TaxCut Platinum From H&R Block

By Patricia Fusco | Posted January 15, 2003
There is one sure sign of a looming tax deadline — the parking lots outside of H&R Block tax-filing offices are full. If you don't want to wait in line to prepare your taxes this year, try going online. With four products to choose from, H&R Block's lineup of tax-reporting tools — TaxCut Standard, Deluxe, Platinum, and Platinum Home & Business — offer just about something for every taxpayer.

TaxCut Platinum remains H&R Block's most versatile offering. Like Intuit's TurboTax Deluxe, TaxCut Platinum uses an interview approach to take taxpayers through the process of filing state and federal tax returns. After answering a few questions, the program automatically sends the information to the correct tax form and proceeds to make all the necessary computations. Unlike TurboTax, TaxCut Platinum enables users to print and file tax returns from multiple computers, not just the computer where the original application was installed.

TaxCut Platinum and TaxCut Platinum Home & Business offer several new features this year, including:

  • Home Office Assistant: Automatically analyzes whether a home office qualifies for a variety of relevant tax benefits.
  • Retirement Savings Enhancer: Ensures taxpayers are getting the maximum retirement benefits and tax savings from 401(k) plans and other investments.
  • Stock Options Advisor: keeps track of all stock options — incentive stock options, nonqualified stock options and options from employee stock purchase plans — can use this tool to understand the tax consequences of specific stock holdings.
  • Capital Gains and Losses Assistant: Provides tips on how to maximize tax benefits and minimize tax liabilities.
  • Business Expense Assistant: Helps sole proprietors track and report business expenses to maximize deductions. This feature also provides additional tax tips about proper reporting and record keeping associated with business expenses.
  • Rental Property Assistant: Special programming that seeks out frequently overlooked expenses and deductions associated with rental properties.
  • Depreciation Assistant: Provides guidance and advice about depreciation to sole proprietors and rental property owners that may qualify for additional tax breaks.

H&R Block also improved several key TaxCut functions, such as Entry Manager, used to flag data as tentative until a final audit is completed. This newly improved also itemizes information, based on where the data was originally entry, in order to determine what related also need to be completed.

Also improved is TaxCut's Click-and-Fix Auditor, which checks for errors, missing information, and lost deductions — as well as the types of errors and omissions that could instigate an IRS audit.

Test Drive
We put a copy of TaxCut Platinum through its paces to determine if the program really is as user friendly as proclaimed by H&R Block. We found the program very easy to setup and run, experiencing only one minor glitch during the installation process.

After loading the CD, accepting TaxCut's standard licensing agreement, and reviewing H&R Block's entire privacy policy — taking note of how to opt out of sharing personal information with non-affiliated third parties — our installation was complete.

We quickly skimmed the Readme files but failed to skip over the EarthLink advertisement that that started installing its Total Access program. After backing our way out of the dialup mishap, we rebooted the PC and prepared to get busy preparing our federal tax return. Annoyingly, an icon had been placed on our desktop as a shortcut to EarthLink's Total Access program, even though we had aborted the process — just one more unnecessary icon on the desktop.

After cleaning up our desktop, we clicked on the red, white and blue TaxCut icon and set about registering the product online. During the registration process, we ignored a three-page survey about why we purchased TaxCut Platinum. Next, we downloading any tax forms that might have been updated since the CD was produced.

Before we started answering questions that would eventually be the basis of our federal tax return, TaxCut's Auto Entry feature enabled us to import last year's tax return from TurboTax or TaxCut, pickup key financial information from Microsoft Money or Quicken, and import non-cash charitable information from DeductionPro (another handy tax reporting tool from H&R Block that costs $19.95 to download).

During the interview process, answers to frequently asked questions were readily available for review from the right side of every page. We found we could easily adjust the appearance of the program to show just the interview questions, the interview questions along with part of the tax form we were working on, or the entire tax form without the interview questions.

But the feature that impressed us the most was the Take me to ... function that allowed us to see exactly where we were in the process of completing the tax forms. Each step is color coded to indicate whether we had completed the section or not. We found it very easy to navigate through the entire tax form through this function, since the pop-up window could be adjusted to show the entire process, only those items we needed to complete, or part of the form was done.

All in all, we found H&R Block's TaxCut Platinum tax-reporting program easy to use and very versatile. Even the printing options included a variety of toggle switches from which we could select only those forms, worksheets or lists we wanted to print, rather than the entire kit and caboodle.

Pricing and Availability
TaxCut Platinum retails for $39.95 and TaxCut Platinum Home & Business runs for $49.95, which includes all pertinent forms for business reporting (1040, 1120, 1120S, 1065, 941, 1041 and 990). The programs are available for purchase at most major software outlets, downloadable online, or shipped direct from H&R Block.

TaxCut Platinum is available for Windows 95/98/Me/NT/2000/XP and Macintosh Mac OS 9.x and OS X operating systems. TaxCut Platinum Home & Business is available for Windows-only operating systems.

Both editions come with free customer support for users with technical questions. But don't confuse this free support with free tax advice — if you want to hookup with an H&R Block tax advisor you'll need to break out a charge card and cough up another $19.95 per solution. Currently, both TaxCut Platinum and Home & Business editions offer rebates allowing users to ask one taxing question for free.

Also included for free (after rebate) is one copy of H&R Block's TaxCut State edition. Purchasing the state edition outright costs $24.95. One free electronic filing option is also included with both TaxCut Platinum editions (after rebate). Without this rebate, e-filing a federal tax return would cost $14.95 and e-filing your state tax return would cost another $9.95.

Additionally, it will cost another $29.95 if you want a professional tax expert to review your return prior to filing it. Consequently, e-filing your federal and state return with TaxCut could cost as much as $89.80 — without the rebates — depending on how many questions you have while preparing a return or if you want H&R Block tax analysts to review it.

Final Word
Do-it-yourself tax preparation software is not necessarily for every business owner. If your tax reporting is very complex or you have multiple businesses, you may not be able to avoid using professional services. However, for many small businesses, TaxCut software could provide a cost-effective way to take care of filing your business's 2002 tax return, as well as keep you on top of pertinent information about the financial health of your business. Just make sure to use the rebates as provided from H&R Block, otherwise you'll find that the law of diminishing returns applies to this year's tax return.

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