StudioTax is free certified tax preparation software for Canadian personal income tax returns. It is provided by BHOK IT Consulting and is now also available for Quebec residents. I have been a user for the last few years and have not found a reason to change or try another free or paid tool. StudioTax suits my needs well and I think it would for many people (see its restrictions). I’ll provide an overview about its features in this post.
Tax Filing Deadlines
The income tax deadline for the 2010 tax return is April 30, 2011. Since the due date falls on Saturday, CRA will consider your return to be filed on time or payment (you can make your payment online using the My Payment link provided by CRA) made on time, if it receives it or if it is postmarked on the next business day. Self-employed persons can file upto June 15, 2011 but if they have a balance owing, it still needs to be paid on or before April 30, 2011. Please check these CRA restrictions to know if you are eligible to use NETFILE to file your 2010 return.
The software is available for computers running Windows only. Since the software is built on Microsoft .Net framework, the installation manager will ask to install .Net 2.0 SP2 if it is not installed (Windows Vista and Windows 7 already have it). The installation takes a few minutes and there is no license key required to get started (preparing your return). The software works from your computer and does not require an Internet connection after installation; of course, one needs the connectivity when ready to NETFILE.
You can file up to 20 personal income tax returns using StudioTax. If you have used StudioTax in a previous year, then the 2010 software will offer to retrieve the basic personal details from that earlier return, thereby saving time. One can review the imported details and make corrections, if needed. For first-time users of StudioTax (please note that you cannot file electronically if this is your first Canadian income tax return filing), there is a handy wizard that collects this information. The wizard icon is present on the toolbar at the top and you can return to it as often as needed to make changes.
This collects personal details, information from T slips (Statement of Remuneration – T4s, Statement of Investment Income – T5s), RL slips (for Quebec residents), RRSP/HBP/LLP amounts, tuition amounts, donations, public transit passes amount, interest paid on student loans, political contributions and medical expenses. For RRSP contributions, there is a checkbox available that allows you to maximize your RRSP claim. If you think that you’ll be in a higher tax bracket in the coming years, then you may want to carry forward this year’s RRSP deduction, or a portion of it, to such a year.
Verification of data
Once you have entered the above details, the software does your tax return and displays the summary on the lower left hand side (Summary section). You can view your total, net and taxable incomes, net federal and net provincial taxes, total payable, total tax deducted (from your T4), and refund or balance owing.
Using the Forms section, you can click on those forms that are applicable to your situation (generally, T1, Schedule 1, Summary, Schedule 4, Provincial forms, and T slips). You can make changes to any applicable (and available for modification) line on the tax forms and the refund or balance owing will be updated immediately.
Once you have reviewed the return, it is time to file your tax electronically using NETFILE. StudioTax will not file your return and it is your responsibility to do so.
Creating a .tax file (format needed to NETFILE). If there are no personal information changes and you want to file electronically (you can also print and send it by mail), click on the NETFILE icon on the toolbar at the top. Follow the on-screen instructions and answer a few questions about the CRA restrictions linked to above. StudioTax will offer the option to save the .tax file at a different location; you can either accept (after noting) the default location or save to your preferred folder. The .tax file will be created in a few seconds and then, you are finished with the software portion of the work.
Submitting to CRA. In order to submit your .tax file to CRA, have your social insurance number, date of birth and CRA access code ready. CRA may have sent you an access code my mail. If you did not receive one or cannot find it, you can get yours by using one of the options listed at this CRA webpage. After you have the above details along with the .tax file, visit the NETFILE page and follow the on-screen prompts to file your tax return.
The NETFILE program will scan your file for preliminary errors and you will be issued a confirmation number. Please print the page with the confirmation number for your records or at least, make a note of the confirmation number for future correspondences. You can check the status of your assessment through the My Account (you can register for an ePass if you do not have one but it will take a week or two to become available, since they will send a confirmation code by mail that needs to be entered on their page) link provided by CRA.
Do you file a paper return or have you switched to electronic filing? If filing online, what software do you use to prepare your return? Have you used more than one tax return preparation tool?
About the Author: Clark works in Saskatchewan and has been working to build his (DIY) investment portfolio, structured for an early retirement. He loves reading (and using the lessons learned) about personal finance, technology and minimalism. You can read his other articles here.