Tax software doesn't make annual chore painless

by Alan Zisman (c) 2002
First published in Business in Vancouver,  Issue #646 March 12-18, 2002 High Tech Office column

Have you been putting off getting your taxes done?

As in other years, your computer can help, and it's more convenient than ever.

Your choices, however, have shrunk. One-time free CoolTax is gone, along with long-time players CanTax and HomeTax.

But QuickTax and TaxWiz battle on, like Hertz and Avis, for the estimated $20-million Canadian market for do-it-yourself tax preparation software. TaxWiz says 6.5 million of 22 million returns last year were done on a computer.

Like Hertz, QuickTax is No. 1 by a large margin. It costs $30 before a $5 rebate although Mac users get dinged $35 with no rebate, and there's a $90 version for a single incorporated return.

This year, QuickTax is limiting the number of returns you can produce with a single copy of the standard, deluxe, and Mac versions to five, enough for most families. (You can try out a variety of scenarios within a single return.)

If you need more returns, be prepared to pay for them: $35 for 15 more and $170 for an additional 95.

Being No. 2, TaxWiz feels that it has to try harder. The software offers a $10 rebate, and its $30 package allows for an unlimited number of returns. If you order the package online, you save $5 and get free shipping, while QuickTax has no discount to online customers and charges a $5 shipping fee. (No Mac version, though.)

Both services are also offering to do your taxes online, with no added software needed. TaxWiz-ToGo costs $10 for an access card allowing two online returns, while QuickTaxWeb ( charges $20 for a single and an extra $5 for a spouse. (Another alternative is, charging $13 to $20). Returns using UFile and QuickTaxWeb are free for people earning less than $20,000.

New this year is an expanded ability to NetFile. QuickTax, TaxWiz, and UFile are all certified for NetFile. Returns completed over the Internet or on your computer can now be electronically sent directly to Revenue Canada (now known as Canada Customs and Revenue Agency), with refunds arriving in an estimated two weeks or so.

QuickTax and QuickTaxWeb, along with Liberty Tax Service, will notify customers if they qualify for QuickRefund. If so, customers can choose to electronically transmit their return to Liberty, picking up a refund cheque (discounted by 15 per cent on the first $300 and five per cent on additional amounts) at one of 227 Liberty offices the next day.

QuickTax and TaxWiz both offer similar features. The differences are mainly in look and feel. If you install either, make sure you download the latest updates prior to entering your financial data. QuickTax makes this easy, offering to automatically connect and update itself as the last step of installation. TaxWiz, however, requires that you go to and find and install the update manually.

TaxWiz makes its online forms look more like the paper equivalents, although in some cases, that makes them harder to read.

I prefer the way TaxWiz puts a button to open the appropriate schedule next to each line. QuickTax gives less visual feedback that use of a schedule or form is needed, though double-clicking the entry opens up the appropriate form.

Once you get going, either QuickTax or TaxWiz on your computer or any of the three online services will help you get the job done.

None of them, however, will make it easy or painless. (At least, they didn't for me!)

As always, have all your records and paperwork organized and available. And the more familiar you are with preparing your taxes, the easier it will be to work with tax software.

And now, with the new ability to Netfile your return direct to Revenue Canada (excuse me, CCRA), you should get refunds sooner than ever. 

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