Filing taxes is never fun, but Intuit's TurboTax Deluxe 2003 makes this annual fiscal obligation a little less painful, thanks to its detailed Q&A tax interview, which delves deeper into mysterious yet common topics brushed over by its main competitor,. The newest TurboTax isn't dramatically different from the 2002 version, but it provides several noteworthy improvements. These include the removal of Intuit's antipiracy product activation feature, which formerly prevented you from running TurboTax 2003 on more than one PC. And the Help section now supports natural-language queries, a boon for those of us who don't know a 1040 from the Top 40. TurboTax is a bit pricier than TaxCut--about $10 more, depending on the version--but it's worth it.
TurboTax setup is fast and painless: Launch the CD-ROM or download the software from Intuit's site and relax as the program installs within minutes. If there are any updated IRS forms, TurboTax delivers them via an update from within the product. Intuit has wisely dumped its antipiracy technology, which was loudly booed by 2002 users, and now allows you to install TurboTax 2003 on multiple PCs. This is good news for families who need to complete more than one IRS return and don't want to fight over the computer to do so or those who have family members (such as college students) in far-flung places.
At first glance, TurboTax and TaxCut have similar interfaces. Both gather your tax information through a tax interview, a feature that takes you through the filing process step by step by asking you questions and inputting those answers into the correct areas--be it a single page 1040EZ or an attachment-stuffed tax novella. Both use two layers of menus that allow you to quickly jump from, say, the capital gains interview to one dealing with moving expenses.
TurboTax provides Q&A interviews to help guide you through the process of filling out various tax forms.
Delve deeper, however, and TurboTax proves why it's the market leader. Its tax interview covers topics that TaxCut doesn't address (not in much depth, anyway) such as deductions resulting from a flood, a fire, or another major disaster--especially important to anyone affected by this year's fires in the Los Angeles area, for example. TurboTax asks questions about the disaster and completes IRS Form 4684 (casualty and thefts) for you; TaxCut makes you fill in the form manually. A similar example is seen with Form 2688 (filing extension): TurboTax has a complete interview for this procedure, while TaxCut makes you complete the form on your own.
TurboTax 2003 strives to simplify the alchemy of tax preparation, rather than overwhelm you with a hodgepodge of new features. This year's improvements are subtle yet useful.