Help comes in a box, or online

Software options

H&R Block's Kiplinger TaxCut - The No. 2 tax-preparation software gets high marks for its easy-to-use help system and consistent interview process that leads taxpayers through the maze of forms. After rebates, electronic filing is free; basic edition costs $7.95; deluxe (with more tax help and free state forms) costs $24.95.

Intuit's Quicken TurboTax - The industry leader has streamlined last year's cluttered edition, making the interview process faster than ever. Searching for help is somewhat more complicated than TaxCut, but otherwise a clear and comprehensive program. After rebates, electronic filing is free; basic edition costs $9.95; deluxe (with extra tax help and one free state form), $29.95.

Microsoft's TaxSaver - The latest entrant to the field is slashing prices to attract new customers, especially those who use the company's Money financial program. Interview process is not as smooth as the competition but does include built-in calculator in every amount field. All versions cost about $5 after rebate. Electronic filing is free with deluxe version.

Web options

H.D. Vest Online (www.hdvestonline.com) - The newcomer to online tax returns is shaking up the industry by offering the service for free. The system isn't quite as user-friendly as TurboTax. And filers will receive one financial-planning document from the company, offering its services. But the price is right.

Hrblock.com (www.hrblock.com) - H&R Block put its full TaxCut program online for the first time this year, but technical problems temporarily closed the site to new users. Bad debut for a promising option.

TurboTax on the Web (www.turbotax.com) - Intuit charges $9.95 to file a federal return and another $9.95 for a state return. For an online program, it zips along fairly fast. Web users can try it for free and only pay when they're ready to file electronically. Some low-income and all 1040EZ users won't be charged at all.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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