What an incredibly complex tax year for our household. Before 2009, we lived in an apartment, worked two jobs, and could only deduct student loan interest. But in 2009, we purchased a home, earned freelance income, and donated to charity.
We were eligible to take the home office tax deduction and self employed tax deductions. As the financial guru of our household, I gladly take the reins on taxes. However, all of these tax situations are new to me, and so I was particularly eager to try out the TurboTax 2009 software that touts itself as “GPS for your Taxes”.
Overall I was very impressed with the product and its ability to take a complete novice with some very tricky tax situations and leave me feeling confident enough to submit my own taxes. There were also some frustrations, which you can read about below.
Immediate Tax Feedback
One neat feature of this product is a box at the top of each screen that automatically updates the amount of money you either owe or will receive from the government after each tax form that you input. Of course this was an exciting feature to me because with our tax deductions on purchasing our home and my fiancé’s 401k contributions, he was owed money by the government (think slot machine going up, up, up in green font). Unfortunately I owed money to the government, so for me the number was red.
Access to Actual Forms
There is a button at the top right hand screen that you can use to look at the actual tax forms with all of the information you have inserted. This was particularly helpful to me as I was unsure of a few areas based off of the prompted questions, and so I could clarify this by looking at the forms.
Different Degrees of Help Available
TurboTax gives you the option of guiding you through each of the sections through the button “Guide Me”, or to explore the forms as needed through the button “Explore on my Own”. Of course I used the “Guide Me”, and was thankful for the simple and intuitive yes/no questions it asked.
Import Tax, Asset, and Other Information
Another neat and convenient feature is the number of forms and asset/tax information that can be automatically imported into this program. My W-2 and mutual fund information (from being sold) were both imported.
Also, there is a neat website called “ItsDeductible” which helps you put a dollar figure to any physical donations you have made through the year. You simply search for the item, and then choose the amount that is suitable, based on condition. The value is based upon the value of the same items sold on eBay. You can also visit the ItsDeductible website and keep track of all of your charitable donations throughout the year, and then import this information directly into TurboTax next year.
My experience with this program was not without its frustrations. One of the biggest issues was that my computer failed to allow the text from pop-up explanation windows. The actual window would pop-up, but there would be no text. This gave me headaches, and I had to search on the internet for answers in some areas. I attempted to call the TurboTax people, but was not given a call back in time for the writing of this article. When I did my own tax return on the online version of TurboTax, the pop-ups did come up. Also, my fiancé works in IT, and he could not figure out the software problem.
The second frustration was with the home office tax deduction. I had specific questions that needed to be answered, and the prompted questions from the software were not as helpful as it could have been. Because I was unable to get the software to work so that the pop-ups worked, I could not access immediate help from the program itself and get my questions answered.