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Review: Top 5 tax software programs

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(IDG) -- 1. Quicken 2001 Deluxe: Build your financial muscle with this suite, which can help you save money on taxes, pay bills, and create blueprints for meeting your goals. Manage the seven key financial areas: banking, investing, taxes, planning, loans, insurance, and spending/saving. Reminders of upcoming and missed bills help you keep your lights and gas running. Thirty performance indicators help you keep tabs on your investments. You can even track your 401(k) holdings and link to Quicken's site, which can analyze your retirement portfolio.

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2. Tax Assistant for Excel V2000 2.1: You might compare this program to driving a shift instead of an automatic: It's a little extra work, but the added control can make it worthwhile. Written for Microsoft Excel, this program supplies workbooks that you can use to figure out your income, deductions, and capital gains. The data from these worksheets is then automatically entered into the correct IRS forms. The program does require that you follow detailed instructions, but since most of your work is done in worksheets, you face a minimum of IRS-ese. Tax Assistant produces accurate, IRS-approved reproductions of your forms. This version offers improved guidance and tips. The program will remain functional for 15 days, after which you must register it.

3. TaxAct 2000: Tax time strikes fear into the hearts of all, so why not help yourself out? This application interviews you, asking questions pertinent to your situation. After calculating your return, it places your information into the appropriate tax form. The Alerts feature reviews your return for errors and missing information, and issues red, yellow, and green warnings that provide you with tax-saving advice. Once the calculations are done, you choose how you wish to file, either by printing IRS-approved forms and schedules or by filing electronically. The Life Events feature assists you in determining how to handle major life changes that have an impact on your taxes, such as getting married, having children, or selling your home.

4. TurboTax 2000: Take the stress out of filing. Interview questions place your answers directly into IRS-approved forms, performing all the calculations and double-checking for errors. The Refund Monitor displays your refund or tax-due amount at all times, and you can transfer your TurboTax or MacInTax data from last year to prepare your taxes faster. With the full program you can file your return electronically or print forms onto plain paper. (Note that this trial version does not allow you to print, electronically file, or view the forms.) With registration you will receive one free electronic filing, via mail-in rebate.

5. Small Business Advisor: Knowledge is power, especially in business matters. This program advises small-business owners on a vast range of business, legal, and tax issues. It includes up-to-date information customized for your situation and your state's laws and taxes, on hundreds of small-business topics. In addition, it creates detailed business start-up checklists tailored to your business and state, and it includes 1999 and 2000 federal income tax (individual and corporate) and estate tax calculation modules for what-if tax planning.



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