As April 15th rapidly approaches, I spent some time looking around the web at all the help available to the many tax procrastinators out there. We've come a long way in a few short years.
I remember sitting at my desk in the early evening of April 15th, 1998, and realizing that I was in deep trouble. It was too late to go to a store and buy tax preparation software and I had a few scant hours to do my taxes, print them up and get them to my local post office. Luckily I was advising a company at the time called BuyDirect. BuyDirect was a spinout of CNET and was one of the first companies to offer downloadable software for sale on the web. I went to the BuyDirect site, found the one tax preparation software program they offered, bought it and I was off and running. But off and running in 1998 meant lots of working in getting the download right, much frustration with the clunky tax prep software, no electronic filing, no electronic payments or refunds, and a late night trip to the post office no matter what you did.
The world is a better place for the tax procrastinator in 2003. There are a number of options that would allow most filers to think about taxes for the first time at around 7:00 in the evening on April 15th and still comfortably make the deadline. Intuit offers an ASP version of their TurboTax product or you can download Turbotax Basic directly from Intuit's website. H&R Block's TaxCut software can also be downloaded directly from their website. And for those of you who are both procrastinators and skin flints, 2nd Story Software's TaxACT is free -- you can either download the software or do your taxes online. What's more, with all these products, you can file and pay your taxes electronically, so there's no need to rush out to the post office. (By the way, this list is by no means comprehensive -- these are just the most popular tax preparation software solutions out there.)
Mind you, procrastination comes at a price. These companies have figured out how to make a bunch of money on tax preparation. And it's not just on the federal tax software (look at TaxACT -- its free). It's on all the other stuff... for instance, state updates and electronic filing fees (state and federal). And of course, on the credit card tax payment fees. When all is said and done, you will have paid plenty for the privilege of preparing and filing your taxes from the comforts of your home on the evening of April 15th. But on the good side, as all of these programs will point out to you, that expense is tax deductible. Happy filing.