Thursday, January 29, 2009


We are conducting the ultimate family business - Bonnie's mother Sally died last week and the services are tomorrow. Sally was quite a woman, a mother, a grandmother, great- and great-great. Sharp mind for 94 years and fortunately no real suffering at the transition. I only got to know her for these last two years however I felt a bond and a welcoming - even though we tried to team up on Bonnie in a spirited game of Boggle we still could not defeat her. Which brings me to the Second Reading.

Beth will deliver the Second Reading at the services, and even for a true atheist, these words have meaning and feeling and move me:

"For I am already being poured out like a libation, and the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day--and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.”
2 Timothy 4:6-8

Originally Bonnie came out after her mother had been admitted to the hospital to assist her sister in bedside vigils. Eventually she returned home, then returned with me via automobile. The feeling was surrealistic in that Sally was at home on hospice in a hospital bed in the living room while visitors came and went, talked and enjoyed each other's company, meals were eaten, drinks were consumed.

I certainly would never make light of Bonnie's loss, yet she was fortunate to have her mother so far into her own life. I for example lost my mother at my age of 29, when my mother was 64. Hardly a week goes by when I wish I had the opportunity to talk with her again, to ask her questions. Thus perhaps the popularity of Mitch Albom's third book, "For One More Day."

I will truly miss Sally. Bonnie usually called her each day (Sally told each of her daughters that the other two were calling daily!) and sometimes the phone was turned over to me. We had taken her down to San Clemente, and the photo is one I look at and enjoy from those times. She was indeed an inspirational lady.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Tax Preparation Software

In the "olden days" (i.e., mid 1980s, during Lotus 1-2-3 Era but before Turbo Tax), before the Gentleman Pensioner was a pensioner, each year I would painstakingly create all the Federal Income Tax forms in Lotus. I had them connected, so the data would pass from one form to the next, just as the instructions would indicate. Then the following year, I would have to take each form and update it for the changes the IRS had made for that year. This took several hours of update, however I thought it was worth it. Of course, I could not send in 'my' forms, but I would print them out and use them to enter the 'final version' of my submitted taxes.

Then I found Personal Tax Edge, and said: hey, that $9.99 is worth the amount of time I'm putting into this each year. For several (about five) years, I used Personal Tax Edge. Ultimately, of course, Turbo Tax bought out PTE - and gave me one free year of Turbo Tax for my being a loyal Personal Tax Edge customer. That year convinced me that Turbo Tax was no better than Tax Cut, the only (I thought) competitor on the market.

For Tax Year 2007 (last year), here was the deal, as validated on 17 Jan 2008: TaxCut now had its cheapest version (was called basic, now called Premium Federal) for $19.95 (boo!); the next step up, (also called Premium Federal plus State filing plus e-filing) for $39.95. I don't know where TurboTax cost is at this time, however I have confirmed that even if one downloads TaxCut Premium Federal only from the web site, the biscuits still charge you $19.95! On 17 Jan 2008 I was able to purchase at CompUSA for "going out of business" discount of $4 which made it $17.01 after tax (yes, gross receipts tax, no pun here). For Tax Year 2006, I couldn’t find Tax Cut for less than $18.95 !!! (and that was at BX). Most of them were at the list $19.95 even for the Basic package. For Tax Year 2007, I looked into downloading the Tax Cut from their web site – still costs the same, and as mentioned several times in here, I never have used the CD after the initial installation – and once you do that installation, it says, “let’s go check the web site for latest changes” so you have no choice but to use Internet version download anyway – so start with it.

Then a month ago, on Dec 15 of 2008, Tax Cut sent me a CD which is nothing but a forced download of the Premium Federal for $34.95 (prepare plus e-file; state is more, that should kick it up to $39.95). I don't want that crap. I want the "basic" [prepare only] so I was thinking where can I get a price break? may need to go back to BX or Comp USA... but they all seem to be in lockstep on price ...

Because of the cost of both Tax Cut (and Turbo Tax), I looked around and was amazed to find TaxACT (which apparently has been around for 10 years!). TaxACT (created by Second Story Software) has a better price: FREE (Standard version) software and FREE e-file! The ~13MB install program is downloaded from their web site. (you can also file on-line, however for me download is the only way to go.) The [free] Standard version is limited in that you can only create one tax return and cannot import data from previous years.

I am currently trying TaxACT and evaluating it as I go - my initial reaction is: so far it looks quite good. I can already see ways that it is better than Tax Cut, e.g., in the Forms view which is my primary entry method. Tax Cut just shows you the list of forms, e.g., 1099-Div and says you have, say, six copies. TaxACT lists the six copies and shows the Payer for each. Also I found I can copy from Tax Cut (once I open the form) and paste the identifying info into TaxACT. ( Deluxe version allows you to bring in all info from LAST YEAR's TaxACT but since this is my first year ... ) Deluxe costs $13 and also gives you access to Lassiter tax law explanations as well as allows you to save forms as PDF documents so you don't have to keep the software version around for five years or whatever.

Here is an excellent comparison/review of the top ten tax preparation (online) software packages - I had no idea that there were more than two candidates until this year! Some of these offer purely on-line versions, and I prefer the desktop version for feelings of privacy and control. The comparison ranks Turbo Tax #1, TaxACT #2, and Tax Cut #3. I would appreciate your comments (if you wish email to me and I will post your comments below) - have you heard of TaxACT? Used it?