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Computerized Investing > March/April 2009

Editor's Outlook: The Pitfalls of On-Line Tax Preparation

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by Wayne A. Thorp, CFA

As losses in the stock market continue to mount, along comes tax time to add insult to injury. Like many of you, I use software to prepare my state and federal tax returns (see On the Internet in this issue for on-line tax resources). This year marked the first time I filed my taxes as a homeowner, so I was curious as to what the results would be using different services.

Historically, I have used TurboTax on-line and this year I also tried out the on-line version of H&R Block’s TaxCut service. Both programs walk you through an exhaustive array of potential deduction scenarios to help you minimize your tax liabilities. However, I was shocked by the end results for my Illinois state refund. I would have been willing to live with a minor difference between the two, but they were off by a factor of 10, with TurboTax offering the higher refund.

I went back through the steps for both programs multiple times with no change in the outcome. Finally, I discovered that TurboTax was applying some deduction or credit for consulting work, based on my 2007 taxes. Adjusting for this brought the TurboTax-calculated refund more in line with that of TaxCut, although they still did not match.

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