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Taxes no longer taxing

A few years ago I resolved to never do my own taxes again.

A few years ago I resolved to never do my own taxes again.

It was the eve of Revenue Canada’s tax submission deadline, and I had a whole piled of receipts, T4’s, student loan statements to crunch through those unclear and needlessly complicated tax forms. It took three attempts, going through the process soup to nuts, and I came out with three completely different results – one that saw me getting a lot back, one that saw me paying a lot more, and one in the middle that seemed a little more reasonable but that I knew was probably wrong.

I lost my temper several times during the ordeal, snapping pencil leads, and banged my head against the desk. I wouldn’t have been surprised to find my teeth-marks on the guide.

Before that year my mother had always done my taxes for me, making sure that I got as much back as possible to put towards my education. She also used to have to pay for a math tutor back in high school, so she probably didn’t have a lot of confidence in the left side of my brain.

Rather than go through the whole emotional turmoil a fourth time, I decided to take my taxes to a pro. For a small fee, she took my stack of papers, tapped a few figures into the computer, and produced an accurate computer printout of my situation. A click of the button later and my records were sent to Revenue Canada.

Six hours of hell were condensed into about 20 minutes. I saw the light, and it was pixelated.

Although being an accountant helps, tax software is easy to use and getting easier every year. For myself – down to just one job and one student loan – I could probably get through taxes in less than 10 minutes. That’s still twice as long as an ordinary person would take, but it’s worth it to me.

Revenue Canada – sorry, it’s the Canada Revenue Agency now for some reason – is actively pushing it’s automated services, including it’s online NETFILE service, the EFILE e-mail filing service, and the TELEFILE touch-tone phone filing service.

With all these options, you’d have to masochist to do your taxes the old fashioned way, yet almost 80 per cent of residents in B.C. and the Yukon did just that. Suckers…

To do your taxes online this year, you have a several good options.

Once again the favourite going into the tax season is Intuit Canada’s QuickTax Standard (www.quicktax.ca), which retails for about $40.

This program no longer comes with a $10 rebate, but the makers have included QuickWealth Retirement Planner in the bundle.

If you need more than basic help with your T1, there are also versions of QuickTax for individuals, small businesses and investors that you can buy in a package deal for $80.

For new users, Intuit has also sweetened the deal with Refund Rescue software that you can use to check over your return from last year. If you don’t find any additional refunds you missed Intuit will give a coupon worth $9.95 for next year.

Another option for taxes is GriffTax Simple by Colin Griffiths and Associates. GriffTax was originally designed for Mac users, but recently started to target PC users as well.

Available for $20, GriffTax (www.grifftax.ca) takes pride in its ease of use, and offers many of the same features as QuickTax. You can download a sample version for free from the Web site, but you won’t be able to file unless you pay to register your program.

The third option is Ufile (www.ufile.ca) by Dr. Tax, which is available for $19.95 if you want to work online or $29.95 for the full software. This software is considered a good place to start for beginners and individuals and families with fairly standards needs.

All of these programs will help you plow through your taxes quickly and cheaply, with a minimum of hair-pulling. They are also a pretty good value, allowing you to file anywhere from five to 10 different returns – enough for every member of your family, all your roommates, and your alter ego.

Canadians hooked on video games

Blame it on winter, or our national preoccupation with contests, but Canada is becoming a nation of video game geeks – no parallels to the encroaching obesity epidemic we’re facing intended.

In the fourth quarter of 2003, October through December, Canadians spent $373 million on video games, hardware and accessories. Although that figure includes Christmas, and was no doubt boosted by the ongoing console wars between Playstation, Xbox and GameCube, it was a 17 per cent increase over the same period last year.

More than 753,000 game consoles were sold, including handheld devices. If you’re wondering, Nintendo’s Game Boy Advance accounted for 27.6 per cent of console sales, followed by Playstation 2 at 27.4 per cent, GameCube 22.1 per cent and Xbox at 20.9 per cent.

Game sales were up a whopping 35 per cent in that period with more than four million units sold. Of those sales, 41 per cent were for Playstation 2.

Accessory sales – memory cards, controllers, video cameras, steering wheels, etc. – were up 11 per cent.

Ironically, while more Canadians were no doubt logging longer hours sitting on our collective duffs playing video games, sports games were the biggest sellers. Electronic Arts, which has development centres in Burnaby and Toronto, led the way with 23 per cent of titles. Popular EA Sports titles include NHL 2004, NFL 2K4, NBA Live 2004, Tiger Woods Golf and the Need for Speed. Their line of fantasy titles included Lord of the Rings: Return of the King and Medal of Honor: Rising Sun.




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