Alison Griffiths

It's down to the wire — there are just over two weeks left to file your taxes or you'll be in the penalty box. Of course, this is assuming you have an amount owing. But even if Canada Revenue Agency owes you, getting your taxes out of the way lickety-split only makes sense. There's no point in the government hanging on to your refund money when you could be putting it to good use.

You can grab your shoebox full of receipts and T-slips and head to the nearest mall where you'll probably find a tax preparation service. On the other hand, why not save a bit of money and do your own return. Not only is it usually cheaper but you'll definitely learn something.

I did a test run on three online programs, TurboTax, Ufile (Dr. Tax) and H&R Block. My father, husband, daughter and I were the guinea pigs.

Interestingly, all three produced slightly different results. I've used TurboTax for years so it took me a little extra time to familiarize myself with the other two.

Here are my conclusions for all you last minute filers.

TurboTax
I confess to having a love\hate relationship with Canada's No. 1 tax filing program. Though it is very user friendly I have encountered a variety of glitches over the years.

This year I tried to input my father's attendant care of $17,437 at his retirement home. The program noted the amount as $17.43. Various combinations with and without dollar signs and commas produced the same result.

Also, for a period of time in late March the program couldn't transfer data from 2010 — a big problem for things like unused RRSP contributions. TurboTax suggested the filer contact the company "team" but it could take a couple of weeks to make the transfer after that — hardly satisfactory for late filers.

Finally, it appeared to be more advantageous for my husband to take our daughter's tuition and education amount transfer but I couldn't get the program to do it.

The tally:

Cost: $32.95 for Premier edition (we needed this as we have investment and business income). It covered my hubby and me, and our student daughter was free. My father's was also $32.95.

Tax summary:

  • $2,567.98 owing (self and husband, our student daughter owed nothing)
  • $2,410 owing (father)