I filed my 2009 taxes on Sunday using a review copy of TurboTax Home & Business Online, which allows me to file Schedule C—a necessity for almost all freelancers and sole proprietors.
Until this year, I’d been using the comparable TaxCut (now H&R Block at Home) product, which I won in a giveaway for my 2007 taxes and bought in 2008 since I was already used to the interface. This was also my first time using an online tax filing product instead of a program installed on my computer.
Who is TurboTax Home & Business Online For?
TurboTax Home & Business is for sole-proprietors, consultants (including freelancers), 1099 contractors, and single-owner LLCs. It’s not just for your small business taxes, you can enter your and your spouse’s W-2s, if you have any, and do regular taxes using it as well. I’m going to be writing about the Online version, not all the things I mention may be included in the software.
The Online version is simply an easier way of using the program and done in a browser. The major advantage is that it doesn’t require installing software on your computer. Since I don’t like installing extra software on my computer each year and having to uninstall if afterward, I liked the idea.
The other big advantage is that you can try any of the TurboTax Online products before you buy. You pay at the end, right before you file. To save information between sessions (or just to make sure you don’t lose it if your computer/browser crashes) be sure to create a free account.
TurboTax Home & Business also includes the features of TurboTax Premier for people with investment and rental property income.
Doing Your Freelance/Small Business Taxes
Using some of the screenshots I took, let me walk you through parts of the business income section. I didn’t take a shot of each page and I did black out some information, of course. You can click on the images to see larger versions with more detail.
TurboTax Home & Business doesn’t assume that you have just one small business or consulting project. If you have a few businesses in a few different areas that you want to keep separate—blogging, web consulting, etc, you can set up a profile for each one:
For each business, you set up a profile (including the IRS business activity code), import information from any record keeping software, add income, expenses, and misc:
In the income section, there are places for any 1099 forms you received as well as general income (income not in a 1099), other types of income, and income you refunded/rebated or otherwise gave back:
Because I had my payment data in order, I found the whole process quite easy and straightforward. There are two options in this section—one is the TurboTax guided tour, the other is an overview screen which allows you to navigate on your own. I decided to use the guided tour, but when I went back over it after finishing I navigated using the other method.
The guided tour was a little slow, but I wanted to be sure that I didn’t miss anything.
Things I Liked About TurboTax Home & Business Online
Import Your W-2
An exciting feature of TurboTax that I wasn’t able to use (so it’s more potentially exciting than actually exciting) was a new feature which allows you to import your W-2 form. Intuit partners with a number of companies so that you can use your name & SSN & place of employment to access your W-2 right there. But my employer doesn’t participate, so I put it in manually.
If I had been able to import it, I still would have double-checked all the numbers.
Flag Areas to Revisit
One feature I really liked was the ability to flag specific “pages” inside the return. In the past, I’ve found tax software programs hard to navigate. It’s not like a normal website. The flagging feature allows you to bookmark sections so that you can easily return later. It’s very helpful when you don’t have all the information in a section at your fingertips right away.
Live Community Sidebar
A feature I didn’t use but thought looked interesting was the Live Community Sidebar. The sidebar allows you to ask tax questions which will be answered by a whole community of users. The (answered) questions displayed in the sidebar are contextual and popular for whatever page you’re currently on.
I asked the TurboTax team just who was answering these questions. I wouldn’t want to get tax advice from just anyone. The forum is made up of regular users as well as TurboTax employees and techs (if you have a technical issues) as well as tax experts, superusers (often ex-CPAs), and moderators. It’s their goal to delete or correct misinformation and to answer questions properly. It’s still not the same as hiring your own tax professional, but it’s probably as good as any tax research you can do on the internet.
The PDF Copy
I have my last two years of taxes saved in lovely PDF formats produced by TaxCut. But those were nothing like the beautiful PDF I downloaded after filing with TurboTax. I’m not sure if TaxCut has upgraded now, but the TurboTax document was awesome. It had a navigation section to let you skip between forms, it wasn’t just a digital printout, it was very easy to jump around in. Since I’d been using the PDF of last year’s taxes for a few things, I saw a huge contrast.
Things I’d Improve About TurboTax Home & Business Online
The flagging system is great. Still, I would have liked a table of contents that shows where you are and allows you to navigate, at least in the section you’re in right now. It would have augmented the guided tour nicely, especially if I wanted to skip over a few pages that I knew were irrelevant.
But other than the pace, I found it very easy to use and I found it very thorough. I’d say that my experience was on-par with the TaxCut software. I actually enjoyed doing my taxes more this year, but I think that was mostly due to my own preparedness. My documents were in order, my records were arranged, and I even had money set aside to pay the extra that I owed.
Disclaimer: As I said at the beginning of the article, this was a review copy of TurboTax, meaning that I did not have to pay for it—though it was not contingent on a positive review. The links to TurboTax are affiliate links, meaning that I will be compensated if you choose to buy TurboTax Home & Business through them. Regular readers know that I very rarely do product reviews because I’m not really a review blog, but this one was useful for me and I hope will be useful for you as well.