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The Record - Stockton, CA

CeePrompt! Computer Connection

Originally published Monday, March 8, 1999

Online tax filing relatively painless

It's a taxing time of year for everyone, but fortunately there are solutions available for those who opt to pay their mandatory annual dues online. I recently filed two tax returns, one with OneTax.com and the other with TurboTax Online and found the process to be relatively painless and satisfactory overall.

TurboTax Online is the Internet version of the popular Intuit product, TurboTax and OneTax.com is a product of the Thomson Investor Network, which develops tax computation programs for Fortune 500 companies.

Both these products are web-based, meaning that they utilize browser software and the World Wide Web to process your tax returns. Each product offers secure transmission of your tax returns and neither asks for payment until the last mouse click, before the return is actually processed.

Clearly, TurboTax Online is the better known of the two products and is based on the popular over-the-counter software application sold each year.

Like the mother ship, TurboTax Online employs the EasyStep interview approach, asking taxpayers "friendly, easy-to-understand" questions. While this EasyStep interview may be quick and painless for the installed version of TurboTax, it was cumbersome and grueling online.

Each screen seemed to take hours to transition and the framed interface was clumsy and awkward. The questions, while friendly, bordered on inane at times. The music from final Jeopardy played on relentlessly in my head each time I clicked the "Next" button. The final return, once generated, was acceptable and the figures were correct -- just the process seemed laborious.

TurboTax Online is best suited for those filing simple, straightforward returns. The following forms are supported in TurboTax online: 1040 (including unemployment compensation); 1040A; 1040EZ; Schedule 1 for 1040A; Schedule 2 for 1040A; Schedule A: Interest, Taxes, Charity Contribution; Schedule B: 1099-INT and 1099-DIV; Schedule D (up to 10 transactions); W-2 and Earned Income Credit.

The online tax-filing process seemed less tedious with OneTax.com, than it did with TurboTax Online. The step-by-step method was still slow, but much of the wait is due to the inherent nature of the Web, rather than the fault of either program. Overall, OneTax did seem to be the faster of the two products.

The input interface with OneTax also was more business-like and less folksy than TurboTax. Rather than being "interviewed," as in TurboTax, OneTax presents the user with fill-in-the-blank forms that more closely resemble actual tax forms. Additionally, you can skip the "Guided Entry" process in OneTax and opt for the "Independent Entry" option, thereby bypassing many steps that don't apply.

Like TurboTax, the final returns in OneTax for both state and federal were calculated correctly and submitted electronically without a hitch. OneTax is limited, however, to the federal 1040 return and the standard state schedules.

Both TurboTax and and OneTax are priced similarly, between $9.95 and $14.95 for the federal and state returns. TurboTax offers free tax filing to lower income families and individuals with annual incomes of $20,000 or less.

According to IRS statistics, more than 50 million taxpayers are eligible for this program. If you qualify for this option, be sure you file from the Quicken Tax Freedom Project web site (www.quicken.com/freedom), or you'll be charged full price.

Now that it's over, I'm glad I filed online, even though I felt like I was watching ice melt at the time. Confirmations from both TurboTax and OneTax were received electronically within 24 hours and the refunds were processed promptly. Like everything else online, tax filing is still in its infancy, and infinite patience is a prerequisite.

Cathi Schuler owns a computer literacy training/consulting company, Cee Prompt! She is a co-author of computer textbooks and can be reached by e-mail at cschuler@uop.edu or cschuler@ceeprompt.com or by mail c/o The Record, P.O. Box 900, Stockton, CA 95201. She is on the Internet at: http://www.ceeprompt.com. Click here for past archived columns.

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