TaxBrain 1040 Premium (2009)

If you live what the IRS considers an uncomplicated life and you just want to crank out your return rather than try to understand why the numbers are what they are, then the TaxBrain tax-preparation site will probably get the job done.

TaxBrain bunches up several questions on a single screen, which can be a time-saver.
TaxBrain's questionnaires (with a bigger font this year) allow you to answer several questions on one screen, saving time and making it easier to navigate or start and stop than on some of the other tax-prep sites.

Green checkmarks helped me see where I was in the overall process, and at the end TaxBrain offered the rare treat of letting me see my completed 1040, as well as my Schedule A and Schedule D before I paid--something other sites I reviewed don't permit.

TaxBrain still cannot import W-2s (the manual entry form is good, though, and TaxBrain can import investment transactions from GainsKeeper). It also has not installed a refund ticker to keep you posted on what you're getting back (or what you owe) as you make your way through the process.

Independent types might not mind that TaxBrain seems to have deemphasized its help offerings this year. Its interface no longer has a column with links to the Live Chat function, important support pages, FAQs, or prior-year returns. (These items still exist; they're just not as obvious anymore.)

TaxBrain's live chat support is one of its best features, but finding it isn't as easy as it used to be.
I am a big fan, though, of that Live Chat function; whereas most other sites either require you to call during bankers' hours or worse yet, to e-mail and in some cases pay for the help, TaxBrain lets people like me, who want to talk to someone now, get some attention. That's exactly what I did with "Jacob" one day, though in the end we never did figure out why the site kept saying "Invalid Currency" on one of the itemized deductions pages.

In most cases, the "More Info" link next to many of the input boxes is your best friend when it comes to searching for instructions with TaxBrain, but it's a hit-and-miss aid. For example, when I needed help entering information about the sale of a house, More Info did a great job explaining that real estate commissions were considered part of the selling expenses, but in many cases it only offered broad advice. When asked if I'd like to deduct "certain legal and accounting fees," I was hard-pressed to find a definition or list of what exactly counted.

Alternatively, a tiny "Help" link will redirect you to a separate site that offers more IRS instructions but little strategic advice. This just-tell-me-the-number-and-I'll-tell-you-what-you-owe approach may turn off some users.

Overall, TaxBrain is decent, but it has relatively high prices ($70 for a federal return, plus $30 for a state one), compared with other tax-prep sites.

--Tina Orem

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