Whether you want to file your own return or seek the help of an accountant at tax time, TurboTax can help you better understand your taxes without demanding that you have IRS expertise. Indeed, the easy-to-learn tax interview of Intuit TurboTax Premier Investments 2006, like H&R Block's TaxCut 2006, remains among the best of tax-preparation services. TurboTax 2006 looks pretty much the same as last year's model, although you'll find enhanced sections on managing deductions and investments. This update to TurboTax also includes new support for managing stock purchases and sales. But, offering comparable tools and usability, TaxCut costs significantly less.
TurboTax 2006 comes in four flavors. There's an additional $24.95 charged for each edition with state filing. Those with a simple W-2 who don't need help managing deductions, such as a college student with a part-time job, can probably get by with the free federal edition of TurboTax. If you're dealing with a simple W-2 but want to check for deductions, such as student loan interest and hefty medical expenses, then the $29.95 TurboTax Deluxe should suffice. The $49.95 Premier Investments, which we tested, features Its Deductible, the Deduction Maximizer, and investment guides to help you report income and losses from stocks, bonds, mutual funds, rental property, and so on. For $30 more, TurboTax Home&Business provides Schedule C help as well.
In our tests, installation of TurboTax Premier 2006 took less than 10 minutes. You may have to wait a bit longer while Intuit connects to the Web to retrieve the latest updates and tax forms. TurboTax requires that you run a computer with at least Windows 2000 or Mac OS X 10.2.8, and one disk suffices for all supported operating systems. TurboTax does not include a tool for creating a legal will, which TaxCut offers as a free extra.
Once this program is running, the sober, tabbed interface of TurboTax is similar to that of its predecessor: functional, not flashy. Tabs along the top of the screen organize Personal Info, Federal Taxes, Federal Review, State Taxes, and Print and File options. You can jump between the tabs and pick up work where you left off. We like the Federal Refund box that shows how much money you might get back from Uncle Sam. Below that is a new Deductions Tracker tally. Roll the mouse over this section and a pop-up window breaks down Income and Adjustments, Deductions, Taxable Income, and so on. Unlike TaxCut, TurboTax forces you to choose "None of the above" from its lists, which can make for a more thoughtful process.
There are two noteworthy upgrades this year. The new Deductions Maximizer Center does a fine job of organizing deductions and credits into 10 jargon-free categories--such as Your Home for mortgage interest, energy credits, and so on. The You and Your Family category determines if you can claim deductions for dependents, child tax credits, and the like. Next to each subheading--Mortgage Interest, for instance--is a "Do I Qualify?" link. When you click the link, a pop-up box explains the deduction in simple, layperson's terms without a lot of IRS lingo. We also like the "Why Is It Different?" button: click it to learn why the deduction claimed on your return is different than the amount you entered. While TurboTax 2005's Your Deductions section offered pretty much the same set of deduction-sniffing tools, the 2006 improvements are welcome.