NEW YORK (MainStreet) —I did my taxes the other afternoon while waiting for the Red Line in Chicago. It took about five minutes, but to be fair that’s mostly because my phone is old and gets bad service.
Welcome to the world with SnapTax, the Android and i0s app from TurboTax. Now at crunch time, there are a few quick-fix apps out there, but if you have a relatively simple return to file, you might stick with SnapTax.
I’ll be honest, before reviewing this app, I’d never considered doing my taxes on a smartphone. Doing everything else, sure, but taxes have always been something I save for Saturday afternoon, a sputtering calculator and a bottle of dark liquor to ease the pain. To my surprise, though, the platform turned out to be a natural fit.
“People are using their mobile smartphones for everything now,” said Ashley McMahon, a spokesperson for TurboTax who released the SnapTax app. “Consumers want to be able to use [them] for everything from shopping to banking and now their taxes.”
McMahon has a point. Since the IRS introduced e-filing in its current form, the service has exploded. Over 100 million returns were filed online in 2011, covering almost 75% of all taxpayers. Many people are even already required use e-filing. For businesses worth more than $10 million, or entity filing more than 100 returns at a time, the IRS no longer accepts hard copies at all. Calling e-filing the wave of the future is like saying those guys over at Google are probably going to make it.
SnapTax wants to take advantage of e-filing’s phenomenal success. With this app you can add tax preparation to your list of in-between activities, the things to do while waiting for a train or sitting at lunch. It would be easy to say that scheduling your taxes around your life is a major feature of doing them on a smartphone, and it really is. It’s also, however, an unnecessary one. As I discovered, with SnapTax, that first five minutes is all you need.
The fact that it’s also something of a technical marvel? Well that’s just icing on the cake.
Intuit’s SnapTax is a clean, well-laid out program that will look instantly familiar to anyone who’s used one of the company's Turbo Tax programs before. The selling point of this app is the eponymous “snap” feature. It uses the phone’s camera to photograph your W-2 and automatically plugs in the information with the help of your responses to a few personal questions to fill in the blanks. Two large boxes at the top of the screen tell you how much you owe in state and federal income tax, and a final step lets you file at the push a button.
At first I was deeply skeptical. I’ve had my heart broken by OCR software many times before. The programs that claim to photograph or scan documents directly into text have disappointed me every time, and I expected SnapTax to be no different. In fact I already had planned out a review in my head that read “a neat toy, but I spent more time fixing its mistakes than doing my taxes the old fashioned way.”
Then lo and behold: it worked.
There’s no more complicated way to say it. It worked smoothly, seamlessly and exactly as advertised. I lined up my W-2 inside a little, white box, snapped a picture and about 45 seconds later, up popped a completed 1040A in iPhone format. It even automatically imported my personal data from when I used TurboTax online last year, populating the form with my name and contact information and leaving me with nothing to do but select “unmarried” and move on to filing. Total elapsed time: two and a half minutes.
SnapTax files using the same encryption that most banks use for handheld devices according to McMahon, and no tax information is ever actually stored on your device. After five minutes of inactivity, say if you walk away from the phone or simply close out of the program, SnapTax erases all of its data. This means that if you put it aside to work on later you’ll have to start over again, but it also builds in a buffer against theft or loss.
The program isn’t designed for anyone with complicated taxes. According to McMahon it’s intended for the 60 million people who file with the 1040A or 1040EZ every year. This isn’t a flaw, however. SnapTax does exactly what it was designed to do: prepare simple tax returns easily and quickly.
Unfortunately, although it’s a free download, SnapTax doesn’t actually work for free. Where the TurboTax website only charges to file state taxes, SnapTax charges a flat rate of $24.99 to file both state and federal. This admittedly felt somewhat steep considering that e-filing is a free service offered by the IRS and most states.
Technically speaking, this app is fantastic. I was actually disappointed when I filed my taxes, because I wanted to be able to go back and do it all again. Users do have to remember, though, that this free download ultimately comes with a $24.99 price tag to file. While that did give me pause for thought, I ultimately felt the money was worth it. After all, I did just file my taxes with a camera.