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This is probably the most common word associated with tax preparation, and although MacInTax does a good basic job at helping you fill out the forms, it doesn’t do much more. As I said before, MacInTax provides excellent and simple methods of entering correct data and even performs rudimentary error checking along the way. I gather the main lapse is with Section 179 (that’s the form for taking a deduction of something that would normally be depreciated). MacInTax can check for errors with a single Form 4562 (that’s the form you where you elect to take a Section 179 deduction), but if you have more than one Form 4562 or a Form 2106 (I guess a Section 179 deduction works there too, got that?), MacInTax won’t alert you if you go over the maximum allowable Section 179 amount. Oof, that’s confusing stuff (and I know, because I had to deal with it this year). Help comes in three other forms in MacInTax. First, there is a Help Topics… item in the Apple menu that provides help using the program and explains what the menu items do and that sort of thing. Useful, but not exciting. Second, there’s the manual, which is unfortunately necessary reading for certain actions, such as accessing the statement for depreciation calculations on Form 4562. Unless you read the manual, you’ll never find out that the only way to bring that statement up is by double-clicking in either column h or i on line 13. It took me a good two hours to find out what I was doing wrong. The third sort of help is what I was relying on and was what let me down. Whenever you double-click on the instructions or label for a line in MacInTax, the program will display the IRS instructions for that line, if there are any. This is perhaps the main feature of the program, because it eliminates all that nasty page flipping in the IRS booklets trying to figure out what they want you to put where. It also references other IRS publications, so you can collect them all and trade them with your friends. Just call 1-800/TAX-FORM and be nice to the poor operator.

The internal instructions could go farther, as I said, and incorporate some of the information that is otherwise buried in the manual. That would have made my life easier and can’t be all that hard to do. What MacInTax does not provide, other than the occasional exception, is tax hints. Heck, I’ll admit it. I’d like it if the program told me that I should do this or that to save money. In theory, TurboTax does a lot of this sort of thing, but the demo of it that I saw left me completely unimpressed. TurboTax’s interface was terrible, and none of the help looked all that helpful. I guess I’ll just have to make do with what Softview gives me, but I would like some simple tips. Maybe if we all ask nicely? Of course Softview has to be careful not to mislead or provide damaging hints, which may be part of the decision not to include tips.

MacInTax does have a few more pleasant features that will help you complete your tax returns with a minimum of hassle. I am always concerned that I haven’t filled everything in correctly or that I’ve missed something completely. If you miss something, MacInTax will notify you of it before you print, and if you choose Open Forms… from the File menu, you can see a list of forms to open, and the ones that you have started but not finished are marked as "Not Done." If you wish to find the omission, MacInTax will search forward for the error if you type Option-Return. Shift-Option-Return searches backward for errors as well. It’s a tad limited, since it won’t find errors on forms that aren’t currently open. Still, it’s easy to use Open Forms… to open the forms that aren’t complete and then use the Option-Return to search for the error. Finally, there is a Forms Guide feature that will help you to figure out which forms you’ll need from the very beginning. It’s not amazing, but for those who aren’t sure which forms they should file, the Forms Guide will clarify matters somewhat.

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