Ottawa PC Users' Group, Inc.
 Product Review 


The tax man cometh... and here comes the Taxman
by Alan German

It's that time of year. Once again, you have to dig out all those slips and receipts, spread out a raft of paper forms over the kitchen table, sharpen your pencil, and dig into the preparation of your tax return. Well, of course, nobody actually uses pencil and paper any more – do they? – everyone uses the computer. But, it still irks to have to pay out good money for a commercial tax package just so you can send even more of your hard earned cash to the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA).

Of course, you could create your own tax forms in a spreadsheet program. But, it turns out that you can never use the same spreadsheet twice. CRA, in their wisdom, change the tax structure every year, not only modifying things like the levels of taxable income (which can be efficiently dealt with using specific cells for data input in the spreadsheet, and appropriate although mind-blowingly complex formulae), but also changing the way in which some tax items are calculated. Now, if you only do one or two tax returns, typically yours and that of your spouse, it can take much longer to re-program the spreadsheet to handle the new structure of a tax item than to calculate the amount payable manually. And, you can guarantee, that there won't be just one such change in any given year!

So, rolling out your own tax program isn't a particularly appealing option. But, neither is shelling out more and more dollars each year for a commercial program that offers less and less in the way of functionality. There's a reason for those 29 versions of your favourite tax software package – it's to separate you from more of your cash just so that you can complete the number of returns that you require!

So, is there any help available in the form of freeware? Well, yes, there is. You need Taxman – a Canadian specific tax program – developed by G. Thompson of Victoria, BC.

The program's author states “I make a humble living using my own software (since 1995) to knock out T1 General tax returns for Canadian residents. Using my own customers as guinea pigs, I've tested and bulletproofed and souped up this baby to the point where now she's just wasted on the likes of me. For some strange reason I like writing software, and so I've now got 28,000 lines of code buried in over 80 forms, and every time-saving trick I can think of. Maybe you can use a tool like this?”
Now, one limitation is that Taxman doesn't support net filing, so you have to print out and mail in the completed forms. But, if you don't use Netfile, the program offers a simple yet powerful mechanism to complete your tax return. There is no limit to the number of returns that you can produce and you can easily link your return to that of your spouse to facilitate various forms of revenue sharing. And, best of all, it really is completely free. The author has a tongue-in-cheek indication that he will (if forced) accept donations but promises “...to spend the money only on Scotch and cigars...”

At the time of writing (January, 2009), only a preliminary version of the program is available for downloading from the web, and this in the form of an update to an existing version. So, if you are a first time user, you will need to download the full package from a previous year and then add on the update for the 2008 tax year. I would recommend that you first install Taxman2007 Version 1.6 (if you run Vista, you will need this version anyway) and then add in the latest update for 2008 (currently Taxman2008 Upgrade Version 1.2).

Once you have the program installed, and run the application for the first time, it's necessary to establish an entry for a tax payer using the menu item Records – New Person/Record. The data entry form requires the information that goes on page 1 of the T1 General form, i.e. name, address, social insurance number, etc.

Now, you can use the Open T1 General tab to provide access to a set of electronic forms, with pages 1 through 4 of the T1 General form, plus the associated schedules and supplementary forms. The nice feature is that, while these look just like the paper forms, you enter data into the appropriate fields and the program takes care of all the maths! There are also automatic controls on the data that can be entered, and error checking, in order to avoid erroneous entries. Another fail-safe feature is that Taxman won't let you hit the big red X to exit from the program. You must use the Quit Taxman menu item to ensure that any changes you have made to the system are saved before exiting.

Eventually, when you have completed all of the data entry, the bottom line on page 4 of your T1 General form will tell you the good news about your tax refund – or the bad news about the amount payable (boo, hiss!)

Now, all that's left to do is to print out the forms, put them in an envelope, add a stamp, mail in your completed tax return – and wait for the postman to deliver your refund – to spend on scotch and cigars!


Bottom Line:

Taxman (Freeware)
G. Thompson, Victoria, BC
http://pacificcoast.net/~gthompson/


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Ottawa Personal Computer Users' Group (OPCUG), Inc.
3 Thatcher Street, Ottawa, ON  K2G 1S6

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