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Business in Vancouver: News that works for you 

    Tax return software options continue to multiply

    by Alan Zisman (c) 2002 First published in Business in Vancouver ,  Issue #698 March 11-17, 2003 High Tech Office  column 
     

    Spring brings longer days, daffodils, and tax returns. Packages of tax software packages are sprouting up in office supply stores, supermarkets and even convenience stores. 

    Last year, some 440,000 copies of Canadian personal tax-software programs were sold. Still, fewer than 40 per cent of the 2001 returns were filed electronically either from professional tax preparers or from home software packages. 

    The most used products are QuickTax ($30) and TaxWiz ($25). Last November, Intuit Canada, owner of QuickTax, purchased TaxWiz. TaxWiz is still being marketed as a separate product and Intuit has said that it intends to offer it next year as well. 

    Personal tax software has a pretty simple mandate: help you enter the appropriate information to file an accurate tax return. Intuit, however, is hoping that QuickTax owners will start using its software year-round, not just at tax time. They've produced custom editions aimed at investors, small-business owners (including people with a salaried job and some business income on the side) and people nearing or in retirement ($60 each). These versions differ in the advice the software pops up as you enter data, suggesting ways to optimize your return. Planning tools help forecast future income, which may impact this year's return. Each custom edition includes a set of third-party publications and videos. People may fall into multiple categories; a platinum edition ($80) combines all three custom editions. Mac users can buy a $50 version of QuickTax, but custom editions are Windows-only. 

    TaxWiz sees its mandate as helping beginners to file relatively simple returns quickly. It uses an interview format to help users enter the appropriate information. Access to the online version is bundled with Taxes for Canadians for Dummies 2003 book, and the standard version of TaxWiz uses the familiar For Dummies character for its help pop-ups. 

    Both QuickTax and TaxWiz limit users to six returns. Users needing additional returns can purchase them without needing to buy another copy of the software. Returns for family members earning under $25,000 can be entered without counting towards the six returns. 

    As well, both products offer online returns without buying a copy of the software. QuickTaxWeb (www.quicktaxweb.ca) costs $20 for a single return or $25 for a couple. QuickTaxWeb has offered a challenge -- it guarantees users will qualify for a tax refund or there is no charge. TaxWiz offers individual online returns (www.taxwiz.ca) for $13 or $17 for a couple.  If the net household income is under $20,000, there is no charge for either QuickTaxWeb or TaxWiz-online. Both services are PC and Mac-friendly. 

    Last year, Intuit Canada added a "product activation" feature to QuickTax. While the program can be loaded onto multiple computers, actual returns can only be printed or e-filed from the computer where it was originally installed. A similar feature added this year to Intuit's U.S. tax package, TurboTax, has led to widespread complaints. Unlike the American version of product activation, QuickTax's made-in-Canada version can be easily uninstalled and makes no low-level changes to your hard drive. U.S. and Canadian versions don't use "spyware" and do not report on users' computers or online activities. 

    While QuickTax and TaxWiz account for the bulk of the Canadian personal tax return market, they aren't the only players. GriffTax offers a full-featured ($40) Mac version. GriffTax Simple is a free download. PC or Mac users are charged $5 when they file a return. 

    Ufile.ca is an online-only and PC-only program, with returns starting at $13. Ufile also offers printed returns for the 2000 and 2001 tax-years. You can only netfile this year's return. 

    (Suggestion: if filing online, be sure to print out and save a copy of your return and plan on keeping it for at least seven years.) 



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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan