Tax Software: Let the Bugs Begin

If you're having problems with your tax software, you're not alone--and this is nothing new. Tax software is revised every year, and like many other new software packages, some programs don't install or run smoothly under some computer configurations. (For online tax prep options, click here.)

Intuit, publisher of market-leading TurboTax, makes it particularly easy for users to find shared bugs through its TurboTax user forums. Anyone can post problems they're having, either with TurboTax or its companion deduction-calculation program, ItsDeductible. But that doesn't mean TurboTax competitors TaxCut and TaxAct are bug-free: H&R Block and 2nd Story Software--publishers, respectively, of TaxCut and TaxAct--simply post solutions to known issues, but not the user complaints that uncover the problems.

So far, the level of dissatisfaction seems about par for the course, with some problems reported and several maintenance releases of the software. What is new are problems relating to anti-spyware utilities: Some software that keeps spyware out of systems apparently interferes with installation or execution of these programs.

For example, TurboTax forums are buzzing about installation difficulties on PCs that run PivX's Qwik-Fix security software. I installed TurboTax with Qwik-Fix running and had no trouble, but had less luck using TaxCut with Qwik-Fix: Simply starting TaxCut and clicking one Next button produced an error message saying that my current machine configuration barred ActiveX controls from running. Disabling Qwik-Fix solved the problem, and I'd recommend doing so before installing any tax package.

TurboTax Travails

Some problems are specific to particular packages. Intuit mentions several in a support technical note for TurboTax. They include:

  • Conflicts with the InstallShield program used by many commercial applications.
  • Conflicts with Symantec Norton Antivirus virus-protection software.
  • Difficulties relating to a Windows Temp folder with insufficient free space.

Some programs and processes that Windows launches at startup can also cause problems. To see possible culprits, click Start/Run, type msconfig, and then click OK. Look at the Startup tab. According to the Turbotax knowledge base, if you see any of the following programs listed, uncheck the box next to them to keep them from loading the next time you start Windows:

  • UA.exe
  • Real Play
  • bridge
  • satmat
  • jusched.exe
  • tsl.exe
  • lexbces.exe

You should reboot your computer immediately after closing the msconfig dialog box.

Another frequently reported problem: TurboTax's add-on program ItsDeductible wouldn't transfer data to TurboTax. The fix the company posted around noon on December 20 was a new version of ItsDeductible. If you're running version 7.X, upgrade to version 8.X before you do anything else.

A TurboTax update released December 21 addresses some problems reported by early adopters, including display issues for W-2 forms and an error message regarding line 149. Other major updates were released January 6 and January 20. Details are available on TurboTax's support site.

TaxCut Crashes

Most TaxCut installation problems are related to specific software. According to the TaxCut knowledge base, you should disable desktop shells such as Tabworks, Norton Desktop, or Dashboard before installing TaxCut. The knowledge base also offers the fairly standard advice to disable antivirus protection before installation.

Some software bugs are especially obscure. The TaxCut knowledge base mentions an error that causes the program to close while it's in the middle of importing data for 2003. The cause? According to the article, people who used TaxCut in 2002, claimed charitable deductions that year, and subsequently imported their tax data into the 2003 version of TaxCut may encounter this problem. A fix is in the works, but the workaround is to create an entry on the worksheet for Form 8283 (Noncash Charitable Contributions) for 2003.

TaxAct: Few Problems So Far

As of mid-January, the TaxAct FAQ lists only a few known issues. One interesting problem is with Internet Explorer 5.5: If you haven't installed Service Pack 2 for IE 5.5, you may get a security information warning when you try to run TaxAct.

The TaxAct FAQ is not particularly easy to navigate. Bug-related issues are intermingled with other material. You'll have to scroll down the page a bit to find installation issues, then scroll down much further to find known program issues. Look for the heading "Other Issues."

Just remember, whatever tax-prep software you use, there's a chance you might run into bugs, conflicts, and problems. If you do, check the product's Web site before calling technical support. Better yet, at least glance at the support site of a tax-prep package before you buy (and certainly before you start installation).

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