is the most expensive $100 software Iíve ever used.
year, I prepared my straightforward personal and
business taxes with TurboTax, and then I gave the same
income and expense data to an accountant. He discovered
that I made multiple errors when I input data into
TurboTax; he also discovered that I paid more than
$1,600 to the IRS than I should have. True, it cost me
$500 to find out about the overpayment, but Iím still
up more than $1,000.
of the reason I like to do my own taxes is my
fascination with numbers. In high school I took a test
that was supposed to ascertain the professions suited my
talents and personality. I fit the profile of an
accountant by a wide margin. Way down the list of
professions I would succeed in was journalism. So
naturally I became one. I had seen "The Front
Page" one too many times.
last years, after the paper I worked for was sold, were
miserable. I worked for several newspapers for nearly
five decades because I liked my colleagues in the
newsroom. I retired because I had reached the limit in
my misery index. It didnít help on black Mondays, when
our paltry wages were cut again and again. In 2013, I
was making less money than I made in 1990. Things were
so bad, advertising so sparse, that the half-life of a
publisher was between four and six months. At one time
the paper I worked for had more than 700 full- and
part-time employees. When I left, the number was barely
in the double digits. The ship was sinking, and it was
either grab a life jacket or go under.
enough about my wasted youth. Back to TurboTax.
gathered all my income and expense data and spent the
better part of a Sunday inputting it all into TurboTax.
When Iím finished, Iíll give my TurboTax return to
my accountant and see what he comes up with. Itís
worth noting that my accountant is conservative. While
he looks for legal deductions, he spots instances where
TurboTax didnít request essential information, or
other instances where I entered the wrong answers. He
will file an honest, scrupulous return and charge me
$500 for his time. In a future column Iíll write about
how much he saved me ó or, perish the thought, how
much extra I owe the taxman.
back at the ranch, Iím putting the 2017 version of
TurboTax Home and Business through its paces.
Installation did not go well. Despite an on-screen
disclaimer that it wasnít TurboTaxí fault that the
installation couldnít proceed, it went into damage
control, automatically spending an hour making things
right. As I watched, TurboTax probed the depths of the
Windows operating system to fix what it said it didnít
break. It was somehow all my fault.
to entering personal information. Since I had used the
program for my 2016 return, the 2017 version
automatically filled in the blanks for the 2017 version,
including information about previous employers, some of
which I had to delete, since I didnít work for them
acts much like a tax preparer ó it asks questions, and
instead of jotting down the answers, I type in the
answers as best can. Oddly, the program wanted to deal
with my writing and editing business first. I figured
that the first questions should have been whether I have
a home office. Thatís important because there are
deductions associated with home offices. When I searched
for "home office" in the help feature, it didnít
come up. I flailed about, bamboozled by such terms as
"net operating loss." But how could I have a
net operating loss if I couldnít figure out whether I
have such things as a "domestic production activity
deduction"? This would take some time to sort out,
so I decided to handle the personal section first.
aid in this effort I had printed reports from Quicken,
the financial program that I used obsessively during the
year. It not only categorizes tax-related expenses, it
told me I spent $49.46 at Gelsonís, an upscale
grocery, in February 2017. The Quicken reports and
graphs are like artwork for the accountant in me. I
would hang the color graphs in a museum if I could. I
really do recommend Quicken as a way to find out whether
expenses are galloping past income in real time. Quicken
data can be downloaded into TurboTax, but I download
bank and credit card transactions daily so that I can
discern whether I can afford that vacation in Turks and
Caicos. In my dreams.
I had categorized medical expenses, I faithfully entered
them all, only to learn that I didnít have enough to
claim a deduction. Thatís the price I pay for staying
healthy and having great insurance if I need it.
I couldnít figure out why the Personal section asked
for so many business deductions, and then did nothing
with the information.
as the moon went dark, so did my desk light. I had a
sore neck from spending so much time on my computer, and
a headache to match.
does its best to take the mystery out of filing tax
returns, but itís only as good as the information you
feed it. That depends on the questions it asks before
data is fed to it. To be charitable (a personal
deduction), it shines when a tax return is fairly
straightforward. I would not recommend it for General
Electric or folks with complicated returns.
advice is to hire a professional tax preparer. You may
have to spend $500 or more for his competence, but Iím
willing to bet that he wonít find that Iím in the 45
percent tax bracket, or anywhere near it. Thatís the
figure TurboTax came up with. Come to think of it, that
$1,000 net savings my accountant found in my 2016 return
might pay for airfare to Turks and Caicos after all.
information: www.turbotax.com. For folks with simple
returns, TurboTax has a free feature.