CONS: For home and home office only. COMPANY: Block Financial (818/779-7223, http://www.taxcut.com ). LIST PRICE: $40.
RATING: PROS: Good, plentiful tax advice; good information on small-business issues. CONS: Sometimes difficult to navigate; uses too much IRS jargon. COMPANY: Intuit Software (800/446-8848, http://www.macintax.com ). LIST PRICE: $50; Home and Business edition, $65.
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