App assists, so your taxes aren't too taxing

Posted: January 31, 2013

Great news: The Internal Revenue Service began accepting tax returns this week. OK, maybe that's not so great. But smartphone applications are here to help with the chore, though they need improvement.

Be cautious. Even though some apps promise free filing for simple federal returns, many still charge to prepare a return, or to file a state return.

Sure, TurboTax SnapTax, by Intuit Inc., is free for Android and Apple devices, but filing costs $24.99, and the app's uses are limited. If you'll be claiming deductions and credits for such things as tuition payments, mortgage interest, or charitable donations, the app quickly hands you off to the TurboTax website to complete your return.

SnapTax prompts you to snap photos of your W-2 forms, then answer questions about your filing status, state of residence, and so forth. A counter adds up your federal and state refunds as you proceed.

H&R Block, by HRB Tax Group Inc., free for iPhone and Android devices, takes a different tack. Instead of actually trying to do your taxes on the phone, this app finds a nearby H&R Block office for you and gives its hours of operation. You tap to call the office for an appointment. Or you may tap "choose a tax pro" and pick a tax preparer from the list, which includes each preparer's basic resume.

Other functions of the H&R Block app will estimate your taxes and track your refund - though some early users were claiming it was balky at these tasks. A tax glossary likely will help if you get into the weeds on a return and need to know what the IRS means by an annuity starting date, or if you think you deserve a lead-paint credit.

Last year, I used the free IRS2Go app, from the Internal Revenue Service, to request copies of prior year's tax returns, which the IRS delivered free by snail mail. The app provides a number of services you could find helpful during tax season.

Use it to track your refund, sign up for daily e-mailed tax tips, watch videos on how to claim the Earned Income Tax Credit, learn how to appeal a tax dispute with the IRS, and a bunch more.

LawToGo Tax Forms & Instructions is a free, advertising-supported iPhone app from Jade Nile L.L.C. (some forms cost $1.99 each). I didn't notice ahead of time that this app was listed at a full 688 megabytes. It downloads hundreds and hundreds of pages of IRS tax forms and instructions to your phone for printing. But who knows? If you find yourself searching for one of those obscure forms on business partnerships or foreign oil and gas taxes, or you need Spanish-language forms late on April 14, you'll have them. Most forms are free (a handful cost $1.99 each).

Contact Reid Kanaley at 215-854-5114, or @ReidKan on Twitter.


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