Should You File Taxes on Your Smartphone?

This year you can file taxes on an Android or iPhone, but it's not for everyone. Here's a breakdown on your filing options via smartphone and PC -- plus a refund scam to avoid.

By Bill Snyder
Mon, February 14, 2011

CIO — It's almost March and that means tax day is marching relentlessly closer. As always, the major providers of tax prep software have tweaked their offerings and are competing for your business.

Most of the software from the big three — Intuit, H&R Block and TaxAct — looks pretty much like what you'd expect if you've ever used one of those programs. But Intuit has taken one big leap, offering a program called SnapTax that let's you prepare and file your return on an Android or iPhone.

There's a pretty big catch here. SnapTax is designed for the person whose taxes are simple enough to file using the 1040EZ form. If you earned more than $80,000, derive income from anything but a W2-type job, (although interest and unemployment benefits are OK) and have dependents or own property, it's not for you. On the other hand, if you're, say, a student, with a dead simple financial picture and an addiction to your smartphone, SnapTax could be right for you.

Here's how it works. You download and install the free app. When the program launches it asks questions to find out if your taxes are simple enough for SnapTax to compute; if so, it has you create an account. After that, take out the W2 form your employer sent you, take a picture of it with your phone, and you're pretty much done. The data is "read" using optical character recognition, encrypted and uploaded to Intuit's secure servers where it is entered into an electronic version of the 1040EZ. You'll be able to review the form before filing.

It costs a total of $14.99 to file one copy to the feds and another to your state tax collection folks. So far, 315,000 copies of SnapTax have been downloaded, says Intuit spokeswoman Ashley Kirkendall.

PC Tax Prep's Big Three

Intuit's TurboTax has made a number of improvements this year. Most notably, it has doubled to 250,000 the number of institutions — employers, banks, credit unions, investment banks and so on — whose data can be imported straight into TurboTax. These companies all have IDs; enter it plus the password you use for that company's Web site, and the data is copied into the corresponding line on your electronic return.

TurboTax can now allows filers to import data from a PDF created by a competing tax program, and if you're a user of Mint (now owned by Intuit) any information you have on that Web site can easily be imported as well. These days, the functions offered by the online and boxed versions of TurboTax are quite similar, says Kirkendall.

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