R. Fink: Taxing software stalls Rat's e-filing plans

Tax time was a bit more taxing than usual for the Rat this year, and it was at least 80 percent the fault of his penchant for technology.

The IRS might have wrought wonders with e-file, but tax software publishers have succeeded in making electronic filing just as hard as printing and mailing a return'maybe even harder.

The whiskered one's yearly tax troubles kicked into gear when he decided again to use H&R Block's Kiplinger TaxCut, mostly because he had gotten an e-mail solicitation about the 2001 version for Mac OS X. As April 15 neared, he tried to import last year's tax data into the software running on the Titanium PowerBook G4 he'd bought himself as a Christmas/New Year's/Valentine's Day present.

But nothing happened. Despite claims to the contrary, the software just wouldn't recognize last year's TaxCut return as a valid file. The Rat called tech support.

'Oh, we've been getting lots of calls from Mac users about that,' the H&R Block phone jockey said. 'That feature just doesn't work.'

The Rat was dumbfounded. 'There's no workaround? No time frame for a patch?'
'Nope, they're not fixing it this year,' replied the infuriating voice on the other end.

The furious cyberrodent called customer service and demanded a refund. Meanwhile, with the grim tax reaper breathing down his neck, he ended up having to buy the PC version of TaxCut, which imported last year's return just fine. And it ran just fine on his PC under Microsoft Windows 2000'that is, until the night of the 14th.

The Rat reached the final error-checking step and the software crashed'repeatedly. Every time he relaunched the program, it died.

He called tech support again, but the crew had closed for the night. The Rat's return was in limbo. Despite efforts to update the software with all the last-minute patches he could find, it still crashed like a Suzuki Samurai on a high-speed turn. There was only one thing to do: Go back to the Mac.

The bleary-eyed one managed to get his tax return open on the PowerBook and completed it on the morning of the 15th. On his way out the door to work, he hit the e-file button. Then the software blithely informed him that it didn't support electronic payments for his state for 2001. Therefore he would have to pay by check and, because of other software glitches, he couldn't generate an electronic signature. So he had to print out a signature form.

Then came the coup de grace. The software said it wouldn't let him sign until it received approval codes from the IRS and the state. Check back in two or three days, it advised.
The Rat could feel his tongue starting to swell.

He hacked the interface and figured out how to print the payment forms. By that time, he was already late for work, and Mrs. Rat had left, too.

Which is why, late on April 15, the e-filing Rat sat in a car queue with hundreds of other procrastinating meatheads at the main post office, waiting to drop off his returns to a grinning postal employee.

'Waited till the last minute again, huh?' asked the cheery carrier.
Now the Rat knows why they call it 'going postal.'

The Packet Rat once managed networks but now spends his time ferreting out bad packets in cyberspace. E-mail him at rat@postnewsweektech.com.

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