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Ask Slashdot: Open Source Tax Software?

timothy posted about 2 years ago | from the enclose-a-stinkbug-with-each-envelope dept.

Government 387

An anonymous reader writes "I finally started looking at my taxes and instead of handing over my personal information and money to TurboTax I was wondering if there were any recommendations for freely available/open source tax software? Ideally, the data would be stored in a portable, open format. I wouldn't really need a GUI, but something that filled out PDF forms would be nice." It's a question that just won't go away. Open source solution or not, if you're a U.S. taxpayer, the deadline for filing is nearly to hand.

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387 comments

For this you want a professional product (5, Insightful)

CoderExpert (2613949) | about 2 years ago | (#39632493)

Seriously, this is the kind of product that is done with help of lawyers and accountants, because it is really complicated. Specialists rarely work for free with open source products. You really don't want some 18 year open source coder's "product" (who just filed his taxes for the first time and quickly coded up something) for this. They just don't understand all the different tax laws and practices, especially in some corner cases. And it is YOU who will be responsible when the program gets it wrong. Using open source instead of a program made by professionals with the help of accountants and tax professionals is incredibly stupid!

Re:For this you want a professional product (0, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39632533)

FUD. Thanks for wasting everyone's time with a useless reply like this.

Re:For this you want a professional product (5, Informative)

alen (225700) | about 2 years ago | (#39632583)

no, the reason turbo tax costs money is they have teams of accountants translate new tax laws in every state into easy to fill out forms and the math functions behind them

Re:For this you want a professional product (2)

dalias (1978986) | about 2 years ago | (#39633159)

Actually, the IRS translates the tax laws into forms, schedules, and the (albeit written in a backwards, ugly procedural form) math formulas behind them. If you download and read the instruction PDFs for the forms you need, it's pretty direct and mindless to follow the steps and fill in the numbers...

Re:For this you want a professional product (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39633301)

You realize there's more to many peoples' taxes than the single 1040-EZ you have to file... right?

If you think that you can simply "follow the steps" like it's a mad libs, then you're either overpaying (in which case, thanks) or underpaying (in which case, pay up) on your taxes.

But then, it's always been the case that those who know the least grossly overestimate their ability and competence.

Re:For this you want a professional product (2)

mcavic (2007672) | about 2 years ago | (#39633327)

It's not mindless. It's a lot of arithmetic, and a lot of questions to ask the user. Also, IRS's regulations and instructions aren't written in a way that most people are used to reading.

Yes, I could do my taxes on paper if I had to, but that doesn't mean I can write software to do your taxes.

Re:For this you want a professional product (4, Interesting)

alexander_686 (957440) | about 2 years ago | (#39633297)

First, it’s not Turbo Tax which is lobbing for this stuff. They don’t have too. There is enough lobbyist pushing their special interest and crack pot positions searching for short term gain that they don’t need to spend the money – it’s done for them.

Second, It’s not that it’s technically difficult; it’s the Certification and fast turn around time.

It’s not like a word processor in which you can start off with the basic stuff and add stuff later. Nor is it static like a word processor – each year the IRS tweaks stuff. You kind of need the whole package up and running – perfectly - by February 1st.

At least they make the on-line software free for the easy, low income, returns.

That being said, I would like the IRS to come out with some basic tax forms which do the calculations and look up by itself. i.e., you would still need input the numbers, but the simple “multiple by 28%” and “Look up income in tax table” would be automated.

Or even better, tax simplification. Less work spent on make work, fewer loop holes to abuse.

Re:For this you want a professional product (4, Insightful)

Tyr07 (2300912) | about 2 years ago | (#39632651)

Actually it was a good reply and worth taking note.

Just because 'hurr hurr derpa no free software that does all my taxes for me' isn't what you were hoping for doesn't make it useless.

They were correct. This is highly specialized software for a specific purpose operated based on state/country/province etc.
It's not something I recommend trying to cheap out on without doing the work when it comes to the government.

Keep in mind, the question basically asks 'Is there a way, I can stop paying someone else to do my taxes, and do my taxes myself, without paying anyone, but not have to do my taxes myself, and have free software do it for me'

That's like me saying, 'Is there free software that does my job for me but doesn't cost me anything and I still get paid for working'
Now, it may sound sarcastic, but if that software existed, I'd definitely be using it.

To sum it up, specializing in government revenue regulations is something unlikely to find for free that does everything related to them for you.
There's open source software like, calculators available. Even free spreadsheet software. That's all tech, which makes sense to find open source.

Re:For this you want a professional product (4, Insightful)

jeffmeden (135043) | about 2 years ago | (#39632911)

Actually it was a good reply and worth taking note.

Just because 'hurr hurr derpa no free software that does all my taxes for me' isn't what you were hoping for doesn't make it useless.

They were correct. This is highly specialized software for a specific purpose operated based on state/country/province etc.>

This is true but no one has yet mentioned that there IS a free (as in beer) way to do your taxes: obtain the necessary (freely available) forms, read them, understand them, and complete them. There is even phone based help if you have specific questions, as well as many books available at your local library. There, your tax forms just got filed without spending a dime! If you don't want to invest this time or don't want to take the risk of doing them incorrectly, then supposing that a free option would be satisfactory is kind of laughable. It's like (oh yes, we do love our similes) wanting seat belts in your car (oh yes, we do love our CAR similes) but not wanting to pay for them, and still wanting them to be just as safe. Surely, by now someone made something that was just as safe but was also free, right?

Re:For this you want a professional product (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39632811)

It didn't take long for that 18 year old coder to respond.

Re:For this you want a professional product (0)

Sir_Sri (199544) | about 2 years ago | (#39633243)

He's right. In an idealistic world this is the sort of software the government should be producing themselves, so at the very least if it's done wrong there is clearly someone at fault.

But free, or open source isn't going to attract a lot of people. And how do you resolve conflicts? What if they're resolved wrong, and those interpretations of rules translate into real losses/gains for users? Tax software is mess, because tax codes are a mess, if you understand these things you are paid very handsomly to understand them, and turning around and giving away that information for free is shooting yourself, and everyone else in your profession in the foot. Tax codes are also updated yearly. That means there is a huge retention cycle and lead in period where things have to be implemented.

I wouldn't trust an open development model, because if it's not done, what do you do about it? What if something isn't done, done properly, and, importantly, done on time? It's the sort of thing that requires a firm management hand. The serious open source projects (think linux) work because a huge portion of the 'contributors' are paid professionals who have management behind them, they're just going to monetize something else. But what else is there to monetize in tax software? If there isn't something to monetize other than the software itself, and that software has to meet legal requirements, and deadlines, don't expect an open model to work all that well.

Lawyers can offer open source services as well. (1)

concealment (2447304) | about 2 years ago | (#39632535)

You make a good point, but if an open source organization were to offer malpractice insurance, lawyers could offer their services on an open source basis as well. They would be no different than any other Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) including documentation authors.

Re:For this you want a professional product (1)

dmacleod808 (729707) | about 2 years ago | (#39632537)

My fiance has an investment account. She had pages and pages of buys and sells that had to be recorded. Turbotax has an interface that imports the data directly from the brokerage firm, the same forms that were mailed to her. It was incredibly quick.

Re:For this you want a professional product (1)

pla (258480) | about 2 years ago | (#39633079)

Doesn't her broker offer downloads of an automagically filled-in form 8949 (nee Schedule D1), no fuss no muss?

If not - She need a new broker. You don't need TurboTax to fill in what amounts to a simple spreadsheet with a one-line summary.

Re:For this you want a professional product (1)

citab (1677284) | about 2 years ago | (#39633131)

good job picking a mate with financial sense .... could she loan me a few bucks to pay my taxes?

Re:For this you want a professional product (1)

Loughla (2531696) | about 2 years ago | (#39632593)

Exactly. There are a few things that spending just a little money can get the job done quickly and efficiently. The last time I checked, at-home software ranged in price from 30-100 dollars. You have to file taxes = you have some kind of income or other type of money changing hands somewhere. SO, you can't spare $30 to ensure that something which can send you to jail is done correctly?

Re:For this you want a professional product (4, Informative)

SJHillman (1966756) | about 2 years ago | (#39632641)

Also, TurboTax's online tool is free if you make under $31,000 (about $14.90/hr at full time). My girlfriend did it that way - it's called Freedom Edition or something.

Re:For this you want a professional product (1)

Lehk228 (705449) | about 2 years ago | (#39632705)

H&R block offers free online filing if your income is less than 57k and it's a simple return (i can't remember the exact qualifications, i think you had to be taking standard deduction but i'm not sure)

Re:For this you want a professional product (2)

sconeu (64226) | about 2 years ago | (#39632913)

It's a 1040 EZ. The whole point of the EZ form is that ANYONE could do it.

Re:For this you want a professional product (1)

poetmatt (793785) | about 2 years ago | (#39633169)

Don't forget that the filing is free but there may still be a fee from H&R block to get a deposit.

So they're charging money for a free service. Love it, huh.

Re:For this you want a professional product (2)

jtownatpunk.net (245670) | about 2 years ago | (#39633115)

Man, poor people get all the breaks.

Re:For this you want a professional product (1)

arcsimm (1084173) | about 2 years ago | (#39633275)

Haha, not if you're a poor self-employed person! Go straight to the long form, do not pass go, do not collect a refund! Pardon me while I go cry in the corner.

Re:For this you want a professional product (1)

cpu6502 (1960974) | about 2 years ago | (#39632795)

Hmmm... wasn't free for me back in 2009 (when I had only unemployment income). The U.S. return was free but not state and local.

Oh and I choose open source because it's cheap and easy to get (versus MS Office or Photoshop). But so too is TurboTax, so no reason to try an alternative.

Re:For this you want a professional product (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39633191)

"TurboTax's online tool is free"

The Federal Government covers the cost by giving Turbo Tax/etc ~$40 for every covered person. This is why only the federal form is free.

Unless they changed something, it's not "make" under $31k, but have a taxable income of under $31k. I make quite a bit more than that, yet I don't pay because my taxable income is around $13k. Standard deduction + 401k + Rent + Flex plan = really low taxable income.

Re:For this you want a professional product (2)

Joiseybill (788712) | about 2 years ago | (#39632975)

@sjhillman .. "freedom edition" +1 informative
@AC "FUD" -1 NOT
@Loughlia " ...can send you to jail" .. You do realize it is much more likely that you'll just get an interest-bearing permanent debt.
            The IRS and Student Loan providers will work backwards from your Social Security death benefit of $300-ish if they have to. Only in rare cases, where the headlines serve a purpose more than the recovery of the money, - or if there is malice or fraud, does someone actually get jailed on taxes.

and .. the IRS will help with your taxes, also for free.
    http://www.irs.gov/newsroom/article/0,,id=202121,00.html [irs.gov] .. and the IRS offers links to other "free" filing services, this one works for income up to $57k.

"free" = at no additional costs to the taxes you already presumed to be paying
---
If OP just wanted to fill in forms on a PDF manually - there are dozens of products, including tediously creating a text box in Open Office for each line and item. In fact, the IRS already makes the PDF forms fillable: http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/f1040.pdf [irs.gov]
  Actually doing the calculations is where the liability and problems come in.

In my limited experience, making a calculation error or omission on a return set off a chain of events;
first, they re-calculate your taxes and settle up on their terms; then you are a whole lot more likely to be audited for the next 3-4 years.

Re:For this you want a professional product (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39632657)

For complex returns, that may be correct. But there's no reason there can't be an open source product with consists of nothing more than an electronic version of the forms which allows you to type rather than print and which automatically does the math (on the forms) for you. Then it either prints or electronically submits the return. It's no different from picking up the paper forms and filling them out yourself. You're responsible for selecting the correct forms, knowing which laws apply, etc.

Re:For this you want a professional product (1)

pluther (647209) | about 2 years ago | (#39632761)

The IRS provides this one already. It's not open source, but if you make under a certain amount, click their "free e-file" link, and it will lead to you exactly the pdf forms you describe.

At least it did last year. I assume it's still there, but I haven't started my taxes yet this year...

Re:For this you want a professional product (4, Informative)

jeffmeden (135043) | about 2 years ago | (#39633023)

For complex returns, that may be correct. But there's no reason there can't be an open source product with consists of nothing more than an electronic version of the forms which allows you to type rather than print and which automatically does the math (on the forms) for you. Then it either prints or electronically submits the return. It's no different from picking up the paper forms and filling them out yourself. You're responsible for selecting the correct forms, knowing which laws apply, etc.

As amazing as this seems, the IRS (and many state and muni tax agencies) have in fact figured out how to produce a form-style PDF that can be filled in ENTIRELY electronically. The IRS does make you do the math yourself, but I am sure you can find an open source calculator to help with that, right? Many state and munis seem to do this better, with forms that run all the math for you and can be submitted electronically. And believe it or not they even make them easy to find via Google. The wonder of it all!

Re:For this you want a professional product (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39633187)

None of which detracts from the usefulness of a single app which combines everything and does all of the basics.

Re:For this you want a professional product (5, Interesting)

autocannon (2494106) | about 2 years ago | (#39632661)

Yes, go use some free open source "stuff" to file your taxes. Hope it works, hope it's accurate. Oh, and hope they update it multiple times every god damn year to keep up to date with the ever changing tax code. But hey, it's free right. Why would anyone want to actually support software developers by "paying" for software.

Seriously, what is the obsession here with people wanting everything for free? You want to do your taxes for free, sit down with the paper form and do them. If Turbotax is too expensive for you, try TaxAct. It was $20 to efile both state and federal this year.

Re:For this you want a professional product (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39632735)

Total agree 75% of people looking for open source software just want to get everything for free. Prehaps you could just go open source on your paycheck as well.

Re:For this you want a professional product (5, Insightful)

TheRaven64 (641858) | about 2 years ago | (#39632955)

Oh, and hope they update it multiple times every god damn year to keep up to date with the ever changing tax code.

I think you've identified the real problem. It's not that there is no open source tax software, it's that your tax system is so complex that it requires software to file the return.

Re:For this you want a professional product (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39633153)

Heck, it's not enough that the tax code is forever changing. The fun part is that Congress doesn't even bother finishing writing the stuff until late January of The Year After you had to do all of your tax planning. And then software development has all of .5 months to finalize and test those last second changes before filing season. Don't forget setting aside a secret 13th month before Feburary to go through e-file certification on Federal and every damn state + a few very special counties! Some are XML, most are some kind of Cobol, few agree on what is even allowed in a friggin postal address.

Re:For this you want a professional product (3, Informative)

quixote9 (999874) | about 2 years ago | (#39633281)

Seconding TaxAct. Cheapest and best. Does not phone home, as far as I know. It's the only reason I still have to have a virtualbox Windows taking up space on my drive.

I've been looking for a reliable, complete FOSS alternative for years. I think, as others have said, it doesn't exist because nobody (me included if I knew how!) would do that kind of tedium for free.

Re:For this you want a professional product (2)

Sarten-X (1102295) | about 2 years ago | (#39632695)

As a great fan of open source and community-based development, I have to sadly hang my head and agree.

I have some investments that, due to their particular details, have stumped multiple tax preparers. The (professional) software I've looked at doesn't even support this particular item, so I have little hope for my beloved open source. Even if there was a community-developed tax program, I personally wouldn't trust its accuracy over time. Yes, I could go through myself and verify that all of the year's changes to the tax laws were made to the code base, but I don't have the time for that. The commercial software often has some kind of guarantee of accuracy, where if they screwed it up, they'll at least help set things right with the IRS afterward.

Now, if there was a community-based organization offering such a guarantee, and asking for donations to support it, and employing the lawyers and accountants to verify it, I'd be all in favor... I simply don't know of any such entity, though.

Re:For this you want a professional product (1)

Rude Turnip (49495) | about 2 years ago | (#39633101)

I run into incredibly unusual and arcane investments in my line of work, yet my clients don't seem to have any problems that haven't been tackled before. What are you investing in that multiple tax preparers cannot figure out?

Re:For this you want a professional product (1)

Richard_at_work (517087) | about 2 years ago | (#39632751)

Tax rules and tax law are the epitome of the "hard and boring functionality that no one wants to write, because its not cool, not visible, and definitely not shiny" that plague all projects, both open source and closed source. Tax rules and laws also have nuances that really need to be understood in order to translate correctly into code - again, something really boring and hard that needs to be done.

Re:For this you want a professional product (1)

HarrySquatter (1698416) | about 2 years ago | (#39632855)

That and I would always be wary of any tax softwre not backed up with warranty on its accuracy no matter if it's FOSS or not. You don't want some subtle bug to cause an audit to hit you and then you find out that your software's developer disclaims all liability. Besides most tax companies offer pretty comprehensive editions for free for the average tax filer.

Re:For this you want a professional product (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39632825)

Ah, so this is the account where the Anti-Google / Anti-Open Source / Pro-Microsoft person went...

http://slashdot.org/~TechLA [slashdot.org]
http://slashdot.org/~CmdrPony [slashdot.org]
http://slashdot.org/~SharkLaser [slashdot.org]
http://slashdot.org/~InterestingFella [slashdot.org]
http://slashdot.org/~InsightIn140Bytes [slashdot.org]
http://slashdot.org/~DCTech [slashdot.org]
http://slashdot.org/~DavidSell [slashdot.org]
http://slashdot.org/~FreeCoder [slashdot.org]

Re:For this you want a professional product (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39632873)

Fundamentally, tax software is a tool which you use to outsource understanding the tax code. The fundamental problem with OSS tax software is that the people who understand it expect to get paid for their understanding. In the OSS lane, it would make sense as a government-funded project. However, there's a horrible conflict of interest there. If the tax code were substantially simpler, but again, the US Government is "very bad" at developing software.

Re:For this you want a professional product (2)

pla (258480) | about 2 years ago | (#39632989)

Seriously, this is the kind of product that is done with help of lawyers and accountants, because it is really complicated.

BS. I have a 9-to-5, have a mortgage, play in the stock market, do contracting on the side, and do my own taxes. And I'd say I've just described more than what 90% of US taxpayers need to file. And seriously? Mind-numbingly easy. Painfully easy. Embarrassing-that-professionals-do-that-for-a-living easy.

Doing ones own taxes involves nothing harder than "add up all the box 2s on your W2s and box 4s on your 1099s and enter that total on line 62 of your 1040". Totally mechanical crap that doesn't require the least bit of thought or familiarity with tax law. When it comes to deductions, you just ask yourself the four or five applicable "nope, can't take that" questions, and throw away those that fail. Only the IRS's annoying insistence on rearranging the damned forms every year makes automating all that crap non-trivial.

Hell, it annoys me that most of us even need to file, since the IRS already knows everything we tell them. We should only need to file a Schedule A come April, and even that only if we wouldn't have otherwise taken the standard deduction. By the end of May, they could just send us a bill or a check, or rarely, a request for more information. Done.

Yes, if you run an S-Corp with substantial foreign assets, you'll probably want to talk to a expert. For the rest of us, don't try to make this sound harder than the reality. Plug and frickin' chug, baby!

Re:For this you want a professional product (1)

poetmatt (793785) | about 2 years ago | (#39633059)

acting like everyone needs a tax lawyer and accountant is skipping the fact that the people who want the software are by definition very interested and capable of doing it themselves.

way to distract with a strawman, though.

Re:For this you want a professional product (5, Insightful)

sribe (304414) | about 2 years ago | (#39633089)

Everything you said PLUS tax software must conform to an extremely rigid release schedule, where neither dates nor functionality are negotiable at all, which is not something I've ever seen from open source.

Open Tax Solver (5, Informative)

rbowen (112459) | about 2 years ago | (#39632569)

Here's one: https://sourceforge.net/projects/opentaxsolver/ [sourceforge.net]

Having said that, I have found that paying a professional has always been a worthwhile investment. I have a masters degree in mathematics, so it's not a question of the calculations, but my accountant knows things about tax law that I don't, and keeps me from getting audited while getting me the best refunds that the law allows.

Re:Open Tax Solver (2)

Kenja (541830) | about 2 years ago | (#39632659)

More then that, in most cases if you get audited H&R Block etc will represent you and try to get it cleared up.

Re:Open Tax Solver (1)

SJHillman (1966756) | about 2 years ago | (#39632685)

The math itself is pretty simple... I don't think there's anything beyond basic addition/subtraction and percentage. However, knowing when you can and can't apply it is the tricky part. The only thing preventing me from doing the 1040EZ form is my student loan interest and that alone made paying for tax software worth it (even though I still didn't get anymore back than I would have with the 1040EZ... still nice to know).

Re:Open Tax Solver (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39633181)

1040EZ is seriously the worst form ever. It's almost impossible for you to have lived through the year and not had some deductions. 1040EZ is the fast-lane towards maximizing your tax bill.

Re:Open Tax Solver (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39632941)

With 207 downloads in 8 years, and 71% recommendation rate (5/8 users recommend this product!) how could you possibly go wrong. There's even a screenshot from 2004 (which looks like it's from 1994), so you know you're using a quality up-to-date product.

Re:Open Tax Solver (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39633045)

I have a degree in math too.

It is amazing about how the '$' causes an affinity for the side of the equals sign that usually does not apply to me.

Re:Open Tax Solver (1)

berashith (222128) | about 2 years ago | (#39633071)

exactly. I had a guy once ( i moved away, cant use him now) that would look through my papers, ask very interesting questions, and find ways to apply laws to my situation. saved me thousands in fees and penalties in ways that I wasnt aware of. Some people are worth paying very well for the service that their knowledge can provide. This accountant had to stay current and remember years of experience to provide the quality service that he gave me.

Re:Open Tax Solver (1)

ggpauly (263626) | about 2 years ago | (#39633081)

Here's a project I started & abandoned several years ago:

https://sourceforge.net/projects/autotax/ [sourceforge.net]

This is an extension of the IRS fillable pdf forms, adding calculations.

This was envisioned as "computer-assisted" as opposed to fully automated, which might address a lot of the "my situation is unique" objections.

I abandoned the project because people were eager to use it but not contribute.

Re:Calculations (2)

TaoPhoenix (980487) | about 2 years ago | (#39633257)

IANAMM (I am not a Master's in Math). I find the calculations in tax law rather evil-hard. It's a different kind of hard that "higher math" - it's the numerical interlocks that are brutal. I'm rusty so I'm making this up as pseudo-taxcode, but stuff like the sentence below are typical *easy* tax law!

"You own a rental building and rent 2 units out to tenants and live in the third. You bought the building first as part of a partnership then later acquired the whole thing, so your basis calculations are already a little strange. You run two small businesses out of your house. One of them qualifies for the Office In the Home forms. Your truck is 40% business one year and 60% business the other year because you have obligations that only arise every second year. Because you took accelerated depreciation on your truck, you cannot also take accelerated depreciation on some of your office in the home assets. For six months you also ran a day care service in that office-in-home. You are divorced but you won stock in the divorce settlement as substitute for alimony. That stock has split twice and then merged separately."

Blecch.

Guessing not.. (1)

Anrego (830717) | about 2 years ago | (#39632591)

There are lots of programmers out there with diverse interests, but tax law seems like the kind of thing you need to pay people to deal with, and as far as I know no one has ponied up the cash.

At the very least, you need to pay people to confirm everything you've done is correct. I don't know where liability would fall if your taxes were incorrect due to a bug in libretax or whatever, but I don't think I'd want to find out ;p

Re:Guessing not.. (3, Informative)

SJHillman (1966756) | about 2 years ago | (#39632745)

Liability always falls on the person filing the tax. Even with commercial software like TurboTax. This is why Intuit, H&R Block, etc offer liability protection and audit assistance as a selling point - to help reduce your actual liability.

Fun Fact: Even if the IRS screws up, the taxpayer is still liable.

Re:Guessing not.. (2)

jtownatpunk.net (245670) | about 2 years ago | (#39633303)

And the gubmint gets to level fines that would be illegal for anyone else. Had a friend who was a few months late sending off state taxes of $113. Got a penalty/interest bill for $107. Wish I was joking. Try and put a 95% penalty into a promissory note and watch how fast it gets laughed out of court.

Re:Guessing not.. (1)

Malties (1942112) | about 2 years ago | (#39632801)

So you are saying there are not a lot of people out there who make tax law a personal hobby? I would never have thought that.

Re:Guessing not.. (1)

ArhcAngel (247594) | about 2 years ago | (#39633295)

Heh...you probably thought Trekkies were bad. Wait till a Tax Nerd corners you at a party.

Slightly on-topic...this site [taxmama.com] might be a good place to get specific tax questions answered.

Re:Guessing not.. (1)

jedidiah (1196) | about 2 years ago | (#39632843)

Tax law is constantly in flux. So tax software is more like a service than a product. You need yearly updates to remain current. You can't just use last year's software even if it is a commercial version.

This "support" model is not what Free Software is good at.

Taxes are also not simple. If yours are non-trivial, then you are far better off paying a competent professional instead of trying to be miserly with the attempts to replace an accountant with software.

The value of even the commercial tax software is highly debatable regardless of how it was developed or what license it sues.

Re:Guessing not.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39632999)

> but tax law seems like the kind of thing you need to pay people to deal with

Because having to deal with tax laws is f@#$@ depressing.
There are many stupid things people do and I can ignore that but tax law is the pyramid of human feces, dead rotten cats, dog piss and rat vomit times 100 that I have to deal with every year.

A recent urban legend (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39632603)

Rumor has it if you just send in your tax documents without filling anything in they will calculate your taxes for you and give you many deductions you might not have thought you could do.

Re:A recent urban legend (1)

vlm (69642) | about 2 years ago | (#39633051)

If you owe money they'll whomp you with penalties you cannot imagine (like 200% the difference) Been there done that. My specific problem was related to DCRA with both parents employed interacting both with each other's limit and some other child credit.

There is no theoretical way they could have the data for how much you donated to church or paid in medical bills unless you send the receipts and donation letters to them, so I'm mystified about this "give you deductions".

Just be careful (1)

HarrySquatter (1698416) | about 2 years ago | (#39632645)

Be careful. While any such FOSS tools might be fully accurate, sometimes it's worth extra money to ge the gaurantees and backing from a TurboTax, H&R Block, etc. in case there are any inaccuracies. And you can export out yoyr return as a pdf for your records. Sometimes ideology is not as important as getting backing in case the IRS comes snooping. *shrug*

Just proves (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39632677)

That most people that use open source are just cheap skates...

Re:Just proves (1)

jedidiah (1196) | about 2 years ago | (#39632925)

You mean like Windows users that steal anything that's not nailed down?

I use Free Software because it's not crap. It helps that it's a re-implementation of a good design (namely Unix). I would pay a pretty penny for it if I had to. Nearly did with Solaris x86.

That said: I wouldn't trust my taxes to free software, expensive software, or underpaid drones that aren't real tax professionals.

Taxes are the only part of the legal profession where a post-JD degree is required to practice in the field.

Re:Just proves (1)

xeno314 (661565) | about 2 years ago | (#39633205)

Don't know where you're living/what jurisdiction you mean, but you don't need anything above a JD to practice federal tax law, generally speaking. You can go get an LLM in tax if that's what you want, but that's mostly for academics or *really* heavy lifters in the field.

Do you do this for everything? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39632769)

Hey guys, I need a new pacemaker. Rather than paying thousands of dollars for one, does anyone have an Arduino solution? Shouldn't be that hard.

Re:Do you do this for everything? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39633127)

There are people who build their own fuel injection controllers for motorcycles; I see no reason why a homemade pacemaker would be more life-threatening.

Privacy vs Cheapskate.... (1)

SrJsignal (753163) | about 2 years ago | (#39632793)

So are you just a cheapskate or are you truly concerned about giving them your information?
I ask because if you go to the store and buy Turbo Tax, you don't have to give them your information and send it anyplace. That's what I do / have been doing for a long time. I'm paying them to guarantee me that they have interpreted the tax code properly, I'm totally fine with that.
I like some open source stuff, but I need a company to stand behind something that can royally screw me over if it's wrong.

Not Open Source, but at least it's free (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39632815)

I'm a CPA and I would recommend using taxact.com. While it's not open source, it is free for any income level (for federal filing) and user friendly (if you can ignore the upselling of the deluxe version along the way). Given the frequency with which the tax law changes, it's doubtful a FOSS solution will emerge in this segment.

Why should taxpayers NEED accountants and lawyers? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39632827)

The current US tax system has no redeeming value. It is currently used to reward friends and as a jobs program for tax experts. Maybe if the system were designed for a 21st century economy there would be no need for April 15th and tax software.

Open Source Tax Software? (1)

Lancelaut (2614695) | about 2 years ago | (#39632831)

I found FreeFileFillableForms.com to be very helpful free efile service that is sponsored by the irs.gov website. You fill in the pdf files and has all the instructions you need. It even has a few fields that are calculated by the site to ensure you don't make calculation mistakes.

Government should give away such software. (5, Insightful)

couchslug (175151) | about 2 years ago | (#39632863)

Tax compliance is in Federal interest, and with standard Free and Open software everyone could use the same application.

Re:Government should give away such software. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39633031)

I can't believe this only has a Score:3.

Re:Government should give away such software. (1)

dalias (1978986) | about 2 years ago | (#39633201)

Yes but the government is generally adverse to destroying the business model of a very profitable industry...

Re:Government should give away such software. (1)

shadowrat (1069614) | about 2 years ago | (#39633239)

While I agree, the government is never going to write that software with the goal of finding you the most/best deductions.

Check out TaxAct (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39632877)

I've used TaxAct for several years now. State taxes are pretty straightforward once you've done the federal, but I do buy the $15 state software to make my life easier, and as a token of gratitude.

Wow (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39632881)

Just, wow.
The freetard force is strong within this one.

The Main Barrier (2)

utkonos (2104836) | about 2 years ago | (#39632887)

The main barrier is that tax software is different every year. Each year the tax code is changed then published. This published tax code is not readable by mortals. It is read by tax lawyers who work with the tax prep software makers to make sure that this years tax code is reflected in the tax prep software.

As much as I love FOSS, I doubt that a volunteer community would be able to pull off this level of complexity and do it on time each year.

Being that it would be a community effort, what happens if the guy who is in charge of component X gets a new job and can't devote his time to getting that component out the door on time. In most FOSS communities this is not a problem. That component just doesn't get worked on until someone picks up the torch later on. In tax prep software this would be a showstopper. The whole thing would grind to a halt if the whole piece of software does not reflect accurately the current year's tax code.

Why downvote as off-topic? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39632889)

This: For this you want a professional product (Score:1, Offtopic)

It doesn't answer the question, it solves the problem. Fill out a PDF. The instructions are clear. If the instructions are NOT clear, you should not be filling out your own taxes.

ALL tax software is ONLY as good as a spreadsheet and you should not be trusting the numbers if you cannot cross-check them.

If you do not understand your own taxes, you should get someone that does; after years I finally have someone that can do them, and do them cheaper than I can online, and I can follow each and every form/number when they are done. If you don't understand when you are done, you are either being screwed (losing money) or setting yourself up to get screwed (exposing yourself to risk).

Seriously, your taxes will be picked apart by a human when/if you are audited, you deserve the same as a defense.

Not likely to happen (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39632933)

Tax software is one area where it's highly unlikely we are going to see open source alternatives. Writing tax software requires a great deal of time, knowledge and testing. It also helps to have accountants and lawyers and support people on staff. In other words, it costs money and who is going to front that kind of money and then give away the source code?

Is it really that complicated? (Am Not US citizen) (1)

ciantic (626550) | about 2 years ago | (#39632965)

I'm from Finland were individuals and (at least that I know of) small companies can submit income taxes through provided internet forms, and individuals gets them pre-filled. (It still isn't perfect but it does have some validation and such...)

But first answer above "this is the kind of product that is done with help of lawyers and accountants" begs the question how freaking complicated is the US taxation forms?

IRS Site has Free Options (4, Informative)

mikestew (1483105) | about 2 years ago | (#39632995)

If your main criteria is "freely available" and not "open source", and your adjusted gross income is less than $57K, you can just fill out the forms for free [irs.gov]. It uses Adobe Flash if you have an aversion to such things, and there doesn't appear to be anything open source about it.

If your AIG is more than $57K, your tax situation is probably such that you ought to be handing over some money to a pro or Turbo Tax.

There are lots of excel spreadsheets out there... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39633077)

There are several people who have posted excel spreadsheets. Some of them even work with open office.

I've found them helpful for tax planning, but I still shell out $20 for tax act.

For example www.taxvisor.com is pretty good.

Tax preparation expenses are deductible. (1)

el_smurfo (1211822) | about 2 years ago | (#39633095)

This is the sort of question only ./ ponders while the rest of us spend our $20 after rebate for a dependable program. I don't like Intuit, so have used HR Block for years with no problems at all.

Re:Tax preparation expenses are deductible. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39633255)

Tax prep expenses are deductible IF they exceed ~$3000.

Government would love to give free tax software. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39633135)

The Government would love to give free tax software but they have been fought every step of the way by the likes of Intuit and the tax software industry.
http://yro.slashdot.org/story/10/08/02/1856215/Intuit-Still-Fighting-Government-Tax-Software

Lots of free options for Canadian tax payers (2)

Walking The Walk (1003312) | about 2 years ago | (#39633145)

I realize most of you will assume this question is USA related (I see the firehose story got tagged with "usa" quite quickly), but it applies to lots of other countries too. In Canada, we're supposed to use NETFILE certified software, most of which is free up to a certain income threshold. The Canada Revenue Agency has a list of all software certified for your 2012 filing [netfile.gc.ca] (i.e.: 2011 tax year). Some of those same companies are probably certified by the IRS for filing taxes in the USA too.

Tax Software could be open-source, but... (0)

sohmc (595388) | about 2 years ago | (#39633237)

TurboTax, et al could be made open source, but it there are major problems.

While the major deductions haven't changed (e.g. mortgage, charitable contributions, etc), a lot of other stuff change, expire, get extended, year to year. While I would love to see a stable, open-source TurboTax, there is just too much at stake.

When you install Linux on your computer, the overall cost is your system. If Linux somehow crashes and melts your motherboard, it sucks but you won't go to jail or get fined for it. Most, if not all open source software include clauses that absolve the authors of anything bad. Ultimately, you want to be able to say, "Linus Torvalds, that jerk, told me that I could claim my penis enlargement pills were tax-deductible!" and have the government hold him liable.

Value for money (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39633265)

Is it really that big a deal to use a piece of commercial software? Depending on how complicated your taxes are it could be free, $50 or $75. That's really really cheap compared to using a CPA. I have three LLCs, an S-Corp with 60 employees and two rental properties. I use an accountant. I *wish* I could use a $50 package and do it myself.

It seems to me like you are complaining about there being a very reasonably priced piece of mass produced software available that completely solves your problem.

Because it's hard, duh! (1)

Megane (129182) | about 2 years ago | (#39633285)

First of all, I use H&R Block's software because they're not the "big guy" when it comes to tax software. And they have an OS X version. (although this year's version bitches at you if you're still running 10.4). I can usually find it at Fry's for $15 for the basic edition (I don' t have state income tax) if I pay attention and get it in January. And the E-File supports five filings from the code, so I can let my mom use it too (that's how I know about the 10.4 thing). (FWIW, they charge $10 for a single E-file if you don't have that code.)

The main problem is that it's not a trivial problem, because Congress (aka "the opposite of Progress") is involved. I'm pretty sure that elected lawmakers are NP-complete. Or maybe NP-incomplete. And they are constantly changing things, sometimes for the sake of changing things. ("Hey, look! I'm doing something!") And this process is repeated in most states. (I live in Texas, one of the few that doesn't.) And maybe even one or two really big cities. So instead of just one tax code to worry about, now you have around fifty. Someone has to update that crap every year, and you would probably prefer it be someone who is paid to be responsible for doing it right.

But whatever you get, remember to write down what it cost you so you can count it as a deduction for next year, assuming you do itemized deductions, which is where you really need good software. (If you're too young to have a mortgage, you're probably not going to have any benefit from itemized deductions.)

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