Intuit stops short of giving TurboTax a radical face-lift every year, which is good news for longtime users who don't want to relearn the familiar menus. The 2007 tax year edition of TurboTax is no exception, and improvements such as a shorter interview sweeten the process by narrowing the number of questions, and clicks needed to complete a return.
TurboTax 2007 comes in four versions. Unlike H&R Block TaxCut 2007, Intuit has introduced a free federal edition, but you'll have to tack on $26 to file a state return. That entry-level choice is best for those who use a simple 1040EZ. Intuit adds $30 for state filing to the base cost of the three other editions, starting with the $30 TurboTax Deluxe. The $50 TurboTax Premier, which we reviewed, includes help with investments such as stocks, bonds, and rental property. The $75 TurboTax Home & Business edition, which we also checked out, is the best choice for those who run their own businesses. For a hybrid experience that involves an accountant, TurboTax Personal Pro costs $100. TurboTax remains a bit pricier than TaxCut, which swallows the fees for state filing. However, TaxCut charges $20 for DeductionPro, while similar tools are integrated within TurboTax's It'sDeductible.
Setup and interface
TurboTax 2007 took us five minutes to install and another seven minutes to run a series of updates. Your computer must be online to get the latest information, which Intuit regularly refreshes. Luckily, the system requirements are modest: Windows 2000 SP4, XP or Vista (or PowerPC G3 or higher Mac), 256MB of RAM, and a CD-ROM drive.
Once the program was open, we were greeted by a form asking for our name, address, and e-mail address so that we could receive product updates later. We left that blank and continued without interruption.
Before you start, note that you can jump around the interface, using topical tabs, search, or a pop-up Topic List. It wasn't easy to lose our place; a topical search for deductions, for instance, takes you directly to the page to enter them, with the Back button offering a way out (but why doesn't the keyboard Backspace do the same?). The application is well-organized overall, but we would like fewer pop-ups, like the Help menu.
You have the option to fill in all the blanks, or to save data entry by transferring data from a TurboTax file from another year, which worked fine on one Windows XP computer. However, on our laptop running Vista, TurboTax failed to recognize our TurboTax file from last year.
You'll start with the individual 1040 income return or, for Home & Business users, W-2 and 1099 forms for employers. Luckily, Intuit has continued to improve its interview, so you don't need to know a lick of tax lingo to begin. Help with life events begins, for example, when you check off boxes next to a house icon to show that you bought, sold, or refinanced a home. Intuit is careful to explain whether you should claim a child as a dependent. In case you failed to properly fill out the Life Events page, TurboTax continues to ask related questions, such as whether you earned income from the military, abroad, or in more than one state.
When entering personal income, we liked the pair of choices: Select Specific Topics and Guide Me Through Income. With your employer identification number filled out, TurboTax may be able to import the details via ADP. You can also import paycheck details from Quicken, but not rival software such as Microsoft Money. When we filled out the wages fields incorrectly, TurboTax flagged the errors.
However, TurboTax Home & Business started by requesting details for a business. Someone with an employer who runs a business on the side might prefer to get their W-2 income out of the way first. When we started entering details for our business, we were confused about how to describe our freelance work. The interview didn't proceed with "dummy-proof" questions here. The next thing we knew, TurboTax took us to a federal return error check. Thinking we had missed a step, we started that process from scratch. At least you can click the Personal tab, once you notice it, to begin with personal income if you wish.
TurboTax can also import various 1099 data related to investment sales, interest, and dividends from a financial institution, Quicken, QuickBooks, or a TXF file. Beware that if you're burning the midnight oil, many bank sites run regular updates at that time, so they won't deliver the goods. We were unable to import data from our retirement plan because it won't be available until later this month.
Intuit has improved tools to keep you from dangerously fudging data. We like the new Audit Risk Meter, which highlights information that could cause chin-scratching at the IRS. Such commonly misunderstood items include claiming a child already claimed on a return by another parent. TurboTax 2007's integration with the online It'sDeductible improves upon the 2006 version. It also has added cost-basis analysis and will find fair-market values for goods donated to charity, based upon eBay listings. However, you'll have to visit the It'sDeductible site, create an account, and enter data there before bringing it into TurboTax. This is a nice addition, although the majority of users won't need it. Although the TurboTax 2007 interview is its best so far, with many links popping up explanatory miniwindows, it still left us a bit frustrated. We couldn't remember, for example, if we had applied our federal and state refunds for 2006 to our 2007 taxes, and there was little guidance to help with a question that could probably be best answered verbally.
TurboTax interrupted our federal review with an IRA contribution reminder explaining the difference between traditional and Roth types without trying to sell us anything. A few questions about maximizing our 401(k) were helpful. We also appreciated comparisons of our income against national averages, as well as tips for saving more on taxes next year.
Service and support
TurboTax includes a new peer-support system, called Live Community, which lets users post and answer questions. This is an improvement upon prior versions because it lets users answer each other's odd questions, such as how a pet breeder should treat the death of animals in their care. The crowd's contributions to Live Community also bubble time-sensitive details to the surface, such as updates about the alternative minimum tax. We would still prefer more one-on-one support with a knowledgeable tax professional in case of highly specific questions. Live Tax Advice is available 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Pacific Time on weekdays.
Built-in searchable help topics still work if you aren't connected to the Internet. But when we clicked links to watch videos, TurboTax told us to enter the installation CD, which we didn't have handy. Should you be audited later, Intuit doesn't offer live help with a tax professional as H&R Block does. However, Intuit TurboTax's new audit support center provides a well-designed guide to understanding the four types of audits and sending off the necessary response letters to the IRS.
All in all, the desktop TurboTax 2007 offers a solid set of tools for anyone patient and confident enough to manage their own tax return. People dealing with large households would be wise to consider the Premier or Home & Business versions, if not Personal Pro for $15 more, or an independent tax professional.
However, we recommend for people with simple 1040 EZ returns to stick with less expensive, online options, such as the entry level rival TaxAct. It is free except for a state filing fee, which is $12 lower than TurboTax's.