Sunday, April 15, 2007

TurboTax: SaaS done Perfectly

As many of you know, Uncle Sam and I have a rather strained relationship. I take a rather Libertarian view of most government services, and nothing exemplifies that more to me than the annual ritual of paying income tax. Of course, I used to treat them as a minor annoyance, but the Dot Bomb implosion and the wonderful world of Alternative Minimum Tax (see Lani's recent post on this) turned my tolerance to outright antagonism. Hundreds of thousands of dollars later, as well as a surprisingly cooperative IRS, I am no longer paying for income I never saw, but I still grind my teeth at the approach of April 15th (or this year, April 17).

However, last year I found hope. TurboTax, Intuit's answer to the horrific nightmare that is income tax, always promised the "easy, fast and painless" that all software does. However, despite being a Quicken addict for years, I never put much faith in it. Last year, with the deadline approaching, I surfed over to the site, to see if I could try again. Much to my delight, they offered TurboTax as a web based application now: software as a service (SaaS). Determined to reward such forward thinking, I dived headlong into it. 2 hours later, I had filed my Federal and State taxes, and even had my refunds coming via direct deposit. Even better, they offered Audit Defense for $30: if there was anything wrong, they, not I, would deal with the IRS: "You will never speak with the IRS. Period." I was floored.

This year, I was sure my past experience would be a fluke. Imagine my surprise when, for a total of $130, I was able to not only duplicate last year's ease, but also add Audit Defense to my State returns, but even use a Deduction Maximizer that netted me far more than my measly calculations ever would have. I can't believe that I am saying this about taxes, but it was a joy. Their service is remarkable: lots of interactive questions, with tons of help along the way, even hints to tell you "Most people don't need to fill this part out." It intelligently saves to the server on every step, and allows you to come back at any time to resume. Best of all, a fantastic real-time calculator on every page that updates to show you just how much you can expect to pay or receive as a refund with every answer. Sure, I'm certain I'd feel a little less elated if I was not seeing a refund this year, but even still, I'm so amazingly encouraged by this.

Taxes are a perfect example of a massive, complicated process that can be quantified, and therefore leveraged by software to make easier. Imagine the same with legal situations (lawsuits, wills), or other important financial considerations (insurance, mortgages). Heck, they even allow an electronic signature. As a founder of a SaaS company, I truly take my hat off to these folks: they do it right, without the necessary evil of imposing their own convoluted vocabulary (see salesforce.com's "Opportunities" as a good example) or force you to take online courses to figure out how to use the tool you have. They start from the perspective of a problem, and work backwards, always keeping the end user in mind.

Not only was it a good experience, not only was it productive, but it gives peace of mind, ease of use, and delivers results. Now that's a less taxing filing. If you are like me, and want to wait until the last possible moment for a catch-up session with the big Uncle, do yourself a favor and let TurboTax help out. You've got two more days...spend them wisely. :-)

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