Choosing the program that's right for you
If you've decided to plunge into the world of high-tech tax filing, there are several software options out there.
The two most popular programs - TurboTax (called MacInTax for Macintosh users) and TaxCut - are available in stores nationwide.
Or, if you're a little more daring, you can save a few bucks and try out tax software on the Internet.
TaxCut only has the 1040EZ online, but this year TurboTax has put its full program on the Internet. And two other software programs, SecureTax.com and OneTax.com, are available only on the Internet.
If you're concerned about your financial data floating free in cyberspace, consider that all of these tax sites use encryption, making your data pretty secure from prying eyes.
Then go into a site and play around with a few made-up numbers. If you like the program, buy the software and load it onto your own computer. You'll pay a few dollars more, but your data will be safe on your hard drive. You'll also fill out your tax forms faster than if you wait for your data to process on the Web.
Read on for a brief rundown on the four programs.
TurboTax is the leading consumer tax program and this year's version demonstrates why.
It incorporates video and imports data seamlessly. In its new streamlined version this year, advanced users will appreciate having fewer screens to wade through. But new users could be a little overwhelmed by the pop-out navigation chart on the left and frequently asked questions on the right.
Cost: $30 for basic Windows or Mac version; $50 for deluxe version, which includes free electronic filing. Web version with electronic filing: $9.95 for 1040EZ; $19.95 for full return. State tax forms cost extra.
Kiplinger TaxCut (www.taxcut.com)
TaxCut is the easiest and most traditional tax package this year. Though not as slick as TurboTax, its interview process is straightforward and easy for beginners to understand. The program offers a "fast forms" option for those who prefer to work with the forms directly.
The price is right too: $20 for the basic edition; $40 for the deluxe edition, which includes free electronic filing and software for your state tax return. Only the 1040EZ form is available online.
This Internet-only program lets you file federal and state returns electronically. Cost (including electronic filing): $9.95 for federal form 1040EZ and state tax return; $14.95 for full federal and state tax return.
OneTax is another Internet-only service put out by Thomson Investors Network. This Web-based software claims to handle 85 percent of an individual's returns. Cost: $9.95 for federal and state tax return.