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The Dirty Work

When you start up the program for the first time, it searches for all the forms (which it does on each startup – kind of irritating) and then displays a window explaining the difference between the various 1040 forms (1040, 1040A, 1040EZ, 1040X for amended tax returns, and 1040-ES for estimated taxes) so you can figure out which one to file. When you select the proper form (1040 is the most common and complex one) from the Formsets menu, that menu disappears and is replaced by Forms, Forms-2, Schedules, Worksheets, and Statements. A rough estimate of the numbers comes up with some 42 forms, 12 schedules, 28 worksheets, and 18 statements. Frank Malczewski, who responded to our user survey, mentioned that one useful form that is missing is Form 5329 (succinctly named "Return for Additional Taxes Attributable to Qualified Retirement Plans (Including IRAs), Annuities, and Modified Endowment Contracts"). This is the form you use if you withdrew money from a retirement plan for one reason or another and have to pay the 10% tax penalty for early withdrawal. Other than this omission (which I hope is rectified next year), MacInTax is quite complete. I’m quite sure that the IRS has more forms in hiding, but those are reserved for individuals that they want to harass for real. After all, the IRS works on a different system from the justice system in the US. With the IRS, you are guilty until proven innocent, and a friend once told me that IRS records are completely confidential, so if you include that income you got from embezzling (as the IRS instructions tell you to), the Justice Department can’t come after you on that basis alone. Of course the IRS can put anyone away for less provocation than that, so I’m not sure the confidentiality of tax returns should be of much comfort to the hardened criminal.

Using MacInTax to fill in the forms (which look almost exactly like the real ones) is ridiculously easy. I’m somewhat embarrassed about the amount of fun I have filling in forms in MacInTax. Basically, you just go through and wherever there is a blank that needs filling in, type into it. If MacInTax doesn’t want you to type into the field because the value is calculated somewhere else, you simply aren’t allowed to type in the field. It would be nice if they would indicate which fields were calculated for you in some unobtrusive manner as well, but it’s not a big deal. The only slightly confusing part of all this arises with some fields like the one reporting wages from W-2 forms. You can enter that number directly if you want, or you can double-click on the field while it is still empty to bring up a worksheet that where you to fill in MacInTax’s facsimile W-2 form. I prefer the second method, because it makes modifications easier (well, what if I had another deduction and they only deducted X from my salary? That sort of thing.), but straight data entry is fine too. In many instances, MacInTax will not allow you to enter incorrect data (unlike ChipSoft’s TurboTax), so you don’t have to worry about accidently entering a capital "O" instead of a zero, or anything like that. Similar nice touches include entering the dashes for you in your social security number, and allowing you to click in check boxes if you don’t want to tab down to the box and hit the X key or type the appropriate number key when you have several choices. What all this boils down to is that Softview has done an excellent job making the process of filling in the forms as painless as possible. One feature that I personally had no use for this year is the ability to enter questionable values, estimates, and unknown values. Entering a "?" after a value marks it as questionable, entering an "e" after a value marks it as an estimate, and entering a "?" instead of a value marks it as unknown. The program treats these numbers as errors (see below, under Help!), so you can easily find them later and correct them when you know the correct numbers. It’s still a nice idea.

One popular feature of MacInTax is its ability to itemize most lines. So if you need to add a bunch of numbers to come up with the value for some line item, double-clicking on that field will bring up an itemization form that lets you enter the item name and the amount that goes with it. You can enter a up to 15 items (each of which can itself be itemized), and the program will total the final amount and display it in the proper field. This is extremely useful for deductions like travel expenses, when there are a number of items that must be considered together to come up with the final result. The only limitation to the itemizations is that you cannot insert or delete a row, as you would in spreadsheet. As such, if you don’t like the order of your itemization or wish to add a line, you have to do all the work manually. Still, that’s nitpicking.

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