If you use computer software to do your tax return, you're going to enjoy the marketing battle that's brewing between two dominant companies in the field.
QuickTax and TaxWiz aren't Coke and Pepsi yet, but give it time.
QuickTax is the top-selling tax software for individuals in the country, and with good reason. It's a pleasure to use, even for people who know and care nothing about computers and taxes.
The QuickTax people seem to be taking their market dominance for granted, however. While making the QuickTax 2001 software more expensive to order over the Internet, they've also drastically lowered the number of tax returns you can do without paying an extra fee.
The limit for QuickTax 2001 is five returns, compared with 18 last year. If you're someone who does your own return, a spouse's and possibly one or two more for family members, this change is not a big deal.
In fact, the QuickTax people say their research says that five returns are enough to satisfy the majority of their customers.
But if you're one of those people who do a larger number of tax returns, then you're going to be seriously dinged by the extra cost of using QuickTax.
To start with, a QuickTax CD-ROM costs $29.95 plus tax, or $24.95 after going through the annoyance of having to mail in a rebate form (prices may differ from store to store). If you place your order on-line, there's a shipping charge of $4.95, whereas last year the software was shipped for free.
If you want to do more than five returns, you'll pay a lot more for QuickTax. An extra 15 returns beyond the five included in the base price costs $34.95; an extra 95 returns costs $169.95.
These prices seem expensive when compared with TaxWiz's $19.99 cost, after you mail in a $10 coupon. If you order on-line, the cost is $24.95, including shipping.
TaxWiz also gives you unlimited returns, a point it's using to beat up on QuickTax.
"If you're still using QuickTax, we have a question for you . . . why?" says the TaxWiz site at http://www.taxwiz.ca .
It's still early for sales of tax software -- February is said to be the big month for sales -- but already the TaxWiz people report that orders for the last month or so of 2001 were 14 times higher than the year-earlier period.
At QuickTax, they say there hasn't been much feedback from customers because the product has just begun to be shipped.
Aside from QuickTax and TaxWiz, there's an on-line tax software product called UFile.ca. The cost is $12.95 for a single return completed on the Internet, and $19.95 for a family.
TaxWiz charges $9.95 for a single on-line return, while the QuickTaxWeb service costs $19.95.
QuickTax and Ufile charge nothing for returns completed by people who made less than $20,000, while TaxWiz is considering whether to continue with this deal after offering it last year.
The consumer tax software market in Canada might sound like small change, but it's not. The TaxWiz people put a value of $20-million on sales and, with people getting more and more comfortable with computers and e-commerce, there's lots of potential for growth. TaxWiz says that just 6.5 million of the 22 million tax returns received last year were done on a computer.
If you've never done a tax return on a computer before, it's a revelation in terms of how quick and simple it makes the process. The best feature is the way you can change any entry on the tax form and have the whole picture recalculated, right down to the amount of your refund or amount owing.
Another huge benefit is that you can take advantage of Netfile, which allows you to expedite your refund by filing your return on-line to Canada Revenue.
There used to be something like half a dozen tax software programs for consumers, including such names as Hometax and CanTax. Mergers and acquisitions in the sector have eliminated much of the competition.
Another player, CoolTax, has also departed the field recently. CoolTax was an easy-to-use program that you downloaded onto your computer over the Internet. CoolTax was free at one time, but recently it was charging a $10 fee that allowed you to do 20 returns.
TaxWiz is trolling for CoolTax clients with an $18 offer to switch programs, and a service that allows data from a 2000 return done on CoolTax to be exported to a 2001 TaxWiz return.
So you want more money
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Mr. Caners is an accountant in Brockville, Ont., who specializes in tax and financial planning. His book covers everything from taxes and insurance to investing, and it nicely simplifies these topics.