Let me tell you how it will be;
There’s one for you, nineteen for me.
‘Cause I’m the taxman.
– George Harrison
Towards the end of April each year, oldies radio stations tend to play the Taxman song a lot. According to their Anthology, the Beatles paid upwards of 95% income tax, which was the inspiration for the song.
Not only can we not avoid paying taxes, but we have to figure out on the government’s behalf how much we should be paying. That reminds me a bit of those old movies when cowboys were forced to dig their own graves.
At the risk of taking an analogy too far, H&R Block At Home Canadian personal tax software is the backhoe of paying taxes. It is not used for a cause you look forward to and you still have to do the work yourself, but it makes it easier.
Let me make a disclaimer: I am not a tax expert, so I can’t vouch for the accuracy of the software or its appropriateness to any particular purpose. H&R Block is, however, a leader in these matters and I’ll take it that they’ve got it right.
So what I will focus on in this column is the ease of setup and ease of use of this software.
In a nutshell, it is very easy to install and use. The hardest part for me was finding a CD reader for my laptop; it is amazing how much stuff you just download nowadays.
The Setup was no different than any other software, and once installed, it automatically checked for updates online. That would give them the chance to incorporate any last-minute changes to our tax laws.
Then it offered to run you through a “QuickStart Tutorial”, which laid out pretty nicely what you could expect from the program.
You essentially run through a series of “interviews” for everyone in your family. It bases the returns on entire families so that way it can take advantage of things like spousal transfers and dependants.
You can let it make decisions on such things as which spouse makes certain claims, or you can override any decisions.
Rather than make you hop around forms like you would when you do your taxes manually, the program runs through form by form – T4s, T5s, etc. – and for each form it asks for information by box number. It then figures out where on the tax return the information should go. It can’t get much easier than that.
You can save your work at any point to go back to it later. While in the program, you can hop to any point in the process and you always have plenty of options for descriptive context-sensitive help.
Once you have saved several years of data, it will do year-by-year comparisons, keeping a summary of the past five years.
At the end, you ask it to do its calculations, at which point it prompts you if you have missed something important. Then you can either print the return or send it in via NETFILE, the Canada Revenue Agency online tax transmission service.
You can print or transmit 20 returns in the version I have, which is the Premium edition, with a suggested retail price of $59.99. This edition has special functions for small unincorporated businesses, whereas the Deluxe edition, at $39.99, seems to have everything the typical person would need and it allows 16 returns.
MacIntosh users are out of luck as this program only works with Windows. There is an online version however, that you can run from the H & R Block website. See www.hrblock.ca.
So should you fork out the forty bucks? There are some compelling reasons for doing so: it will save you some time, you will avoid mathematical errors, it will help you make sure you deduct everything (for example it reminded me of the home renovation tax credit, but then so did my wife), and it will know any changes to the tax laws from the previous year. It will also give you a nice electronic database in which to keep your tax records.
But you still have to do the work yourself.