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TaxCut 2003, available on CD-ROM or as a download from TaxCut's Web site, installed without any glitches in our tests. After installation, TaxCut checks its Web site for the latest 2003 tax forms and offers to download any updates.
TaxCut 2002 users will immediately notice 2003's improved interface, specifically the new secondary navigation bar that lets you jump between dozens of interview screens. We particularly like this enhancement, which makes it easier to reenter or change data as you move through the interview. For example, if you're slogging through the IRA contributions form and suddenly remember a long-forgotten charitable deduction, you can simply click Deductions on the navigation bar, jump to the appropriate screen, and fill in the missing information.
Plain Talk Tax Tips are another 2003 enhancement. This context-sensitive advice section, developed by H&R Block's tax experts, is built into the tax interview and helps users navigate the treacherous minefield of wash sales, child tax credits, itemized deductions, and so on. However, some of TaxCut's advice lacks TurboTax's depth. For instance, TaxCut's advice on the alternative minimum tax (AMT) is too bare-bones; TurboTax goes into greater detail on the topic. Overall, however, TaxCut 2003's interface is a significant improvement that longtime users will appreciate.
Rather than dazzle you with a plethora of new features, TaxCut 2003 focuses on ease of use--a wise choice, since most tax software users want a straightforward utility that explains arcane tax jargon, automates IRS form preparation, and calculates every conceivable deduction.
TaxCut 2003 handles more tax issues than its predecessor did. Its new Vacation Rental Assistant, for example, takes property owners through the tedious chore of determining the number of days a unit was rented, the percentage of personal use, and whether your rental income is taxable.
In several instances, however, TaxCut could do a better job of assisting with complex issues. Although the program includes a number of obscure forms, such as IRS Form 4684 for casualty and theft, the tax interviews sometimes stop short when you need them the most. For example, when claiming a deduction associated with a major disaster, such as a fire, a flood, or an earthquake, you are left alone to fill in an electronic version of Form 4684. TurboTax, on the other hand, provides better hand-holding as it asks you questions about the disaster and uses your information to automatically complete Form 4684. TaxCut takes a similar shortcut with Form 1040X (amended returns) as well, while TurboTax provides a whole interview.
The $29.95 (after a $10 mail-in rebate) price tag for TaxCut Premium 2003 is a bargain when you consider all the freebies that come with it: one TaxCut State program, one federal e-file, an "Ask a tax advisor" phone session, and a copy of H&R Block DeductionPro software for those who want to claim charitable donations.
TaxCut 2003 shines in the support department compared to TurboTax; it has more flexibility, with weekend phone-support hours and help via e-mail. H&R Block promises to answer e-mail queries within 48 hours. We sent a question to support staff through e-mail and found this to be true.
If you want more immediate assistance, H&R Block also provides online chat and phone support (not a toll-free call). Hours of operation for both are Monday through Thursday, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Friday through Sunday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET. When we called tech support, the support staff answered promptly and politely, typically within five minutes. But beware; wait times could climb as April 15 approaches. Another plus: TaxCut, unlike TurboTax, doesn't require users to try chat support before phoning a live technician.