This is the time of year I gather the year’s receipts, property tax bills, and miscellaneous paperwork and sit down at the computer to work on my annual Turbo Tax returns. For the past 9 or 10 years, I’ve been using mostly Turbo Tax software to ease the pain and agony of filling out my federal and state returns. It wasn’t always this pleasant. Gone are the days when one had no choice but to either pay a professional tax preparer an exorbitant sum or wade through endless pages of IRS regulations and multiple tax forms. Or you could file an extension and temporarily put off the inevitable. May as well face the music bravely and get it over with.
It generally takes me about 4 to 5 hours to finish both state and federal returns, if I don’t encounter too many glitches. Last year I “upgraded” from Windows 7 to Windows 10 and many of my files, including last year’s tax returns, became corrupted. So nothing from last year’s returns could be imported. But I’m not complaining. As long as you answer each of Turbo Tax’s questions truthfully, you sail right along. Not too many snags to get hung up on.
However, one year, I decided to give H & R Block software a chance. It was mid-March and the NCAA basketball tournament was underway. Coach Izzo and Michigan State had a big game coming up in a few hours. So I figured I would work on my taxes all Saturday afternoon and reward myself by watching the televised match-up with a few well-deserved beers. With all my paperwork at hand, I dove into my federal tax preparation with gusto. Within 3 hours or so, I had completed my federal 1040 and was ready to tackle my state of Michigan return. A box suddenly popped up on the H & R Block screen that said something like, “Do you want to start a new return?” Thinking this would take me to the site for state returns, I clicked “Yes.” Suddenly, the screen reverted to the very beginning of the federal tax program. In a panic, I searched for my last three hours of work, but “poof,” it was all gone — without a trace. Like magic. Vanished.
When I called H & R Block and explained the situation, they finally said my 1040 and all the many tax schedules I had filled out were “unrecoverable,” that I would, unfortunately, have to start over. I was speechless for a few moments. Then, I did what any normal sports fan would do at a time like this: I grabbed a cold 6-pack from the fridge, flipped on the game, and guzzled like there was no tomorrow.
What have I learned from this experience? Although I eventually returned to Turbo Tax software, in all fairness, I will say that H & R Block was kind enough to do my income taxes that year completely free at our local tax office. What used to cost me over $300 in tax-prep fees, I can now complete myself for about $50. There are plenty of download discounts available on the internet, if you search for them. Over the years, I made a habit of keeping all tax-related mail in one folder — all donations to charities, property tax receipts, 1099s, etc. It makes tax time less grueling and time-consuming. I try to always start my taxes early each year, but never right before a big game. I can’t afford to be benched again.