Filing Taxes? It's Automatic

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There's a nip in the air. Holiday decorations are everywhere you look. Shopping malls and stores are jammed with people looking for that special gift. You know what that means -- only 131 more shopping days until tax returns are due.

With just a few weeks left in the 2000 tax year, the makers of tax preparation software for the Mac have begun unveiling the latest editions of their products. Intuit (800/446-8848, ), which makes MacInTax, got the jump Tuesday when it unveiled the newest version of its tax program.

If you head to your friendly neighborhood software retailer hunting for MacInTax 2000, though, you're in for a long, fruitless search. Intuit has dropped the MacInTax name, re-christening its Macintosh product "TurboTax" after the Windows and Internet versions of the application.

The 2000 edition of TurboTax offers more than just a name change, however; Intuit has added an Automated Tax Return feature that electronically imports wages, dividend, and interest income data into TurboTax forms.

The result, says Todd Stanley, senior product manager for TurboTax, is a speedier filing process that reduces the chance for data entry errors. Completing the tax forms for interest, dividends, and capital gains can take up to seven hours, according to IRS estimates. In contrast, Stanley says, TurboTax can fill out that information in as little as 10 minutes.

With Automated Tax Return, TurboTax users would log on to the Internet and download W-2 and 1099 data directly from Intuit partners rather than copy the information by hand. There's a catch, however. You can only take advantage of the Automated Tax Return feature if your payroll processor or financial institution is participating with Intuit. Tax documents like W-2 or 1099 forms will include a note that lets you know if your information is available for importing into TurboTax. So far, Intuit's payroll partners include Ceridian, ProBusiness, and PeopleSoft. Participating financial institutions include Fidelity Investments, the Vanguard Group, TD Waterhouse, T. Rowe Price, and Salomon Smith Barney. Intuit plans on expanding the scope of Automated Tax Return in future installments of TurboTax.

"Automated Tax Return is a long-term initiative," Stanley says. "It's not just something we're going to have this year and that's going to remain static. . . . This is the start of something brand new."

TurboTax's Automated Tax Return tool also transfers data from Intuit's Quicken application as well as other financial software. Other new additions to TurboTax include Quick Cash, which lets users pay a fee to get a loan based on their anticipated tax refund, and a new charity portal that helps users find and make tax-deductible donations to participating charities. Users also can pay a fee to access live advice from professional tax experts through TurboTax.

TurboTax hits retail shelves this month (December 2000). The deluxe edition sells for $50.

In related news, Block Financial (818/779-7223, ), which makes Kiplinger TaxCut, hasn't publicly outlined the new features in its 2000 edition. But the company says additions to TaxCut Deluxe include My Taxes, an interview format that streamlines tax preparation; the Where Am I? window, which lets users see where they are in the tax preparation process; and enhanced tax planning features.

TaxCut also imports data from last year's version of the software, as well as from TurboTax and Quicken. Block Financial is touting tighter integration with Microsoft Money at its Web site -- a feature that will do Mac users little good since Money is a Windows-only product.

Block Financial is already taking orders for Kiplinger TaxCut 2000 at its Web site. The deluxe edition sells for $20.

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