Its advertising makes filing your tax return with TurboTax by Intuit® seem easy. As with any software or computer program, the age-old adage applies: garbage in, garbage out. Yes, it is a very robust piece of software, and yes, it walks you through the process with a series of questions. If your tax situation is very simple, this software might be a viable option for you. Then again, if your tax situation is very simple (i.e. one source of income, no dependents, no need to itemize deductions, etc.), using TurboTax simply saves you from adding and subtracting the numbers you would be entering on your 1040EZ form with a pencil, for example.
If you’ve completed your own tax return in the past and have a basic sense of how the calculations on Form 1040 flow (e.g. income and adjustments on the front, credits and payments on the reverse side), you may become frustrated or at least a bit confused when following the TurboTax process. “Why is it asking for that information now? I’m not to that part of 1040 yet.”
Choosing the TurboTax Version
There are several different versions of TurboTax from which to choose, depending on your personal tax situation. While the website can help you select an appropriate version (e.g. asking if you own a home or rent, have children, made charitable contributions, sold stock or own rental property, paid out-of-pocket medical expenses, etc.), if you don’t consider all of the implications of your situation or if you happen to answer incorrectly, you could either buy a version that can’t address your more complicated tax scenario or buy a version that is more robust than you actually need. In either case, you’re wasting money.
With the former mistake (buying a cheaper version than you need), you will end up either buying a more expensive version (and paying twice: Intuit won’t refund your money because you bought the wrong version) or you will have to manually calculate some of the more complex areas of your tax return as well as the end result (because TurboTax cannot consider what you are doing outside the program when the software is making its own final calculations). There have been many tax payers who bought the software only to give up and use a professional tax preparer instead.
It’s Still Your Time and Your Responsibility
Although TurboTax has built its reputation on simplifying your tax return by asking you questions, the tax code is still very, very complicated. There are no shortages of pop up “learn more” windows inside the software; however, keep in mind that these explanations are simplified, and even in their simplified state may not make more sense to you than reading the instructions from the IRS. Only you can determine how much time you want to spend researching and learning about the tax code when TurboTax poses a question to which you are not sure of the answer. Additionally, if you answer something incorrectly that alters your tax liability, the IRS still holds you solely responsible.
TurboTax also offers an online version. Use extreme caution with this version. In fact, the best advice is to avoid using it at all. Why? You will be entering the most sensitive personal and financial data that exists about you – social security number, address, income, etc. Despite any and all precautions the company takes regarding security, hacking is a real possibility when data exists “in the cloud.”
One of the biggest complaints about TurboTax is “the program won’t let me….” You may not be able to change a number or make a correction after you’ve entered data. Additionally, if you fail to update whenever prompted – and certainly before you e-file, your return could be inaccurate. It is not unusual for Congress to make last-minute changes to the tax code, even as late as December, when the software may already be available for purchase.
The common TurboTax errors that we’ve seen at Waddy Financial Services involve the complexity of childcare issues and credits when there are multiple children in the household. Also, there are certain deductible job expenses that are missed as well as improperly claiming net operating losses for business filers.
Finally, depending on the version of TurboTax you purchase, you will not have access to a live person to whom you can pose questions and ask for clarification. If you do have that access and misunderstand the answer you’re given, it could lead to an error on your return. Once again, you and only you are responsible.
When you use Waddy for your tax preparation, you’ll be working with an individual who can answer your questions and who will ask questions of you to ensure that you are capturing all of the deductions and credits to which you are entitled. Most importantly, Eric Waddy is an enrolled agent and can represent you before the IRS should you be audited. That’s a peace of mind that no software can offer.