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TAXWIZ helps minimize revcan angst

by Jim Bray

(editor's note: this article refers to software aimed at the Canadian market)

Get ready to send that kilo of flesh to Ottawa!

And while you're at it, why not try to ensure that the flesh you send is your fair and adequate share - that you get the breaks you need so you don't end up dipping even deeper into your pocket than is necessary. After all, why give them more than is absolutely required? They'll just blow it on some billion dollar boondoggle anyway, so better it stays in your pocket where it can do some good.

But I digress...

The good news is that today's tax preparation computer software can turn the ordeal of poring over those darn sheets and tables into a relatively painless experience. Relatively.

TAXWIZ offers a range of "less taxing" products including an online version that lets you fill out and file your return using a Web Browser and the Internet. I haven't actually tried this method, though my son did and he said it was about as pleasant an experience as doing your taxes could be.

Some people undoubtedly wonder about the security aspects of putting all your personal poop onto the Internet, but this is really a paper tiger. The only time you'd really have to worry about your info being stolen would be at the destination end, which in this case is Taxwiz, and it depends on their security. But the same can be said for the government's computers that'll end up storing your data - and given the current government's woeful record on just about anything I wouldn't think their systems are any more secure than Taxwiz's - or yours. Speaking of yours, your hard drive could be hacked over an open Internet connection, too, so you could also be as much of a security risk as Taxwiz, the government, or whomever. So don't sweat the security aspects excessively.

And there are advantages to filling out the forms online, including these: It's cheaper if you're ony doing one return ($12.95), you don't have to worry about installing software or having it take up hard disk drive space all year while you aren't using it - and you don't have to update it every year.

But it was the CD version that I tried. TAXWIZ Deluxe ($24.95, Windows CD), starts with a splash screen offering you choices that range from a "first time users introduction" to the famous "interview" preparation method for beginners and more experienced "returners" alike. You can also access the tax forms directly, convert last year's return or open an existing return.

If you choose "First time users," you're taken to another screen, Browser-like in appearance, that offers the choices for if you've never done a tax return before, if you've done returns before by hand, or if you're used tax preparation software before.

Taxwiz includes a selection of videos, too, though the ones I sat through amounted basically to just a talking head (albeit an attractive one) who appeared to be reading (rather dryly) from a TelePrompTer. But it's a bit of welcome humanity among all the numbers and tables.

I usually do these reviews by taking the "newcomer" route, since it's the best test of the software's ease of use. Taxwiz's interface looks and acts like a Web Browser, so it should be familiar to most computer-savvy people. Down the left side is a series of topics you can access directly.

It begins with a little background advice and then sends you off to collect all your info together (T4's, receipts, RRSP contributions etc.) before heading fearlessly into the realm of the "H and R bloc" via the "Taxes" icon at the top of the screen.

Entering the data is fill-in-the-blanks easy (though the calendar by which you enter your birthdate is unnecessarily complex: why not just type in the numbers?) and when a particular form (for example, your T4) is required it comes up on screen looking like the real McCoy. The forms appear to have been designed for resolutions lower than the 1280x1024 pixels I use, however, because they're very small and I found them hard to read even with my glasses on. Fortunately, you can easily follow the layout from the print version from which you're transcribing the figures.

Navigating the forms is done by either clicking on the next field or pressing the "Tab" key.

The Help system isn't as good, alas, forcing you to search the help section for the particular item on which you're working. If only there were a context-sensitive place to click that would take you to help that relates to whatever particular section is confusing you (in my case it was "Name.")

Fortunately, you can access the tutorial, "tax center" or the CCRA guide whenever you want or need to, which helps.

All in all, the process is reasonably straightforward and if your return is also straightforward it doesn't take long to get through the interview and end up with a completed return (and the software will check it over for you, too). And when you've finished you can just click on the "your tax form" link to see your information, clicking through the pages to find your personal bottom line (to give yourself an early heart attack!)

Taxwiz Deluxe 2002 lets you prepare and file up to 6 income tax returns on one computer for the $24.95 price of admission. The company also has provision for unlimited returns to be prepared by taxpayers who earn under $25,000 a year. Spousal returns are integrated and you can Netfile the finished result.

Taxwiz is set up for all Provinces and Territories, includes RRSP and charitable donations entries, and an auto expense worksheet.

You can also switch between your return and the spousal one, select individual forms without fuss, and there are some popup hints that appear throughout the experience including many tips from "Taxes for Dummies for Canadians".

On the whole I think I liked last year's Taxwiz slightly better than this year's, though only slightly. While some things are easier in the interview method this time around, you're now limited to six returns (last year's was unlimited) - though that probably isn't a big deal.

Still, overall it's easy to use and if your return is very basic you can probably do your return in little more than half an hour once your ducks are all in a row before you begin. More complicated returns require more work, and more conscious thought, of course but the software does a good job of walking you through the ins and outs regardless.

Jim Bray's technology columns are distributed by the TechnoFILE and Mochila Syndicates. Copyright Jim Bray.


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January 31, 2006