Weekly output: your browser choices, how Virginia got suckered by Intuit

I didn’t have to file taxes, file for an extension on taxes, or make quarterly estimated-tax payments this week. So it had that much going for it.

4/14/2020: Chrome, Edge, Safari or Firefox: Which browser won’t crash your computer when working from home?, USA Today

My editor asked if I could assess which browsers would leave the biggest dent in a home computer’s processor and memory, so I tested Chrome, Edge, and Firefox on my Windows laptop, then tested Chrome, Edge, Firefox and Safari slightly less systematically on my Mac desktop. (I wrote up my methodology for Patreon subscribers.)

4/14/2020: Virginia’s free-file fail, The Washington Post

A decade ago, I tried in vain to use my perch at the Post to stop Virginia from signing onto the “Free File” initiative championed by Intuit and other tax-prep firms that would require the state to scrap its good, free iFile tax-prep app. You can treat this piece for the Post’s Local Opinions section as my I-told-you-so revenge, showing how after 10 years the number of commonwealth taxpayers using the income-limited Free File option remains a small fraction of the number that had used iFile. (The Virginia Department of Taxation provided the numbers I requested almost immediately, so you’re also welcome to wonder why we haven’t seen them in stories before.) This story also notes that the non-income-limited Free Fillable Forms Web app Intuit provides to anybody amounts to the stone tablet of spreadsheets. This is what crony capitalism looks like.

 

 

I survived doing our own taxes (I think)

Over the last few weeks, I did the one thing I was sure I’d never do after leaving the Post: prepare my own taxes instead of paying a tax professional to do the work.

I’d outsourced my tax prep over the last three years with generally satisfactory results. But this time around my tax guy had raised his rates while my own financial situation had not gotten more complex; I felt like I had finally disciplined my once moronic, then merely slovenly accounting; it seemed wrong to go four years without even looking at a category of software millions of Americans do battle with every spring.

1099s and TurboTaxAnd so I renewed my acquaintance with Intuit’s TurboTax for the first time since 2011–not as a reviewer, but as a paying customer. It went better than I’d feared.

The biggest upgrade from my earlier agonies was effective record-keeping: I’d entered every cash expense last year into a Google spreadsheet on my phone within hours or, at worst, days, then imported business credit-card transactions into the same sheet every quarter. Between that and being able to consult last year’s return for guidance on what should go where, I had the outlines of my Schedule C knocked out in shockingly little time.

That’s a great reason to go to a tax pro in the first place: If you don’t know to do this stuff, you need somebody who can coach you. The results don’t just help at tax time, but throughout the year.

TurboTax’s ability to import tax forms for all of our mutual funds–something I’ve complimented in earlier reviews–was a great time-saver. And seeing each investment firm’s numbers flow into our return meant I got a direct look at the tax hit inflicted by some actively-traded mutual funds versus index funds. Ouch.

I was relieved to see that the stupid date-validation bugs I’d complained about in 2011 were gone–well, in most of the app.

Did I play this unnecessary game of tax-code-optimization as well as I could? I believe I did, but I won’t know for sure until after we actually file. Yes, although the 1040 and our assorted alphabetical schedules are done, I opted to file an extension. I will be dropping a sizable chunk of money into my SEP IRA to chisel down our tax bill, and I’d rather not completely clean out my account in the process.

I also did our Virginia taxes in TurboTax. Then I deleted that return after writing down the total it had calculated and the two numbers I’d need to put down on my state return. Intuit may have convinced a gullible General Assembly to scrap the state’s free iFile site in 2010, but that doesn’t mean I need to reward its successful regulatory capture with my own business when state taxes aren’t that hard and I can always file on paper.