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Filing US federal taxes under Linux

By Joe Barr on March 27, 2008 (3:00:00 PM)

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Filling out tax returns has traditionally been an area where Linux comes up short compared to the proprietary platforms, but you actually have several options for using commercial income tax products on a Linux platform. Here's a quick look at three commercial tax offerings I found that work just fine using Ubuntu 7.10 and Firefox 2.0.0.12, even though two of the three vendors warn Linux users they are not supported. Translation: Don't look for vendor help if you run into problems.

Each product I looked at follows a Q&A format which, while it saves you have having to stare directly at a complicated form, asks you for specific data in a specific sequence. If you're like me, you'll spend a lot more time gathering all the info than you will actually entering it, so have on hand all your raw data and forms (W-2s, 1099s, financial statements) before you sit down with any tax preparation package.

I used a standard test case across all three products: an individual filing a US federal tax return with itemized deductions and earnings income from W-2 wages, interest, and dividends.

All the products establish a secure connection to a Web site when you begin your session, and I was able to log off and then back in to continue work on my return without incident.

H&R Block's Tango

The first thing I saw when I tried to use H&R Block's Tango was a warning that it might not work correctly because Linux was not a supported platform. Life is risky, Tango advised, but it allowed me to continue. I chose the "Start Free" option, which allows you to enter your tax data and go all the way through the process up to the point of filing without having to pay.

Tango's interface is picturesque and smooth. If you choose your software tools based on eye appeal, read no further -- this is the one for you. You'll never see a 1040A or any other tax form as you go through Tango's guided online interview. Enter the required information when you're prompted for it, then sit back and let the software do the rest.

When you're finished entering and reviewing the data, you come to the fork in the road. You can either pay $70, then continue by printing, saving, or e-filing your return, or you can stop there. If you don't pay, you'll have no tax return to file, but on the other hand, it didn't cost you a dime to find out where you stand on this year's taxes.

H&R Block also offers a completely free package that includes free e-filing, but only handles simple returns using the 1040EZ form. The $30 Premium version is required for itemized deductions, and there are other options starting at $100 that provide a live tax consultant to answer your questions as you go through the process.

TurboTax Deluxe

In spite of the fact that I used TurboTax on Ubuntu Linux with Firefox last year, you wouldn't know that it could be done based on the company's warning screen. There are a number of supported versions of Windows, and others for Apple, but none for Linux. As Tango did, TurboTax lets you continue if you are using a non-supported platform, but warns, "If you continue without upgrading, we may not be able to assist you with any issues you might encounter." Note the quaint but unenlightened usage of the word "upgrade."

I tested TurboTax Deluxe, which fit the test case very well. If you need to file state as well as federal returns, they are available at extra cost. Once again, I made use of the "Start Free" option, which allows you to do everything but print, save, or electronically file the return. When you reach that point, you'll need to pay $30 to continue.

It took less than an hour to enter the test case, including the time it took to search for all allowable deductions, and then running the return though a federal return error checking routine and audit reviews after finishing data entry.

TurboTax offers other online packages ranging in price from $50 to $100.

TaxAct

For the third product I chose the free version of 2nd Story Software's TaxAct because, unlike the competition's free offerings, this one can not only handle the test case, it allows you to print or e-file your return at no additional charge. Naturally, this free version doesn't come with all the bells, whistles, and assistance of a "deluxe" package, so you'll need to know a bit more about filing your taxes if you choose it instead of a more comprehensive tool.

I went through the test case twice with TaxAct, once using the online version and once using a downloaded Windows executable that I installed and ran under Wine. I couldn't detect any difference between the two. If you prefer working offline, untethered from the Internet, the downloaded version is the option for you. The free version also includes a review of the completed forms at the end, to catch any errors it can before you print and mail or file the return electronically.

TaxAct also comes in a $10 Deluxe and a $17 Ultimate edition, with state forms available for each at extra cost.

Conclusion

Online tax preparation is here today for Linux users, thanks primarily to the power and popularity of the Firefox browser, which seems to be well-supported across all platforms. While I'm guessing, I suppose that the vendors believe it would cost them more money to include Linux as a supported platform than they would realize in sales to Linux users.

The three products I tested are remarkably similar in how they operate, at least on the surface. Of the three products, Tango is the prettiest, but TaxAct is my favorite. Its free version is a no-frills, fully functional tool that's perfect for those who normally do their taxes manually but want the speedy refund offered by e-filing.

The fact remains, however, that all the products I tested worked just fine. Today's Linux users have more and better choices for doing their taxes while using their favorite platform than ever before. Online as a service or -- as in the downloaded Windows executable for TaxAct - run under Wine. In my experience, it all just works.

If you are going to try one of these products for your taxes this year, I recommend two things. First, make sure that the product you choose can handle the all forms you need to file. Things like farm and other income types are not universally provided for. In general, the more you spend, the greater the functionality included. I also recommend that you use the product you choose in its free mode until you're sure that it works on your Linux distribution and browser.

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on Filing US federal taxes under Linux

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Filing US federal taxes via the WWW

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 63.64.41.2] on March 27, 2008 03:45 PM
I can't understand the logic that would lead someone to send all the details of their financial existence to a website under the control of someone else. Web-based income tax filing is insane, regardless of how strongly they tout their security and responsibility!

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Re: Filing US federal taxes via the WWW

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 198.8.4.24] on March 27, 2008 08:39 PM
How is filing on the internet less secure than putting it in a mail box?
Stealing mail from mailboxes is the favortie method for starting identity theft.

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Re: Filing US federal taxes via the WWW

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 24.84.196.212] on March 28, 2008 02:18 PM
Well I wouldn't go so far as "insane" for filing online but who knows.;)

What is insane is that there are umpty-10 different proprietary software programs with umpty-10 databases with varying security for your data. This should be government built and maintained just so we know who to strangle when our identity is stolen. At least the government will pull out all the stops to at least appear accountable. An online tax company will just close up shop and open under a different name with no one the wiser.

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Filing US federal taxes under Linux

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 70.20.109.151] on March 27, 2008 04:11 PM
This was a very useful article. It was clearly written,
gave specific information and clearly indicated
how to proceed to enter and file a federal tax
return.
The other thing that it showed is that one possible
workaround with Windows is to work through the
internet to do tasks such as CAD, Photo editing,
etc.
Thank you.

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Filing US federal taxes under Linux

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 12.154.11.158] on March 27, 2008 04:19 PM
I have used TurboTax in the past but this year it wouldn't let me past the "For Windows and Mac ONLY" page ( I file very early this year and that may be why.). A quick search brought me to FreeTaxUSA which worked perfectly with Firefox on SimplyMEPIS 7.0.

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Re: Filing US federal taxes under Linux

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 71.77.74.153] on March 31, 2008 11:40 AM
I also found FreeTaxUSA, It worked even better the Turbo Tax that I used beck in my Windows days;-p. Does everything and runs faster in Firefox and Ubuntu Gutsy. I'm now completely Windows free... Using grisbi to follow my banking.

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Filing US federal taxes under Linux

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 72.224.73.163] on March 27, 2008 05:35 PM
I've been filing with TaxAct Online for the last few years with great success (after the price of TurboTax started going up and up) but another Linux-using friend of mine swears by TaxSlayer, another cheap, no-frills, browser-non-specific tax filing site.

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Re: Filing US federal taxes under Linux

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 198.8.4.24] on March 27, 2008 08:42 PM
I used TaxSlayer for the last two years.
My taxes are not overly complicated, (itemized deductions, college loan and education credits).
For my purposes, it was fast, easy and above all, cheap.

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Filing US federal taxes under Linux

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 72.37.171.164] on March 27, 2008 05:50 PM
[slashdot smart@ss reply]

$ mv ~/FY2007_taxforms ~/Linux

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Filing US federal taxes under Linux

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 24.89.87.251] on March 27, 2008 06:14 PM
In Canada, I've used Ufile:
http://www.ufile.ca/default.asp
for years with no problem from Debian testing with Firefox/Iceweasel. Once you pay online, it allows you to
both save your return as a .pdf as well as in a format recognized by the Canada Revenue Agency that allows
you to file online.

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Filing US federal taxes under Linux

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 216.54.109.3] on March 27, 2008 06:21 PM
I have used Turbo Tax (Boxed Application) successfully under wine (Crossover) for the last 4-5 years.

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Filing US federal taxes under Linux

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 67.187.157.248] on March 27, 2008 07:12 PM
I've used https://www.fileyourtaxes.com/ for years now. They're one of the many online sites listed/recommended by the IRS. It's ~$60 to prepare your taxes for the IRS + CAFTB (California state taxes) and free to e-file. They support Itemized deductions and everything I've ever needed. The interface is easy enough - it asks you all sorts of questions and you just answer them and complete the forms it directs you to. At the end, you'll end up with PDF copies of all the forms completed.

I use GNUCash for tracking all my accounts. I generate a report for all my items flagged as Medical, another for Donation, etc. and save the PDFs along with the fileyourtaxes.com PDFs. I also scan all my paper forms (W-2s, INT-1099, etc.) and save them with that year's taxes. Actually, I found after the fact that I could view my INT-1099s online (which I "print" to cups-pdf) and get my employer email me (internal corporate email) my W-2. That way I've got paper copies, as long as complete digital copies of everything.

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Filing US federal taxes under Linux

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 84.107.195.45] on March 27, 2008 07:13 PM
In the Netherlands the Government provides a tax application for Windows, Mac and Linux. It's WxWindows based an does look and work the same at all mentioned platforms. This application can be downloaded from a government website free of charge. Actually this all is not bad. But it remains tax......

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Filing US federal taxes under Linux

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 66.187.230.200] on March 27, 2008 07:22 PM
I've used Turbo Tax with Fedora and it was pretty good last year and this year. Last year I had a couple of complicated stock selloffs to deal with and Turbo Tax was great for that. I had used Tax Act in the past but one year it wouldn't get past a particular page even though the year before it worked flawlessly. The only problem I have had with Turbo Tax this year was the MA state new required Heath Care form. I didn't realize I didn't have to fill in all the questions. When I got to one checkbox it popped up a dialog stating that it was a field that was automatically filled in. That dialog kept popping up in a loop when I closed it. After closing the browser and going back I simply clicked ok after filling in the most basic information and everything worked fine.

I think we can thank Firefox and the Mozilla team more than anything else, for having a standard complaint, multi-platform competitor to IE.

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Filing US federal taxes under Linux

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 70.21.123.161] on March 27, 2008 07:59 PM
I filed with TurboTax last year and this year and whereas last year I ran into the dreaded, but useless "Your browser version is unsupported" message, (worked fine), this year I didn't have any such warnings. I have no idea why I didn't as obviously others did have this problem. For me the experience has only been better this year as opposed to last. I used FF-2.0.0.12 on SabayonLinux-3.5.

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Filing US federal taxes under Linux

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 68.54.121.32] on March 27, 2008 11:36 PM
TurboTax lost my business when they included DRM. Since then, I've switched to H&R Block TaxCut. This year, all my machines are running Linux and I can't get TaxCut to work under wine. Looks like I'll have to reinstall Windows - just for my taxes. Don't know what I'll do next year...

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Re: Filing US federal taxes under Linux

Posted by: Joe Barr on March 28, 2008 12:48 AM
It runs just fine with Wine 0.9.46 in its default config on Ubuntu. Maybe try Ubuntu instead of Windows?

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Filing US federal taxes under Linux

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 24.162.136.149] on March 28, 2008 01:38 AM
I've used Turbo Tax online for about 6 years now, and always under Linux ... never had an issue.

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Re: Filing US federal taxes under Linux

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 70.126.228.159] on March 28, 2008 05:00 PM
TurboTax online has always worked on Debian with IceWeasel(FireFox), but not my preferred Konqueror.

This year, I had to use my wife's iMac because the login screen wouldn't let me in on my Debian machine. Afterwards, I learned (and confirmed) that after the initial check, TurboTax online worked fine with FireFox/Linux - you just have to go directly to the link after the browser test to bypass it.

I believe Intuit is intentionally being hostile to Linux, either because they have an agreement with Microsoft or because they too are a proprietary software company, and they do not want Free/Open software to take over. Last I tried searching Intuit's help for "linux", there were 0 hits, compared to thousands for either "windows" or "macintosh". I could understand if "linux" returned a meager number of matches, but I don't think that a total absence can be explained by anything other than a policy decision never to mention "linux".

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Filing US federal taxes under Linux

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 72.198.84.136] on March 28, 2008 03:49 AM
Another site that worked for me (Debian, Firefox 2) is http://www.taxhawk.com. Federal is free for a wide variety of tax situations, but you have to pay to efile your state ($12.95 I think it was). Also let's you save PDFs of everything.

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Filing US federal taxes under Linux

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 66.207.25.9] on March 28, 2008 06:17 AM
It is nice that they all worked, but the question that occurs to me is : Did they all get the same amount for the refund / tax liability?

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Filing US federal taxes under Linux

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 205.152.51.2] on March 28, 2008 03:50 PM
I have used TaxAct for the last four years, every since I moved to Linux.

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Filing US federal taxes under Linux

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 71.10.43.108] on March 29, 2008 12:00 AM
Interesting info from uptime.netcraft.com:
www.taxhawk.com:
F5 Big-IP Apache 28-Mar-2008 68.142.135.70 TaxHawk, Inc.
www.freetaxusa.com:
F5 Big-IP Apache 9-Jan-2008 68.142.135.68 TaxHawk, Inc.

www.fileyourtaxes.com:
Linux Apache/2.0.61 (Unix) mod_ssl/2.0.61 OpenSSL/0.9.7l 28-Mar-2008 207.71.201.230 Silicon Beach Communications

turbotax.intuit.com:
Linux Apache/2.0.54 (Unix) mod_ssl/2.0.54 OpenSSL/0.9.7g mod_jk/1.2.14 4-Feb-2008 12.149.161.246 Intuit Inc.

www.hrblock.com:
Solaris 9/10 Sun-ONE-Web-Server/6.1 13-Mar-2008 64.29.208.18 Data Return

www.ufile.ca:
Windows 2000 Microsoft-IIS/5.0 28-Mar-2008 209.235.23.36 Sprint

www.taxslayer.com:
Windows Server 2003 Microsoft-IIS/6.0 15-Mar-2008 65.14.1.204 BellSouth.net Inc

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Filing US federal taxes under Linux

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 67.5.53.35] on March 30, 2008 02:51 AM
Turbo Tax is owned by Microsoft. Since it's purchase a couple of years ago it now only supports XP and Vista. So not surprising it states it's not for Linux. When I found this out last year, wasn't offered a refund but told to go on the net and file, given than any tax program will work

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Filing US federal taxes under Linux

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 72.224.73.163] on March 30, 2008 03:42 PM
Turbotax is owned by Intuit, not Microsoft. While there have long been rumors that Microsoft would buy Intuit, that has never actually happened. Intuit Quicken and Microsoft Money remain the two big competitors in the personal finance field, for whatever that's worth.

Also, you don't have to pay for Turbotax online (or any of the tax sites I've tried) until it's time to actually print and file your taxes, after you've already gone through the whole program. Seeing as how they present you with the warning screen before you start, I'm not sure what kind of "refund" you expected from them.

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Filing US federal taxes under Linux

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 24.47.205.181] on March 30, 2008 05:45 PM
We can do almost any financial transaction online, it is fast convenient and secure,why does not the government (IRS)
allows us to do our taxes online,they only provide you with the forms where you can type your information but, they don`t do your
calculation/addition etc.
They should provide us with a pin number as when we do the FAFSA online to serve as our signature on the forms.
This I think would save paper,stamps,time and would be more efficient etc.

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Filing US federal taxes under Linux

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 70.124.62.55] on March 31, 2008 02:10 AM
I used TurboTax for the web, using FireFox 3.0 beta5 on Fedora rawhide (will be Fedora 9) x86_64. I had to change my User Agent to reflect an older version of FireFox in order to even get the option of continuing with an "unsupported" browser. Having done so though, it worked perfectly.

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Filing US federal taxes under Linux

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 68.94.235.44] on March 31, 2008 04:31 AM
Believe it or not, the tax forms and instructions published by the IRS are not that hard to use if you take the time to go through the booklet as you fill them out. They tell you to place "this number" in "that box". They were written for the lowest-common-denominator to use. Buck up, consider it a challange.

As for stealing the mail, the USPS does provide these big, blue, locked boxes accessible by the public which are much safer than the ones outside your house. They even pick up the mail inside them everyday.

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Filing US federal taxes under Linux

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 130.76.32.15] on March 31, 2008 05:09 AM
Ich hæve used FreeTaxUSA for many years under Linux and Firefox. It even remembers the information from last year.

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Filing US federal taxes under Linux

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 72.213.128.184] on March 31, 2008 08:24 AM
I've used turbotax.com for a decade now and it's awesome to have it all stored so I can go back at anytime and print out my previous return or send them in a pdf for Refinance or any other purpose. I've been using linux only systems for about 6 yrs and I only started having a problem this year because icedtea java didn't play with turbotax.com so I used Linux Mint(java pre installed) and it worked fine.

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My choice: Gnumeric and Acroread

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 63.73.199.69] on March 31, 2008 07:19 PM
For years I've been preparing my taxes with a spreadsheet, then copying the numbers by hand onto paper forms and mailing them in. When I started using Linux back in 2000 or so I continued to do that. Last year I discovered that the IRS provides PDFs of all of their forms that you can enter data into and save, then print. The data entry feature is not supported by evince, but acroread can handle it under Linux. So now I make out my spreadsheet and then copy/paste to the PDF. The first time I made a spreadsheet for tax purposes it took me less than an hour, and of course once you've done that you can copy last year's spreadsheet and make a few tweaks to make it work for the current tax laws.

I probably spend less time doing this than I would trying to get Turbo Tax to work under Wine.

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Filing US federal taxes under Linux

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 71.216.94.233] on April 01, 2008 10:26 PM
A further clarification on Tango. If you look on one page, it claims they love penguins. The marketing department specifically went and added Linux to their advertising. The engineers that wrote the scripts, were out of step, and did not add Linux to the system checks. They also did not test Linux as thoroughly as Windows and Mac. I used Tango full to completion both last year and this. It is an excellent service. They asked me for a comment on my experience this year, and I brought up this discrepancy. I was assured that it will be resolved by next year. For the record, I was assured that Linux is fully supported, even if the coders did not catch that particular memo, lol

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Filing US federal taxes under Linux

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 149.149.120.188] on April 02, 2008 04:52 PM
I used Opera Linux with TaxAct online. No problems.

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Filing US federal taxes under Linux

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 63.225.227.42] on April 02, 2008 11:43 PM
I used both H&R blocks tax cut and Turbo Tax this year under OpenSuse. The only difference I saw was a bigger return from Turbo tax... They both performed exactly as asked though the warnings were dire, the System is solid (Linux not taxes...)

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