There are some noticeable changes to the interface design. For instance, a small box at the top of the interface now tracks how much you owe on your state return. This state return monitor joins an identical feature that adds up your federal dues. A new sidebar also takes root on the right. It features relevant tax questions posted in real time from TurboTax's "Live Community." As always, you can navigate TurboTax's well-organized tabs at any time, and search for specific forms and topics. As in previous years, the help menu pops up information in a separate window. We're so over pop-ups; it would be better if help topics expanded and collapsed when we click them.
TurboTax 2008 has a lot of good features, some old, others new. TurboTax can automatically import your previous year's return if you used TurboTax, TaxCut, TaxAct, or another tax file stored on your hard drive or a CD. TaxCut, on the other hand, requires you to browse for non-TaxCut files. Importing saves time and typing, and you can edit any outdated information from the previous year.
A few new questions crop up in the guided interview through the 1040 form, including if you lost a house or a job, and if you survived a severe natural disaster. While TaxCut asks these questions as well, TurboTax's examples are more complete, for instance, pointing out the destructive Southern California wildfires in addition to havoc-wreaking Midwestern storms. Another new question whittles the interview further by letting you estimate your deductions before you would calculate them one by one. Based on your response, TurboTax may suggest skipping the itemized deduction calculations completely.
The Live Community peer support sidebar became available this year for all desktop versions. It lets taxpayers help each other on personal questions not covered in TurboTax's Help menu. The real-time problems and solutions are relevant to each screen. You're shuttled online to log in or register before responding or adding your own inquiry. Live, customized help is always the best, especially for outlier cases. In many our case, the knowledge base answered our more common questions.
An oldie, but goodie, TurboTax's income-importing tools remain its best time-saving feature, and is almost reason alone to go with TurboTax 2008 over TaxCut. TurboTax may be able to pull in your W-2 wage information from the company's payroll provider, as well as investment income details from Quicken, Quick Books, a long list of brokerages, and other apps that export to TXF formats (but not Microsoft Money). Unfortunately, you're not able to pull 1099-Div or 1099-B information from multiple brokerages at once, and will need to begin the import process again for each additional firm.
A cluster of other tools helps you check errors, estimate your audit risk level, and download audit help for the future. See the Service and Support section of this review for more details.
Now on to the gripes. The TurboTax 2008 interview is straightforward overall and does a great job summarizing what's past and what's to come, but we found a few misleading or unclear directions that vexed us. Unlike TaxCut, TurboTax did not offer to import the specific line of income information the IRS now needs from our 2007 tax return to e-file in 2008. Also, filing State taxes by mail is overly complicated. Unless you manually check boxed to print the necessary documents needed to file by mail, TurboTax assumes you want to shell out another $20 to e-file.
Service and support
TurboTax's Live Community is a good supplement to the FAQs, help files, and videos. Help from the pros will cost you, though; for $40, someone can comb your review for mistakes. While those with more complicated cases may see value in this, TurboTax's self-service prep software should be good enough on its own to obviate the need for additional eyeballs. In addition, live tax advice is available from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. PST on weekdays. It costs $30 for the first 20 minutes of phone time, and $20 for each additional 20-minute block.
In case of an audit, TurboTax offers its free downloadable audit support center for all products, with a well-designed guide to the four different audits, and some templates you can send to the IRS. Or, you can bow out completely and pay Intuit about $40 to represent you if Uncle Sam looks askance. One-on-one audit assistance comes free with TaxCut's already cheaper application, though the vast majority of audited taxpayers receive the same letter and will do fine with TurboTax's automated software download.
While TaxCut and the entry-level TaxAct are certainly cheaper, TurboTax Deluxe 2008's clearly worded interview and ability to import financial information make it worth the extra cost for those who don't anticipate needing personalized help. Although Intuit would prefer to sell you TurboTax Premier to handle investments, the Deluxe version should suffice for folks with moderate investments who don't mind doing a little research on their broker's site or on the TurboTax knowledge base. Large households, property owners, and business owners should consider upgrading.