The Advantages and Disadvantages of Tax Preparation Software
It is often said that the medium is the message. This reminds us of Franklin D Roosevelt and his famous ‘fireside chats’ with the country. In an era where the television set did not exist, the radio was a great device that enabled conversation with the Americans. Through the radio, he could send his assurance to the American citizens’ homes and become one of them. A radio chat was definitely more effective and much more intimate than other mediums, like say, a grandstanding speech. It is certain that the medium, in this case, was the message itself.
In the 21st century, we are faced with something that is as real and a mandatory part of our lives: tax preparation, or, rather, tax preparation software. It is unfortunate that this particular medium appears to be giving out mixed messages, even if vendors and software programmers would have us believe that tax preparation can be carried out fast and without errors, and that all it takes to produce a tax return which would be considered impeccable by the IRS is a single ‘click’.
If it is that simple, why does it give off mixed messages? Tax preparation software has always been criticized on the grounds of having a “one-size-fits-all” approach. The critics of tax preparation software, especially businessmen, are doubtful as to the possibility of squeezing in an overwhelming number of codes and regulations into an interview lasting half an hour. Waving aside the tall claims made by software programmers, the critics of tax software opine that tax software is capable of incorporating only the most general set of credits and deductions, consequently making the taxpayer the loser. The critics maintain firmly that the sins of omission and the unasked questions work in favor of the IRS and in extreme disfavor of the taxpayer using the tax software.
Let us take a moment to ponder over this situation. A séance is being held by a medium. The medium is striving to establish connection between you and the other side, when the other side is equally willing to connect with you. The medium is most likely to ask leading questions; she would read between the lines and make general comments which would apply to almost anybody; however, those taking part in the séance would interpret the comments as unique ones applying exclusively to themselves and their lives. An ally of the medium would vouch for the idea that the séance is sure to bring in some wonderful news from the other side, thus boosting the credibility of the séance and the medium.
The way critics look upon the working of the tax software is much the same as the way a charlatan operates in a séance. These programs are designed with all kinds of businesses in mind, though the same tax deductions questions are asked for all of them, with some amount of modifications, in each case.
Being asked to specify the nature of your business before the commencement of the interview process might make you feel you are unique. However, although the software vendors would have you believe that purchase of their top-notch programs would give you access to all credits and deductions, this is hardly the truth.
The critics firmly maintain that if you believe what the software vendors want you to, you would only believe that you are getting good news with respect to credits and deductions. However, similar to the charlatan medium and its self-fulfilling prophecy, you would obtain what you seek. You need to think differently and hire the services of a professional who is qualified to understand things clearly and prevent you from overpaying your taxes. So a critic of tax preparation software would invariably react to the software as follows: ‘Let me contact my accountant’.
Several critics of tax software believe that all software related to tax preparation is better avoided. They believe that if you depend on the tax software, you end up losing thousands of dollars. However, on the other hand, an active investor, the owner of a business and possessing a considerable portfolio of stocks, might not agree. A number of very efficient programs, internet and computer based, are available, which are capable of handling multiple entries with ease. You wouldn’t need to hire the services of an accountant to file your returns, except in the cases of exceptional situations, for example, unique tax circumstances. These investors consider the tax preparation software to be good, rather, something that has the best intentions but has some way to go before it can quite be there.
If you are one of those taxpayers who file straightforward tax returns, and probably receive dividends from W-2s from your workplace and mutual funds, you could resort to tax preparation software in order to calculate your returns fast and in an error free way. The software would calculate your returns and you would be notified of problems, if any. Capable tax software would help you e-file a federal and state return for as little a cost as less than $16. You can unhesitatingly tick the box beside a unique individual who is outside of any unique tax circumstances.
However, things need not necessarily be so smooth and nice, if the tax preparation software you are using does not provide user friendly, detailed guidance for the beginner or inexperienced taxpayer. The guidance that the tax software provides should ideally be free of jargons, and the right kind of program would come with the necessary tools and capabilities, helping the user to complete the tax return filing process accurately. Ideal tax software would have user friendly drop-down menus, coupled with a fast and easily accessible online service. The best of the tax software should be equipped with a combination of user friendly customer service and beneficial tax tips and advice.
It is unfortunate that it might prove to be a self-defeating exercise to use the free of cost unsuitable tax preparation software available in the market, as some of them are meant for people who file comparatively simpler tax returns of gross incomes of $34,000 or less. Some are slow and not so easy to use, while some again, are, including both interview-style and forms based inputs. When a user purchases tax software, it usually comes in the same package with technical support of the vendor, the vital element missing in the free software. Those who use free software are usually not very comfortable with the computer and are thus more likely to be faced with a lot of errors and problematic situations during its use. Their opinion about this medium is that its intentions are good but it has lost the plot.
So, tax preparation software has both advantages and disadvantages, giving off mixed messages. If we overlook the disadvantages, most of us would admit that it is speedy, accurate and almost error-free to file your tax returns through tax preparation software. However, the diehard critics of tax preparation software would never accept it as a medium to communicate with the IRS.