All 2002 TurboTax tax-reporting programs employ Macrovision's SafeCast technology, historically known for its original maker, this technology is also referred to as C-Dilla. C-Dilla is a Digital Rights Management (DRM) system that many consider to be spyware, because it stealthily installs executable files onto a PC. In the wrong hands, C-Dilla could threaten personal privacy and security because it can benignly track and report how a PC is being used. In Intuit's case, the DRM system enforces the terms of its licensing agreement that prohibit printing or electronically filing tax returns from another PC.
The DRM system prevents a user from preparing tax returns for more than one person. If the original user gives TurboTax software to someone else, the second user can install the program on another computer, but will only be able to see a trial version of the program, unless they opt to purchase a new product license.
Intuit has added an uninstaller feature for users who are concerned about the long-term effects of C-Dilla. The decision was prompted by a small, but vocal minority of customers that objected to Intuit's inclusion of the DRM system in its TurboTax 2002 lineup.
The uninstaller, which is pushed to users through an automatic Web update at the time tax forms are updated, will eliminate C-Dilla files and folders at a user's discretion. However, uninstalling these files will also render TurboTax useless. Be advised, if you intend to use a TurboTax product this year, don't uninstall the C-Dilla files until you've completely finished, printed, and filed your tax returns.
With that being said, we loaded up TurboTax Premier Home & Business software for the Tax Year of 2002 and took it for a spin.
The Installation Process
TurboTax uses a standard wizard to guide users through the installation process. The licensing agreement prominently presents the limited-term activation scheme. Make no mistake about it, users are granted a personal, limited, non-exclusive, non-transferable license to install and use the software on a single computer.
We entered our product key as requested, selected a folder for the program, and watched a series of advertisements for e-filing, live tax advice and the like, as the program zipped through our initial set-up in under three minutes.
TurboTax Premier Home & Business next asked us to select which type of tax return we would like to complete 2002 U.S. Form 1040 for a standard individual income tax return or 2002 U.S. Forms W-2 and 1099 for reporting employee earnings and payments made to contractors. We opted to start an income tax returns, but then decided to take a look at the business reporting forms first. There is no back button to support changing the selection. In order to switch between tax functions, we had to select File, then New Tax Return, and select W-2/1099 Reporter.
We took a brief tour of the W-2/1099 Reporter. This function allowed us to answer a few questions in the same familiar interview style that TurboTax employs to prepare tax returns. We found that preparing and printing completed W-2 and 1099 forms for employees and contractors was an uncomplicated process. That is, as long as the user has all the required information at the ready, which includes full business name and address as it appears on payroll and business reporting forms, federal and state tax electronic identification numbers, and the names, addresses, and pertinent contact details for all employees and contractors.
Upon selecting the type of company operated, the appropriate forms are automatically generated. For example, a sole proprietorship needs to complete schedules C, E, F and 4845, but a household employer only has to complete Schedule H. All-in-all, we found the TurboTax W-2/1099 Reporter was easy to navigate through and a handy tool for preparing our tax forms.
With an understanding of the details needed to prepare employee and contractor tax forms, we changed our report selection once again and set off to take a look at preparing a federal income tax return.
At this point, we were presented with the option of taking a quick product guide or starting our tax return. The first step toward completing our tax return was to download all the latest tax forms and report changes along the C-Dilla uninstall file. Now, we were ready to reboot our PC and get busy with our 1040 form.
Naturally, this was the first chance we had to discover that the program had inundated our desktop with a bunch of icons for four different offers from ING Direct, Yahoo! and SBC, Quicken Brokerage and TurboTax deals. Before removing the icons, we wanted to take a look at a few of the deals. But for some reason neither Internet Explorer nor Netscape would open the files. This was the first indication that something was amiss with out install, which lead to an encounter with technical support.
Our Experience With Technical Support
Requesting technical assistance wasn't a walk in the park for us. The technical glitch we experienced was that TurboTax would not open up a browser when requesting online technical support or any other support for that matter.
In order to request assistance, we had to do it the old-fashioned way enter the URL we found on the disk sleeve for www.turbotaxsupport.com. Next, we had to follow a three-step process and drilldown to our exact problem from a series of dropdown menus. Then we had to review related documents only after we had exhausted these resources, we were invited to chat with a support specialist. After entering our personal contact information and assorted details about the program we were using and the type of problem we were experiencing help was finally on the way.
Free Internet chat support is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week through April 15, 2003. Since chat support is generally faster than phone support for most technical questions we initiated a conversation online and were advised to fix the problem by reinstalling our original program.
For $14.95, we could have used phone support to resolve the technical matter if we were not satisfied with the advice we were given online. But it was 11 p.m. and phone support is only available from 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. TurboTax users that opt to buy this premium support service receive a personal identification number (PIN) that is only valid for 24 hours. Naturally, most users will prefer to use the chat support scheme rather than cough-up more money just to listen to hold music.
Picking Up Where We Left Off
With our technical problem solved and the program reloaded, were ready to resume our tour of TurboTax. Right on cue, the program prompted us to select our state income tax forms. A single state program is free, but if we needed to file a return in more than one state, this would cost another $29.95 per state. We opted to do the download our state tax return program while we were still browsing through the background information on preparing our federal return.
With TurboTax, it's easy to jump to a different section of a return by simply
viewing the Progress Bar located at the top of the screen. It's equally easy to make corrections by revisiting an interview question already completed or jumping straight to the spot on the actual tax form, which can be shows in entirety, partially, or hidden from view.
TurboTax is loaded with free tax advice and information in the form of frequently asked questions (FAQs) that ring around the right side of the screen. And an expanded EasyStep Interview provided us with extra guidance to simplify the process of preparing our Schedule C forms. TurboTax Premier Home & Business also provides increased coverage of retirement plan distributions, Social Security benefits, sickness and injury benefits, life insurance proceeds, veteran benefits, trusts and estates, investment income, and more.
What impressed us the most was how TurboTax handled home office deductions and asset depreciation. It automatically selected the most advantageous depreciation methods for us, without having to ask for assistance from a business tax specialist.
Electronic filing is free (after mail-in rebate), and certainly the easiest way to file a return and the fastest way to get a refund. Other shortcuts include importing data from Quicken and QuickBooks data (2001 versions or higher) or transferring 2001 tax return data instantly from returns prepared with TurboTax or TaxCut software.
Add On Items
As with most other tax-reporting programs, TurboTax offers a multitude of add-on products and services. Live advice from a professional tax advisor costs $19.95. This fee covers up to 10 minutes of counsel on as many calls as needed within 10-days of making initial contact.
ItsDeductible is another add-on program from Intuit that is designed to assign fair-market-value to thousands of commonly donated items, allowing users to take full advantage of donated goods. Undervalued items are typically used clothing, toys and other household goods given to charities throughout the year. Intuit guarantees that users will save another $300 on their tax returns, or receive a full refund on the purchase. In order to access this tool, users must answer a few questions and "qualify" to buy the product. Once qualified, users are eligible to save $10 toward purchasing a copy of the program for a discounted price of $19.95 (regularly $29.95).
Audit protection is also available as part of TurboTax's Audit Defense program. Starting at $29.95 TaxResources will defend users 2002 tax return from an audit, schedule all audit appointments and handle all audit correspondence so TurboTax users don't have to. TaxResources will also provide a professional tax review. Starting at $39.95, this service buys a report that will instruct users on how to fine-tune their tax returns.
Available in Windows and Macintosh versions and listing at $79.95, TurboTax Premier Home & Business is particularly appropriate for use by the self-employed small businesses operators such as realtors, consultants, retailers, contractors, and the like. If potential customers can get past any C-Dilla inhibitions, they will find that TurboTax Premier Home & Business is a solid small business tool that makes tax-time a little less taxing.