Thursday, 19 April 2007

Review: Web Tax Software Packages - Update 2008

I've just spent some time updating my look at the various Canadian tax preparation packages available through the Web, focussing on those packages which have attained NetFile electronic filing certification from the Canada Revenue Agency. This year, a major new player has appeared - H&R Block.

The advantage of these Web-based programs is that the return is available through any computer connected to the web. Presumably the data is better protected than it would be on the average home computer - i.e. it is backed up and sits behind some sort of firewall in a secure data center. However, none of the companies explain exactly how well they do this job, whether they meet ISO specs or have been IT-security audited. At the end of the preparation process, all the companies allow the download to one's own computer of a pdf containing the paper form image as well as the .tax file to upload to the CRA.

A convenient list of these and the regular on-PC packages is on Wikipedia under Canadian Tax Preparation Software for Personal Use. For all the packages I tested using real data though the intent was not to test tax situations but ease of use, understandability, help features, navigation and speed to figure out value for money - Wikipedia gives all the prices.

Here are my ratings out of 10 on the packages:
  1. - 9.0 Slick, polished, fast, the winner but by less than last year; good value, free for students or under $20k family income
  2. CuteTax - 8.5 Clean and clear interface, fast, solid product; free for under $25k income
  3. AceTax - 8.0 Works fine; good value for money, tied with WebTax4U - 8.0 Some quality control issues and slightly clunky but works fine and with H&R Block - 8.0 Slick and quick but pricey and the user agreement allows them to market their other products and services to you.
  4. QuickTaxWeb - 7.5 Polished but very slow response, overpriced and doesn't support Firefox version 1.5 (used on Ubuntu Linux)
  5. EachTax - 7.0 Looks like paper forms, sacrifices some ease of use
  6. MBOTax - 7.0 Serviceable but not very user friendly
  7. eTaxCanada - 5.0 Program didn't seem to work properly in 2007 - barely better in 2008; still awkward, frustrating and slow
  8. FileTaxOnline - 5.0 Good for a laugh: home page has button for "Techincal Support" Why bother with it for $9.89 if there are better cheaper alternatives?
Tomorrow I'll post some observations on AceTax and then on H&R Block that led me to the above ratings.


Anonymous said...

For the record, I've used Acetax the last few years and have been pretty happy with it. Not sure why it didn't work for you.

CanadianInvestor said...

Several times yersterday I tried it on a Windows XP machine with Firefox 2.0 and a Ubuntu Linux with Firefox 1.5 and got the same result. Just tried it again and this is the start of the page long list of errors:

Errors found!
Invalid Value: 892 for Hitid in Hits has invalid precision/scale

If you have any idea what is going on let me know.

What browser are you using?

Anonymous said...

I like Ufile also, but I find that QuickTaxWeb a bit more intuitive.


Anonymous said...

I'm using Win XP and Firefox - not sure of the version - installed it 6 months ago.
It also works on my IE.

I wouldn't worry about it, if that's the only one that isn't working for you then it's their problem - not yours!

AceTax is the only filer I've ever used so I can't compare it to anything else.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Mike. AceTax should be rated 10 out of 10 in my opinion. AceTax is fast, simple and the best part is the price. It is better than Ufile and QuickTax put together. I've used AceTax for quite a few years and will never switch to anything else.

Anonymous said...

Well you did quite the job with my Wiki article.. lol.

I have no problems with the revisions actually. although the word "solutions" in the title of the new page should have been "software".. but shrug its all the same in the end.

I think you really need to review Studiotax ... it is careware and the price alone merits it being reviewed.

I actually began reviewing tax software two years ago which led to my posting on wiki this year after finding Studiotax by accident. In my mind, its not the best but I know how to fill out a tax return so it matters not.

Anyhow, I hope to see your review of this product (no QC until next year, however the creator of the software was on the radio here a few months ago and said QC prov return will be included next year. Also of interest, he said last year he had 25K downloads).

Anonymous said...

I was just browsing your site a little further and noted you had a link to My Ontario Canada Freetax site.

Here are some additional paper file software options you may not be aware of.

CanadianInvestor said...

Barry, in case that's what you meant, no it wasn't me who made a bunch of changes in Wikipedia under the name "unforgettableid" of the NetFile article. I just used it as a great source for the links to the packages. I gather you did a lot/most of the work in putting it together ... I must say then, thank you, great job! Thanks for the other tax package links too.

mike & anonymous, ever curious, I just tried logging into AceTax again and lo and behold, got in successfully without any pages of Javascript errors. So Acetax may be a good package but shouldn't an on-line web version be engineered to be up 99.999% of the time? How useful is it if it isn't available, especially in the last few weeks of tax season? (Mind you, it seems the CRA also needs a few lessons in software reliability so am I being too harsh?)

To all, I did start downloading and trying out some of the on-PC packages but ran out of time (among other things doing a bunch of family returns) and wanted to post something before the April 30 deadline. Some significant differences had already appeared but I wouldn't have drawn any conclusions yet. There is another review of some of the various tax packages published by Jack Kapica in the Globe and Mail here.
I found the comments connected to the article quite interesting. I'm glad to see from those comments that I'm not the only one who thinks CRA should give us a web facility for free to enter tax returns. Tax forms are really nothing more than glorified spreadsheets except for the choice of transferring credits or deductions among family members and then I would be happy figuring out what to do on my own manually without computer help. I note that the Quebec government has a few fillable pdf's that move amounts around between schedules e.g. the trust return at this page (a crippling limitation is that a return must all be done in one session as the filled pdf cannot be saved).
That's a start but why can the CRA not go the rest of way?

Anonymous said...

My mistake.

Thanks for the compliment. Same goes for adding "real" reviews on this software in return.

Right now, all the big companies get all the glory when in fact they offer the same basic product others offer for cheap.. or even for free (at least that is my opinion). Perhaps in good time, the new page posted by "unforgettableid" will evolve to show that.

Regard, Barry.

Anonymous said...

Why can the CCRA and all the rest come out with one software for all and forget all this third party stuff.

Just like the forms, just make an electronic CCRA version for us all .

Also why does tis country not invest in internet for all, paid by the govt to improve efficiency like in scandinavia i think.

CanadianInvestor said...

Anon, I'm with you on the tax forms, that's for sure. CRA should supply them in electronic form just as they do on paper.

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