Sunday, February 1, 2015

Bits and Bytes: Check out these five apps to survive tax season

Robert Evatt for writes: Everyone's W2 should be either in your hand or on its way. Time to get cracking on those tax forms -- even though most of us will probably procrastinate, at least a little.

I can understand the urge. Tax forms can be complicated, details change every year and many of us have to determine what information we need to tackle that beast.
While it's impossible to take all the frustration out of tax time, a number of apps out there can help you along the way. Here's some you might find useful.
TaxACT Express (iOS, Android, web):H&R Block and TurboTax are still the big names in e-filing, but if you'd like to try something a little different, TaxACT is a fine alternative. TaxACT Express only supports relatively uncomplicated returns like other free services, but it's a little more comprehensive than the others.
In addition to the usual W2 and dependent information, TaxACT Express can also handle education credits, retirement contribution credits and a few others. The streamlined app is easy to use, and you can move back and forth between mobile and web if you need to dig up information.
Be aware that while filing your federal return is free, you'll be charged $7.99 to file the state return.
TaxACT Inc., free
Quick Tax Reference (iOS, Android): Even if you use an accountant to file, you'll still need to gather up the information he or she will use and what you should expect. If you're not up on the latest tax code changes, Bloomberg's Quick Tax Reference can help.
This app can give you a quick view of tax rates, expensing limits, investment limitations and others. It includes information for every year back to 2011, if you're feeling masochistic and want to find out how your rates have changed.
Bloomberg BNA, free
Ask an Tax Preparer (iOS, Android): Maybe you think you've got a handle on most of your tax return but you're not sure if that new squirrel feeder in the yard is deductible. Rather than pay for an appointment to answer one question, you can ask it to this crowdsourced app.
The app can let you drill down from a range of topics, and you can ask a new question within that category or scroll through to see if your question has already answered. If all else fails, the app also lets you search for an accountant near you.
CPAdirect Marketing Inc., free
iDonatedit (iOS, Android): Deductions don't have to be from cash payments. You can deduct things you've donated to places like Goodwill. The only problem is coming up with a way to figure out the dollar amount you've donated without making auditors suspicious.
iDonatedit works to give you a documented list of everything you've donated and also lets you estimate how much those old bell-bottomed jeans were actually worth. When you're done, you can email the report directly to your accountant.
BMG Certified Public AAccountants LLC, $2.99
Slice (iOS, Android, web): Slice is designed as a smart shopping assistant with features such as price monitoring, barcode scanning, shipment tracking and budgeting. Why am I mentioning it here? It can also be used to keep track of items that can be deducted.
The app syncs up with email accounts and can automatically detect which of them are receipts for online purchases. Now that you have an accounting of everything you've bought, you can determine what you can deduct.
Project Slice Inc., free

Tax rivalry ramps up

H&R Block and Intuit, makers of TurboTax, have been at each other's throats for years. But this year the rivalry reached a new level with a botched stealth price increase for TurboTax.
TurboTax charges for more complicated returns and has different pricing levels. This year TurboTax removed schedules C, D, E and F — those cover small businesses, capital gains, supplemental income and farming respectively — from its $34.99 TurboTax Deluxe package and moved them to more expensive levels. The last three forms now require an additional $20, while small businesses now have to shell out an additional $40.
Customers were ticked off, and H&R Block pounced with an offer to convert any TurboTax customer affected by the move to its software, all for free. TurboTax had to apologize to its users in an email, which also offered $25 refunds to 2013 customers affected by the 2014 price hike. If you're in this jam, you'll have to pay the elevated price, then request the refund after you've filed.
In the tax world, even apology offers are complicated.


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