April 15th, 2005

A TaxCut Review

Two states, two sole proprietorships, weird deductions, and possibly the worst software I've ever used in my life have not added up to a good time.

Do not, under any circumstances, ever give TaxCut the slightest bit of consideration. I know, it's sitting there on the shelf, twenty bucks cheaper than TurboTax, and really what's the difference? I mean, software is software right? And what, I'm going to use it once? How could it possibly be any worse?

Okay. I'm going to make a suggestion for you, potential TaxCut buyer: Become one of those hardcore militia men that lives in the woods and refuses to pay income taxes. Again, I know what you're thinking, it's drastic. You don't want to give up your comfortable life in wherever-you-live, doing all of your whatever-you-do. And you certainly want to be able to sleep at night without that fear that the taxman is going to come eat your liver, or however they collect debts these days.

I totally understand your concerns, but I assure you that after an hour or so of wrestling with this abomination, you'll want to throw your arms up and run to the woods. There's certainly no way you'll escape the experience not hating the income tax, and for the love of fuck, give me a goddamn gun!

So just save yourself the thirty bucks or so and trust me.

So after much effort, I got my federal and AZ returns figured out, and moved on to California.

The California forms it makes say very explicitly that you can only claim childcare expenses in California, but it imported my Arizona daycare info from the federal return. I could blank out some of the lines, but it wouldn't let me get past the page because it thought it needed an address. The line for total spent wouldn't zero. I could make it any other number, but if I made it zero, it reverted to the value on the federal form. ( $value = $override || $federal ... anyone?)

The same thing happened with the real estate tax I paid in AZ. So I had all these deductions I couldn't zero out, so I contacted customer service. The suggestion I got was, "don't worry about it -- print it, and fix it by hand. Uninstall the CA state software, and just file your federal return." I eventually gave up on the CA software being so totally broken that I figured I'd just file federal and AZ, then get an extension on CA and find a tax mommy to help me.


I should mention the customer service, where maybe one positive thing can be said about this software. Maintaining consistency is very important in developing anything a user will interact with; it keeps users from being surprised and confused when using the application. The TaxCut team has decided to take the terribleness of the application and use that to tie in the support experience. A user isn't shocked when they go from the bad app to the bad service. Service so bad, I might add, that the chat windows have the "copy" feature explicitly disabled, so that you can't make a record of how terrible it was. "Please don't worry about that. You'll be able to discard that form when it prints." That's a special kind of bad.

So, I uninstall the CA software and restart TaxCut. Everything seems cool. AZ is the only state listed. I click to one step in the process, and it pops up the "Before you go on, check the internet for updates" message it's been doing every time I click to this step. I let it check, and it says, "Before you go on, you have to save your return." I tell it okay, which I'd done every other time it asked.

Before you call me an idiot, you have to realize that I had to stop and restart this application for various updates, additions, etc. a zillion times. Each time, it automatically loaded my tax return when I started it. When I told it to save that last time, I assumed it was once again loaded, but thanks to a wonderfully opaque user interface, you generally have no idea what's going on in TaxCut. When I told it to save that last time, it wrote over my tax return -- my just-minutes-ago-completed, result-of-two-days'-effort tax return -- with a blank one. Well, to be fair, maybe uninstalling the CA software also uninstalled my return. Anything is possible. Well, anything frustrating and stupid.

I say fuck it. I'm filing for extensions and finding someone to do my taxes. I'll eat the $29 I spent three times on the various versions of TaxCut I needed, and the $99 I spent on a printer just to print my tax return, and whatever this tax person charges me. I'll eat it all so I never, ever have to see that program again.

As a software developer myself, I realize how tight deadlines, bad managers and other things outside of a contributor's control can drag an application down, but this thing is so insufferably and inexcusably bad that anyone who had anything to do with its development, from the head programmer to the guy who gassed up the trucks that shipped it, should really reconsider what they're doing with their lives. Maybe they ought to move to the mountains, too.
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