In the past, H&R Block TaxCut has been strong on information but less user-friendly than Intuit TurboTax. However, TaxCut Premium 2006 introduces an improved interface, making it both easier on the eye and simpler to navigate than the 2005 edition. The rewritten tax interview has fewer words and less jargon, and the retail price is significantly lower than that of Intuit TurboTax. For instance, TaxCut Premium with federal, state, and e-file options costs $60, which is $30 less than the comparable TurboTax Premier.
We spent about five minutes installing H&R Block TaxCut Premium 2006 Federal + State + E-file on a Windows XP computer. This application also runs on Windows 98 and 2000 systems, and we like that H&R Block doesn't assume that its users will have the newest software. You can use the same disk for Mac OS X 10.3.9 and later. TaxCut still offers DeductionsPro for estimating deductions, which you have to install separately. WillPower, which helps you manage wills and other legal documents, is included on a separate disk. During installation, if you don't want TaxCut software icons on your desktop, then make sure to uncheck the boxes that will otherwise add those by default. And make sure to allow the software to download updates if it prompts you to do so.
TaxCut Premium 2006's significant nip and tuck created good results. A more aesthetic appearance complete with softer, green-shaded buttons and menus, has replaced the austere look of previous years. More importantly, however, is Premium's rewritten tax interview with fewer screens and less text. The Home Mortgage Assistant, for instance, manages to eliminate a sentence or two of instructions from the many screens of the 2005 version. We like the running tally of estimated federal and state refunds in the upper-right corner. The Take Me To window of TaxCut lists a menu of each of the program's steps, coloring each option according to what you need, and then checking off completed items. You don't have to view an IRS form until you file, although you also have the option of viewing and editing those forms directly. TaxCut's enhancements mean fewer clicks, less reading, and a faster tax-preparation experience.
Another plus is this year's one-box-fits-all approach. Rather than force customers to choose between Premium, Deluxe, or Standard editions, Block has ditched the latter two, leaving only Premium. Granted, the Premium version is overkill for 1040EZ filers, who instead could save some cash by using an online tax-preparation site.
Most filers won't have to study the list of features on the TaxCut box to determine which version is best for their situation. The exception is the small-business owner, who will probably need the business-specific tools of the Home & Business edition. However, TaxCut still comes in several flavors, including the $20 Premium Federal; the $30 Premium Federal + State; the $60 Premium Federal + State + E-file; and the Home & Business + State + E-file for $80.
When it comes to walking you through basic tax-prep issues, H&R Block TaxCut Premium 2006 Federal + State + E-file is pretty much on par with Intuit TurboTax Premier 2006, with the occasional exception. For instance, we wished TaxCut Premium had a tool similar to TurboTax's Basis Pro, which uses Gainskeeper's historical data of stock prices to help you determine the cost basis of a stock or mutual fund. That said, years of fine-tuning have made both TaxCut and TurboTax top-notch tools for do-it-yourself filers.