Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Tax-preparing software turns a good time into a great time

Programs help you put last-minute filing in past

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Just for fun, I redid some family tax returns last weekend in order to try out some different software packages.

I know that's not everyone's idea of fun, but hey, it was a long weekend!

Which brings us to this coming weekend, normally the last one you have to complete your income tax return if you haven't already filed. However, this year, the filing deadline has been extended to May 5, from the usual April 30. Penalties and interest begin after midnight, May 5.

Please, don't leave it till the last minute. Pretend your deadline is still April 30, and you may avoid a lot of headaches.

The good news is many of the online software packages for preparing tax returns make it easy and -- dare I say it -- almost fun. Especially satisfying is pushing the button to NETFILE online, and watching your entire tax return be delivered to CRA in 11 seconds or less.

That sure beats printing, copying, collating, collecting slips and receipts and all the rest of the fun that goes with paper filing, and it means your refund will arrive weeks earlier than if you filed the old-fashioned way.

There are a number of software packages you can use free, although they do ask for donations. I provided a list of eligible programs in my April 11 column.

On the weekend, I test drove GenuTax, a free software program, and TurboTax, brought to you by the Intuit conglomerate.

GenuTax was going to work fine, except it required me to reduce the resolution quality of my monitor. When I didn't do that, I was unable to accurately go through the interview process that would've directed my filing. (Messing with my computer set up was more than I bargained for and it always gets me into trouble.)

In GenuTax's defence, their support people responded within 40 minutes to my query, even on a Saturday night.

Switching over to TurboTax, I was not surprised it was incredibly easy to use, intuitive and brilliantly designed, as are most Intuit products. (Hey, I wonder if that's where the company got its name?)

I completed two returns within an hour, when I received an error while trying to NETFILE. The program told me very quickly that a credit qualification I was claiming did not match CRA's records, and therefore we were ineligible to file electronically.

However, the program provided several options, including the CRA phone number and email to request information, TurboTax's own support and the option to file by paper instead.

The complication arose when I tried to remove this credit application, which required more than just unchecking the box, once I had put that credit genie into the bottle. This required an online chat with Dinesh, the support person, Saturday night, and he was able to guide me through the extra steps required fairly quickly.

If I have a complaint, it's only they start out by telling you that you may be able to file for free, but quickly upsell you from the Free version, to the Standard version (about $18), and then require you to upgrade to the Premier version (around $28, a 15 per cent discount) if you have individual stocks and bonds. They also offer you audit protection service, access to an expert and a few other extras, if you really want to spend some serious money.

While the two returns I filed somehow cost me $53 all-in, I considered it a bargain to get the kids their refunds a month sooner than by paper filing. You see, I filed my return in paper back in early March, and have not yet heard a peep from CRA. (And they owe me a lot of money.)

Really, filing your tax return is not that big a deal. Get your slips organized ahead of time, have all of your information in one place and just git 'er done.

And above all, have fun!

 

David Christianson, BA, CFP, R.F.P., TEP, CIM is a financial planner and advisor with Christianson Wealth Advisors, a Vice President with National Bank Financial Wealth Management, and author of the book Managing the Bull, A No-Nonsense Guide to Personal Finance.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 25, 2014 B6

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