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GriffTax Simple a “Non-Taxing” Solution

by Jim Bray

Over the years I’ve reviewed quite a few different Canadian tax preparation software packages. They’ve ranged from the biggies in the marketplace to some apparently mom and pop operations.

With few exceptions, they’ve all done the job of making it a lot less painful to calculate how much of your hard earned money you’re forced to send to that sinkhole in Ottawa to have urinated away on vote buying schemes in Quebec and the rest of the east.

Hey, I'm not cynical!

This year I’m going to focus on GriffTax Simple, simply because I haven’t looked at it before. Another reason is that its corporate headquarters is in Almonte, Ontario, a lovely little bedroom community of Ottawa that was my late mother’s home town. Incidentally, that’s also the home town of that Naismith fellow who inflicted basketball on the world.

But I digress.

GriffFax Simple starts off easily enough. I double clicked on the icon on my Windows desktop and it leapt into action, immediately pointing out that I was still using the original version and offering to go online and update itself for me. So it downloaded the patch, I installed it, and fired up the program again.

Which takes you to an opening screen where shortcuts to existing returns are displayed or you can choose to start a new one. My wife had already done hers (the organized dear!), so I began a new one for me. GriffTax whisked me to a screen where I could enter my personal information, which I did, then I clicked on the button to continue.

And it crashed. Well I assume it crashed. Either that or it decided it didn’t want to hang out with me (which is certainly not unprecedented).

When I fired it back up again, my wife’s return was still listed in the little box, but now there was one labeled “null, null” – which really made me feel important. So I filled in all the personal information again; I forgot my wife’s date of birth (at her request, since she wanted me to put in “29” and I knew that would either make the program crash again or bring the truth police down on us), but GriffTax knew better and flagged the omission, refusing to move on until I had filled it in properly.

“See, dear, I have to do it” I explained to my unimpressed “better two thirds.” Entering the dates of birth is a bit of a pain, because the software makes you scroll up and down through the choices of month, but it works. Then I clicked on “okay” again, hoping against hope that it wouldn’t crash again – and it didn’t, so I was apparently off to the races.

So I took advantage of the handy “Save” button that’s prominently located at the bottom of the Wizard-like interface to which I was returned. But GriffTax wouldn’t let me move on until everything was filled out completely. I’d forgotten to put in my choice of language (I ended up clicking “English” since there was no choice for “profane”) and the software had also flagged my social insurance number for correction: I’d separated the three digital sections by a hyphen and it wanted something else.

Hey, what gives? Still a flag that I’d used the wrong syntax, or an invalid SIN or whatever. Yet I hadn’t. I had correctly entered all nine digits and I’ve known my SIN by heart since I was a nipper. Something was awry; oh, I finally figured it out: you can’t enter spaces either, just all nine digits in a row. The software adds the spaces itself.

Why couldn’t they have just said that right there instead of making me find it in the help files?

Anyway, that was step one. Step two of the process (which begins with an “about step 2” page) is where you enter your income and deductions (my deductions are said to be brilliant, but the government has so far seemed unimpressed). This section uses a tabbed interface, which can be a tad confusing because if you don’t notice the tabs up top and continue the Wizard approach operated by buttons on the bottom left of the window you bypass it entirely.

Still, if you bother keeping your wits about you, entering the information is straightforward enough. You simply click on the appropriate button for the appropriate form and it springs magically to life so you can fill in the appropriate fields. Here’s where you also enter stuff like business income, investments and the like. It’s a quite simple, fortunately.

Step 3 lets you fill in any tax credits you may have to claim, while Step 4 gives you a look at the damage so far, as well as asking you the usual questions about foreign property ownership, whether or not you want Elections Canada to spread your name all over the bureaucracy and whether or not you’re claiming a GST credit. This is where you also promise that all the information you’ve punched in is complete and true on pain of burning in Hell.

Step 5 is “payment and filing,” where you can preview your return, print it out, or file it online or by telephone if you choose to go that way.

By the way, GriffTax has included a “Save” button on each of these sections so you can ensure you don’t lose your work in progress if something horrible like a power failure or program crash happens. Even though I never had another crash, it's always good strategy to take advantage of it!

Along the way there are prompts for if you forgot to include anything (for instance, I hadn’t put in any income for my wife and it verified that I had meant to do that before it would let me continue), which is handy.

All in all it’s pretty easy to use; if you have a simple return, you can have it done faster than you can say “billion dollar boondoogle.” And for twenty Canuck bucks, it’s pretty cheap.

The company also offers Mac-based versions for personal returns as well as professional and “corporate comptrollers” versions.

The product is available as a download from the company’s Web site. The CD version also comes with supplementary info such as forms and guides.

There isn’t all the “value-added” stuff that you get with some competitors, such as virtual gurus to bore you to tears with their pedantic prattle, but while many may miss this omission, I couldn’t have cared less.

And while GriffTax Simple isn’t quite as user friendly as some competitors (QuickTax, for example), it’s cheaper and the differences in usability aren’t that onerous.

I can’t say I enjoyed using the product (who would?), but it does the job for which it was designed, and that’s about all one can want.


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January 31, 2006