Bottom line – This free program is worth using if you know how to prepare your return and do not need tax tips as you go. It’s not perfect, but did I mention that it’s FREE? http://www.studiotax.com/en/main.htm
This is the first year that I’ve actually had to choose software to prepare tax returns for my husband and myself. So, I set out on a task to find a good package to use. I’d heard a lot of great things about Turbo Tax, but I didn’t like its price tag.
I found Studio Tax with a Google search. The best part about this program is that it’s FREE. Can’t beat that!
As with any program that is used, it’s important to check CRA’s web site to make sure that the program is certified for Netfile use. This means that CRA has done its testing process and you can be reasonably assured that the calculations are going to work. Is it possible for an error to get through? It’s possible, but it’s highly unlikely. The link for checking certification is here: http://www.netfile.gc.ca/sftwr-eng.html
Studio tax is not on the list yet. Prior versions of the program were certified, and from the information on the product’s web site, it would seem that certification is expected soon, so check the CRA link often. If the certification doesn’t happen, then don’t use this program!
I was happy to discover that this program installs and runs on my local machine. Call me paranoid, but I don’t want all my financial details stored on an unknown web server.
Moving along to data entry – this process was fairly smooth. The program prompted for basic information at the start and was smart enough to allow the returns for a couple to be prepared together. It remembered the address and some other details so that I didn’t have to enter this information for the second person in the couple.
I tried entering a few more complex scenarios with tuition and business income. Again, the input was reasonably smooth. However, you need to know what you’re doing to use this program – it’s not going to prompt you if you forget something. For example, when I entered some home office expenses, I needed to remember to calculate and enter the personal use portion – the program has a line for a dollar amount, but no space to enter variables for the calculation. It’s also not going to flag it for you if the personal use portion is zero so be careful.
Another basic thing that was missing was the automatic optimization of medical expenses and donations. You have to know where they should go in order to get the best claim. The program will claim them where you input them, which may or may not generate the highest credit.
The more complicated and yet routine scenario that often comes up is a couple with pension income to split. The program does prompt you to check if form T1032 applies when there is pension income, which is good. It also has an optimizer that attempts to find the best split for the income. It takes a few minutes for it to run, but once it’s finished, it shows the results before the optimizer, after, and the net gain from the calculation. This function worked using the test numbers that I input once I put the medical expenses and donations in their proper places.
When I entered information for a hypothetical person born in 1930 and left out CPP & OAS, the program did not prompt me for these items. Make sure you have all your information entered.
The last problem that I encountered was trying to re-open a tax return after I saved it. I got an error message, but was able to get around that by double clicking on the return in Windows Explorer in order to open it. This may have been just a fluke occurrence.
In spite of the minor deficiencies that I’ve noted here, I think that if you have enough tax knowledge to know what numbers go where, this program is worth using. It is not a substitute for professional advice, so if you need some, then get it. It’s a lot easier (and cheaper) to file a return properly in the first place than it is to go back and fix it once it’s been messed up.
The opinions expressed in this review are my own, and have not been influenced by StudioTax or any other person or company. I have not been compensated in any way for posting this information.