April 15: It's closer than you think
Tax time approaches, so take a little time to develop some tax-avoidance strategies.
December 4, 1998
by Mike Hogan
(IDG) -- Oh, no Mr. Bill. It's that time of year again. Mr. Hand has begun his inevitable reach for your wallet, and you have only about 130 more days to cache as much cash as you can.
One way to make yourself as small a tax target as possible is to pick up a copy of either TaxCut or TurboTax and start roughing out your 1998 return. List prices for the CD-ROM versions of these programs range from $19.95 for TaxCut Basic to $49.95 for TurboTax Deluxe, and business editions can cost as much as $90. But price cutting has already begun at the retail level.
"Staples is advertising our Kiplinger TaxCut Deluxe Multimedia with the All-State Edition for $24.95," observed Gene Goldenberg, Block Financial vice president. The program's list price is $39.95, and the box includes a $10 manufacturer's rebate.
Downloadable versions of these programs are even cheaper. Both Intuit and Block Financial will again offer tax forms on their Web sites for less than $20. A $19.95 version of TaxCut Deluxe (minus the multimedia videos and supporting publications) will be available on the TaxCut site by next week. Downloading will take about 25 minutes at 28 kbps, Goldenberg estimated.
Meanwhile, WebTurboTax will be available for download from the TurboTax Web site around mid-January at a cost of $9.95 to $19.95, depending on the number of forms you use.
According to the IRS, you can get your refund faster by filing electronically. All versions of TaxCut and the deluxe versions of TurboTax include electronic filing. If you buy the basic version of TurboTax, electronic filing will cost you another $10.
Get an early warning
You can do a only a limited amount of tax work now, of course, since you won't receive your income and other tax documents from employers, clients, and financial institutions for another month or two.
But these programs can help you come up with a few tax-avoidance strategies. You can make editable estimates of your income and deductions, or use the software's 1998 tax estimators to guess the damage. Then you'll still have time to throw a little more dough into that 401K, take some stock losses, or boost your charitable contributions.
If you're a faithful user of Intuit's Quicken or Microsoft's Money, these personal finance managers contain similar tax estimators and deduction finders that use the financial data you've collected all year. And the tax programs import smoothly from these managers, giving you a head start on data entry.
Various resources are also available on the Web, for individuals as well as small and home businesses.
Taxes in cyberspace
Both Quicken.com and Microsoft's MSN Money Central offer free tax-planning calculators that do as well as TurboTax or TaxCut at helping you rough out your income and deductions, so you can see what tax-reduction strategies apply to you.
Both sites include reams of advice from respected consultants on tax-related subjects. You'll find articles on avoiding audits, managing tax records, and the new flavors of retirement accounts. The sites contain other useful resources as well, such as calendars listing significant tax dates and statistical tables that let you see whether your deductions are within the bounds of U.S. averages for people in your tax bracket.
And if the information available on these sites isn't in-depth enough, you can order a handful of tax guides from online bookseller Amazon.com, which is highlighting a number of selections from its investment library, including the Motley Fool Investment Tax Guide.
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