Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Which Online Tax Preparer Is Right for You? / Before you make your decision, compare the cost, convenience and safety of each.

Molly McClusky for US News Report writes:  Joeleann Bensinger of Lake Dallas, Texas, had always used TurboTax to file her return. But last year she decided to shop around. "With a simple return, it's pretty easy to comparison shop the online tax preparers," she says. "I prepared my return with both TurboTax and TaxSlayer and found that TurboTax got me the most back, so I went with them." 

For many people, the agony of collecting receipts and itemizing deductions is painful enough that the thought of also comparison shopping for an online tax preparer seems like more effort than it's worth. So, like Bensinger, they stay with the same software or online preparer year after year. However, with the ever-changing tax law, increased awareness of security and tax-related identity theft, and a new range of products (and fees), 2015 might be the year to shop around.
Here are some of the key features to consider when comparing online tax preparation platforms. 

Is It Safe?
TurboTax's recent, albeit short-lived, troubles with fraudulent state returns cast renewed focus on the safety of online tax preparers. Once it was determined that its system hadn't been hacked, and the problems were coming from the outside, the company implemented new security measures within a matter of hours. But that came after several states suspended e-filing through the popular online tax preparer – though all resumed accepting returns soon after.

When representatives at H&R Block were asked how they kept their customers safe, Eric Roebuck, senior product manager, and Gene King, the company's director of corporate communications, said they use a sophisticated verification process to protect filers. "We require, and have always required, the two-step authentication process," King says. "We've also always required customers to actually have an accepted e-filed federal return prior to e-filing your state return. Why this is important, is that it means that there's a search on the federal side to verify these are legitimate returns. Without that, a person could steal my information and file it in 19 states." 

Jessi Dolmage, a customer engagement specialist at TaxACT, says her company also proactively monitors all returns for signs of fraud. When asked how TaxACT keeps its customers safe, she wrote in an email, "As always, we continue to work closely with the IRS and state agencies to prevent and detect tax return and refund fraud. We recommend taxpayers use strong passwords and check email for confirmation of account activity."

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