QuickTax, but far from a quick startup

It hasn’t been that long since tax preparation software for the home user came into our lives, but as I reviewed (and prepared my tax return with) Intuit’s QuickTax for the 2007 tax year it felt like a lot longer.

I’ve used tax preparation software of various stripes for a number of years now, but I haven’t forgotten the frustration and tedium of the paper and pencil approach. While there are still those that insist the paper-based approach is easy, for myself and the math-challenged masses, software like QuickTax is the way to go. Even some of my math whiz friends have been won over by the ability to file electronically via the Canada Revenue Agency’s Netfile service, and get your refund more quickly.

On specifically, though, to QuickTax. The only real challenge was activating the product, and it continued to be a challenge during later use. To combat piracy, Intuit requires the product be activated via the Internet or phone, and there are a number of problems with their system.

The first is the instillation key provided with the software. It’s all numbers, 21 of them, with no spaces in between, and poor print quality that makes it easy to confuse a 6 and an 8, for example. It’s enough to cause eye strain, and was enough to cause me to enter one of the characters incorrectly.

The second problem is their activation server. It’s horribly slow, and of course as I’d entered a character wrong, when it did connect, activation failed. While it gave me a chance to correct the typo it refused to accept the change, always reverting back to the original, wrong installation key.

I was prompted to phone a 1-888 number instead, and this proved challenging as well, as the system would make me restart entering the 21 numbers if I paused even momentarily. After some wrestling with the automated system, I was finally able to get an activation code and use the product.

Except, that wasn’t the end of it. Any time I went to re-open QuickTax it was like I’d never activated it in the first place. The software again prompted me for the activation code, and because I hadn’t saved the paper the first time (why would I?) I had to go through all this hassle again.

Intuit really needs to improve this kludgy and frustrating activation process that will drive people away from what is otherwise an excellent product.

Once I was up and running, completing my tax return was indeed quick and easy. You have the option of an automated wizard approach or a more manual one; I opted for the automated approach and was prompted to enter form information and was asked questions to streamline the process. The “EasyStep” approach is broken down into Income, RRSPs, Deductions and Provincial categories. It took me less than 15 minutes to enter all my information and be ready to file.

Intuit offers four editions of QuickTax. The Basic edition includes only the basic tax preparation capabilities, everything you need to file. The Standard edition, which I reviewed, adds a suite of deduction maximization tools, as well as the ability to carry-forward personal information and unused tax credits from last year’s return. Running the tools on my return it reminded me to claim my rent expenses on my provincial return, although this didn’t impact my refund. The Platinum Edition adds tools for managing investment and rental property income, and the Business edition adds tools for unincorporated businesses and the self-employed.

Once your return is prepared you can either create a file to upload to Netfile, print or print to PDF. The product allows you to prepare two returns, with the option to purchase additional returns. The Standard edition is priced at $39.99.

Overall, as I said once you’ve got QuickTax up and running it’s a user friendly tool. For the record after this review ran online I was contacted by Intuit. They told me a patch had been released that should address the inability to change an incorrectly entered product key.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Jeff Jedras
Jeff Jedras
A veteran technology and business journalist, Jeff Jedras began his career in technology journalism in the late 1990s, covering the booming (and later busting) Ottawa technology sector for Silicon Valley North and the Ottawa Business Journal, as well as everything from municipal politics to real estate. He later covered the technology scene in Vancouver before joining IT World Canada in Toronto in 2005, covering enterprise IT for ComputerWorld Canada. He would go on to cover the channel as an assistant editor with CDN. His writing has appeared in the Vancouver Sun, the Ottawa Citizen and a wide range of industry trade publications.

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