TaxAct: A review
April 7, 2014
I declare a Minor Victory. After wading through 20 forms and itemizing deductions for home, charitable deductions, expenses and so on, I’ve finally gotten the taxes sorted enough to file for our extension. Maybe a numbing effect sets in after the first several hours, or the pain is so unbelievable that you entirely forget what it was like, much like how I’ve heard childbirth described. No kidding, that was torment stretched across 3 weekends and I’ve only just bought us a reprieve until October. On the bright side, I always forget that California grants an automatic extension so all that pain was for federal taxes.
While looking forward to working with a good tax preparer/advisor, I get that weird “I have to pre-clean for the housecleaners” feeling. You know what I’m talking about, right? Friends who had housekeepers/housecleaners (or still do) always spend half a day picking up in preparation for people to come clean. It totally baffles me. But Moom inspired me to sort all the just-about filed paperwork so it’s not a file folder chock full of confusion; everything’s scanned and itemized in a spreadsheet now.
This is the second year I’ve used TaxAct and around Hour 13, I started wondering what possessed me to use them again. The relief of being done with taxes must have overcome all memory of my frustrations in using the software last year. Since I’d already committed, I rationalized that this was just my way of being fair, that the frustration really had to do with the software, not just doing taxes.
Let’s be honest, there was a lot of that frustration:
1. Filing an extension requires an estimate of your tax liability and payment by April 15th. Slog through the entire filing process and then send in Form 4868, Application for Automatic Extension of Time To File U.S. Individual Income Tax Return.
2. Finally filing again in October (instead of January or February at the latest) when the last straggler Schedule K comes in: Form 1040; Schedules A-C, SE; Form 6251; Form 2106; Form 4562
3. Filing amendments because the last straggler Schedule K was wrong – Forms 1040x and 540x.
Human error aside, the linear-but-NOT interface was terrible
TaxAct walks you through each of the forms, start to finish, via their questionnaire. Answer yes to this or that question and it opens up the relevant form. This works if you have all your information at hand, organized, and ready to be flipped through.
The problem is, you can’t easily skip certain questions and then just use their “Back” button to weave your way back up the tree. Go backwards that way and you’re liable to find yourself up a creek instead, lost in some random cul-de-sac of form questions, or rowing your way through a whole series of questions that aren’t the direction you meant to go.
When you have a number of new forms or situations to work into the picture, it’s not necessarily intuitive when you should be adding which forms to which sections if you only know which Schedule it should appear on but not much else. I ended up adding and deleting forms multiple times trying to get things into the correct sections/sequence. It wasn’t until the end where I found the summary page for either the Income or Deductions section where it was much easier to fill things out piecemeal; and I still couldn’t tell you where to find that.
Once I further complicate our financial lives with other investments, I won’t have hair left to pull out while doing taxes. Another vote for hiring a pro!
If you’d, say, spent 4 hours working and turned your attention away briefly, you get logged out. It saves your work, of course, but when you try to log back in, there’s a 30% chance it’ll decide that you disabled cookies (when you didn’t) and insists that you have to accept them again (but I DO!). It’s an annoyance but let’s be honest, every minute wasted trying to do taxes is as frustrating as those minutes and hours spent actually working on them.
Honestly, the software’s probably halfway decent but for the amount of time I had to waste figuring it out, or figuring out where information should go because they failed to provide enough information, I won’t be using them again.