In the past, H&R Block TaxCut has been strong on information but less user-friendly than Intuit TurboTax. However, TaxCut Premium 2006 introduces an improved interface, making it both easier on the eye and simpler to navigate than the 2005 edition. The rewritten tax interview has fewer words and less jargon, and the retail price is significantly lower than that of Intuit TurboTax. For instance, TaxCut Premium with federal, state, and e-file options costs $60, which is $30 less than the comparable TurboTax Premier.
We spent about five minutes installing H&R Block TaxCut Premium 2006 Federal + State + E-file on a Windows XP computer. This application also runs on Windows 98 and 2000 systems, and we like that H&R Block doesn't assume that its users will have the newest software. You can use the same disk for Mac OS X 10.3.9 and later. TaxCut still offers DeductionsPro for estimating deductions, which you have to install separately. WillPower, which helps you manage wills and other legal documents, is included on a separate disk. During installation, if you don't want TaxCut software icons on your desktop, then make sure to uncheck the boxes that will otherwise add those by default. And make sure to allow the software to download updates if it prompts you to do so.
TaxCut Premium 2006's significant nip and tuck created good results. A more aesthetic appearance complete with softer, green-shaded buttons and menus, has replaced the austere look of previous years. More importantly, however, is Premium's rewritten tax interview with fewer screens and less text. The Home Mortgage Assistant, for instance, manages to eliminate a sentence or two of instructions from the many screens of the 2005 version. We like the running tally of estimated federal and state refunds in the upper-right corner. The Take Me To window of TaxCut lists a menu of each of the program's steps, coloring each option according to what you need, and then checking off completed items. You don't have to view an IRS form until you file, although you also have the option of viewing and editing those forms directly. TaxCut's enhancements mean fewer clicks, less reading, and a faster tax-preparation experience.
Another plus is this year's one-box-fits-all approach. Rather than force customers to choose between Premium, Deluxe, or Standard editions, Block has ditched the latter two, leaving only Premium. Granted, the Premium version is overkill for 1040EZ filers, who instead could save some cash by using an online tax-preparation site.
Most filers won't have to study the list of features on the TaxCut box to determine which version is best for their situation. The exception is the small-business owner, who will probably need the business-specific tools of the Home & Business edition. However, TaxCut still comes in several flavors, including the $20 Premium Federal; the $30 Premium Federal + State; the $60 Premium Federal + State + E-file; and the Home & Business + State + E-file for $80.
When it comes to walking you through basic tax-prep issues, H&R Block TaxCut Premium 2006 Federal + State + E-file is pretty much on par with Intuit TurboTax Premier 2006, with the occasional exception. For instance, we wished TaxCut Premium had a tool similar to TurboTax's Basis Pro, which uses Gainskeeper's historical data of stock prices to help you determine the cost basis of a stock or mutual fund. That said, years of fine-tuning have made both TaxCut and TurboTax top-notch tools for do-it-yourself filers.
You can import TXF data from other financial software into TaxCut, including Intuit Quicken and Microsoft Money. Of course, you'll have to make sure that your Quicken or Money files are in order first so they won't complicate your tax calculations. Unfortunately, neither TaxCut nor TurboTax can import data from Microsoft Excel.
TaxCut's income-input forms largely match the numeric fields from tax documents you've received from employers. For instance, the software matches your W-2 form line by line. The same goes for pull-down Description and Code menus, so you don't need to know what CAVPDI or WASWCF means to select them. Learn More links pop up with explanations so you can find out what a nonstandard W-2 and other terms mean.
TaxCut isn't perfect. For instance, we wish that it filled in W-2s automatically, as TurboTax does. The fields on our paper 1099-MISC form didn't match those within TaxCut, which was a bit confusing. When we entered home office expenses, TaxCut didn't explain whether it expected monthly or annual figures.
Plus, we wish that both H&R Block and Intuit would integrate their deductions tools with their tax applications. As for TaxCut, the separate but included DeductionsPro has a straightforward interface, even displaying a running tally of potential deductions and tax savings. But to our dismay, only after entering our health care bills did DeductionsPro tell us that TaxCut doesn't import those medical and dental expenses. That's a big downer if you've grappled with substantial medical costs. Still, even Intuit's Medical Expense Manager application doesn't integrate with TurboTax.
Keeping immaculate records won't prevent you from feeling stumped about unusual questions. What if, for example, your home business expenses are $50 short of an allowed deductible amount? Will you get in trouble if, say, you pretended that a personal shopping spree at The Home Depot was really for business supplies? TaxCut can't make the call for tricky questions. Nevertheless, we like that when you finish your taxes, TaxCut pits your return against U.S. averages, and its tax-planning section connects to an online Tax Estimator to help plan next year's taxes.
TaxCut's free audit support--an extra $40 with TurboTax--guarantees that if you file electronically, you can get advice from a tax advisor should the IRS come knocking later. TaxCut Premium users get free phone, e-mail, and chat assistance. The software includes brief video tutorials. Support hours are weekdays from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. CST, which is bad news for weekend filers. Still, we found TaxCut's support representatives to be both polite and knowledgeable about the software.
Overall, we like the changes within TaxCut Premium Federal + State + E-file. Its straightforward menus and questions helped us to understand how to fill in the blanks without too much chin-scratching about arcane tax terminology. The application also provided plenty of reading material to guide us through tricky situations. While no tax software is perfect, TaxCut did a thorough job of guiding us through the filing process. And if your overall goal is to save money up front, TaxCut's lower cost makes it an attractive alternative to Intuit TurboTax.