Picks and Pans Review: Guide to Income Tax Preparation

UPDATED 03/20/1989 at 01:00 AM EST Originally published 03/20/1989 at 01:00 AM EST

New for 1989, this Consumer Reports book is not a "best buy." It is relatively hard to read (the money-green ink was a less than inspired choice) and occasionally confusing. Important warnings are not in the main text but in the margins, where you may miss them. Drought deduction? It says "Damage may be deductible," then goes on, strangely, to describe a case in which the deduction was refused. (Consumer Reports Books, $10.95)

COMPUTER SOFTWARE

Okay. You've spent thousands of dollars on a home computer and countless hours learning how to work it. Now it's time to put away the video poker game and tackle your taxes. You'll just enter a few numbers, push a few buttons and—voilà!—a finished return with a whopping refund will emerge from your printer, right? Hardly. None of the four programs listed below (all of which were tested on an IBM PC) really gives tax advice, and until the average home computer has more memory, that's not likely to change. Nonetheless, the programs can do plenty. All of them enable you to fill out a variety of tax forms quickly and neatly. All provide a chance to try different numbers in different places and to see how each option affects the bottom line. (Typically, when you change one number, the computer refigures your tax.) All do your arithmetic for you. And all enable you to "output" the forms you need on any standard printer. The IRS, though, is finicky about which computer-printed 1040s it will accept, a major drawback for do-it-yourselfers. Another drawback: You could spend hours trying a program before you realize it isn't right for you. So read the box carefully before leaving the store.

All in all, does buying a tax program make sense? If you have enough time and patience to sort through drawers full of receipts and master a program by April 15, go ahead. Otherwise, stick to pencil and paper; the computer age can wait till next year.

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