This weekend was full of accomplishments, and one of them was getting my taxes done. I’ve been using online tax software for nearly a decade, so I’d become pretty handy at it. Still, this was the first time I had to itemize my taxes and had a major life change to deal with, so I was a bit nervous about finding all the deductions. That’s why I was so happy when H&R Block sent me a free copy of their 2009 H&R Block At Home software to review. (All opinions expressed are my own.) I’ll also have one copy to give away at the end of this post.
The H&R Block at Home Interface
This is the first time I used physical software rather than online software. It installed quickly and easily, and then it was as simple and straightforward as using the online version, except I didn’t have to create a username and password and I didn’t have to log on or off. I could save the return or exit as I went through.
The navigation is seamless. I was able to quickly review a previous section through the summaries if I needed to. Like other programs, it has a refund or tax due status bar in the upper right that updates automatically as you work through the return. Don’t panic if it shows that you owe a high amount after the income portion – you haven’t gotten to the deductions yet!
I did run into a problem with scrolling down the page, but this has more to do with our laptop than with the software. We have a laptop with the new HD-aspect ratio. It’s great for watching movies, but not so great for using websites and programs built on the original 4×3 aspect ratio. If you have a new laptop, make sure you scroll ALL the way down and read ALL the questions before moving to the next section.
I didn’t have data saved in TaxCut or TurboTax, so I didn’t use this feature, but it is an option. I was able to import my W-2, which was pretty nifty. I had to provide a couple of pieces of data so it could find me, then it did the rest. Interestingly, I couldn’t import my husband’s W-2, even though we have the same payroll processing company, so it must be something your employer has to choose.
New Homebuyer Credit Instructions and Mortgage Assistant
I really appreciated the new homebuyer credit informational screen and the mortgage assistant section that helped me find all of the potential deductions and credits. My 1099s were correct, but the software prompted me to double-check my escrow statement and amortization table to be sure.
They also provided clear instructions about the required documents for the homebuyer tax credit and submitting my return on paper.
Frequently Missed Deductions
The software also flagged a frequently missed deduction that I certainly would have missed. If you paid state taxes when you submitted your state return last year, that payment is deductible this year. For example, if you owed an extra $500 on your 2008 California return, but mailed the payment in 2009, deduct it on your 2009 return. We owed a hefty sum last year, so I was thrilled to be alerted to this.
Roth IRA Alert
This is a special year for Roth IRAs, or people who want to convert to them. The software offered an explanation and a reminder of how you can take advantage of the new tax rules for 2010.
New Car Deduction
I didn’t have a new car to deduct, but the software includes detailed instructions for anyone who does.
This was one area where I found the software lacking. I couldn’t find a way to go back and re-answer questions once I left that portion. For example, I misunderstood the questions for the Making Work Pay credit. I realized that once I got to the form review section and read the question on the actual IRS form. I went back into the software, but I couldn’t change my answers in the main interview section. Instead, I had to click the button for “whole form” and change the answers on the form, which then updated the software. It took me a while to figure that out, so I would have preferred an option to re-answer those questions.
For those of you who speed-read, like me, the software asks if you received any Economic Recovery Payments. If thought they meant the portion of the credit that was returned to us in our paychecks, so I checked yes. They were actually referring to the $250 one-time payments sent to Social Security and SSI recipients. If you didn’t receive a Economic Recovery check or deposit, then the answer is no.
Overall, this software was very easy to use. It took me about an hour to complete the return, but some of that was spent double-checking documents and collecting escrow documents I wasn’t expecting to use. I’m used to zipping through the software, but I’ve never itemized before, so I appreciated the extra hand-holding the software offered. I’m still irritated that I have to file on paper, but that’s not H&R Block’s fault!
If this is your first year itemizing or you’ve had another major life change (adoption, birth of a child, divorce), it’s probably worthwhile to spring for more detailed software. As you’ll see in tomorrow’s review, it’s easy to miss things you’ve never deducted before.
The download prices are:
$19.95 for Basic (Federal only)
$44.95 for Deluxe (Federal + 1 State)
$59.95 for Premium (Federal + 1 State for self-employed/rental property owners)
The boxed versions at Amazon are:
$14.99 for Basic
$34.99 for Deluxe
$43.49 for Premium
I have one copy of H&R Block At Home software to give away ($150) value. Entering is simple – just post in the comments. Make sure you use an email address you check regularly. Don’t worry – I won’t use it for anything except telling you that you’ve won. Since it’s early in the season, I’ll run this giveaway for two weeks. All entries must be in by March 3 at 6PM, PST.