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StudioTax Review



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.

StudioTax Platform

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.

StudioTax Wizard

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.

Filing

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.

Confirmation

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.





17 Comments, Comment or Ping

  1. 1. DavidV

    I used StudioTax last year and loved it. It is more difficult than some of the turbotax type products, only because it doesn’t have as many wizards. But, after about 10 minutes of figuring it out, it’s easy to use, makes sense and is the right price.

    If you have ever done your taxes by hand, you’ll love studio tax since you actually see the forms as you’re filling them out. This year I did my taxes and my Aunts.

    I have rental income and it was easy to input and added no extra hassle.

  2. 2. Antonio Rodriguez

    I have used StudioTax for last 3 years, and I really like it – after you fill the wizard, you have access to the forms, which you can even print. I have gone through the exercise of filling the forms by hand and comparing it against StudioTax forms, and whenever there has been a discrepancy, has been a result of my mistake or misunderstanding.

    very good product, without unneeded bells and whistles.

  3. 3. TomC

    Been using it for several years and echo the other comments – I like seeing the actual forms filled out and submitting by NETFILE gets me a fast refund (got mine last week, and only took only 7 business days from filing to refund!). A great piece of software, bug free (at least so far) and comprehensive without being too Mickey-Mouse (I don’t like other packages because I don’t actually see all the calculations and form entries – call me paranoid but I like seeing the details). And best of all, this one’s free!

  4. 4. Sean

    I have been using Studiotax for several years now. In the beginning it didn’t calculate my foreign tax credits properly but now it handles them just fine. I am VERY pleased with this product.

  5. 5. Patrick

    I tried out Studiotax this year but found it to be quite buggy, whereby I’d enter a value into a field and it wouldn’t keep the value (in the HBP/RRSP form) and another field which I don’t remember. This made it rather annoying when I was running different RRSP scenarios. In the end I went with TaxFreeway which also shows you the forms as you do your taxes, but it does cost $10.

  6. 6. Dr. Philosophy

    Only two quibbles with this article, neither of which have anything to do StudioTax:
    1) Any balance owing for a self-employed individual only “needs to be paid” in the sense that it will accrue interest in the meantime. No collection action will be taken by CRA for these amounts, nor (obviously) will any late-filing penalty be assessed unless the return is filed late.
    While I am on the subject, there is a point in the year at which CRA ceases to accept returns by netfile or efile. That point is usually sometime during or after September, but from what I understand is not necessarily fixed. So I guess I’m saying don’t leave it REALLY late or buy a new pencil and set aside a few hours!
    2) You write “please note that you cannot file electronically if this is your first Canadian income tax return filing” Technically this isn’t right. You are only prevented from Netfiling–you may still use the efile method through a tax preparer like H & R Block. The time-savings using the efile method is negligable, however, since all first-time filers are processed in Ottawa rather than your region’s regular tax centre.

    FWIW, I think the proliferation of do-it-yourself online tax programs in recent years only increases the possibility of error in the name of convenience and the environmental movement. In the old days you HAD to look up a deduction to be sure you could claim it, or go find someone who actually knew the rules. Once the knowledge was acquired, you could make sure your particular situation allowed you to claim a particular credit. Now, with these programs the user does not need to know anything about the Income Tax Act to use, there’s no need to understand what’s going on. I’m not entirely sure that the tradeoff is worth it.

  7. 7. Clark

    @Dr. Philosophy: Thanks for pointing them out.

    Wrt to your “FWIW, I think……”:
    Yes, I agree that people will gain more knowledge and take up a more hands-on approach to filing tax returns. But, with the specialization that happens in education, people consider it almost a fashion statement to say that “I’m a researcher/mechanic/production foreman/architect/etc. and know nothing about investing” (I have heard this a few times). With such a trend in place, I suspect that some people (from different walks of life) will go to a tax-preparer (the expert in their field of taxes) who should be more knowledgeable, thereby minimizing errors. However, I accept that some may try to cut corners by filling out their own return (taking the DIY school of thought to heart), whether or not they understand their claims!

  8. 8. KarenM

    I have been using Studio Tax for several years and I really like it. When I first started to use it, I also did my taxes by hand and the two matched. I don’t do them by hand anymore, but I do like that I can go through the forms and make sure everything is there. I have not had a problem using this package, but I do believe one should know how to do their taxes before using any tax software, or they may miss deductions they are entitled to.

  9. 9. Imad

    I did use studio tax this year for the first time. Works great however there is some bugs for quebec residents.

    It is unable to properly read the RL25 even though it has a wizard for it. It does not link the dividend credit to the actual form you are reporting.

    Another bug is that when the same employer gives you 2 separate T4′s and only 1 RL1 for the same amount of the 2 T4′s combined. It forces an entry by estimating the amount that should be on the second RL 1 even though you have only 1 RL1 since the employer combined the 2 T4′s on 1 RL1.

    Beside those 2 bugs that I found everything works great!

  10. 10. Sandy

    Has anyone tried to use it to claim the Disability Tax Credit? My hubby will qualify for it in the 2011 tax year, and it may be back-dated as well, as we didn’t realize he might have qualified for the last two years.

    I will probably try out StudioTax this year (yay free when we have lots of other expenses and a big drop in income due to DH’s disability) and compare it to the paid program I’ve been using for the last few years (Ufile), but I don’t really know how to claim the tax credit if it applies to previous years, so I’ll likely go to a tax preparer next year, and then revert to doing my own the year after that, when we’re not trying to file anything retroactively.

  11. 11. Dr. Philosophy

    @ Sandy,
    If this is the first year that the DTCC is to be claimed by either you or your husband then you will be unable to efile or netfile your tax returns.
    Unless you want to go it alone on paper (which, really, is not all that challenging even with claiming the disability amount), you will be heading to a tax preparer THIS year.
    Of course you don’t have to pay to have previous year returns adjusted at the same time you pay to file your 2010 returns. A common strategy is to wait for the refund to come back on the current returns to go back and change the previous returns.

  12. 12. Yroc

    Balance due date for an individual is April 30. Ref S.S 248(1) “balance due date”. The article is correct.

  13. 13. Darleen

    I used Studio Tax for the first time this year and found it clunky and inflexible but it was the only CRA efiler software that was reasonably priced (free for under 20 returns and only $136 for over that). I entered a client’s marital status as commonlaw then found out it was married after the return was completed but Studio Tax doesn’t allow for some basic changes. Although I’m not sure if it makes a difference to CRA, I can’t print out client copies that show married. I also couldn’t fill in the T1 Adjustment in the program and had to print it and fill it in by hand. Tech support was unhelpful and sounded like they could care less!

  14. 14. Adam

    Does anyone know what the use of T5008 page in the Studio Tax Wizard? Isn’t the information you entered in the T5008 page a duplication of the information you entered in the T3 and T5 pages of the Tax Studio Wizard for capital gains? I ended up with ignoring the T5008 page.

    Also I found I got slightly different results when I calculated manually the capital gains using schedule 3 compared with that generated using Studio Tax Wizard. I suspect I could have entered into the wrong place for some of the information from the T3s and T5s when doing it manually. At this moment I’d rather trust Studio Tax.

  15. 15. Bud Davidge

    I have been using Studiotax for several years now and find it very easy to use.
    I have also used Tax freeway and it is also good but for less complex returns I prefer Studio. I came off using Cantax for many years but it is fairly expensive
    but excellent and easy to use and can handle any complexity with immediate help screens. i stopped using it because it did not allow Netfile only Efile which was an extra cost. StudioTax handles everything I have thrown at it–capital gains/losses/ business fishermens forms/rentals/. The one thing I liked better about Taxfreeway was the exact replica of all T slips. As someone said ST has no T1Adj in the forms section and I don’t know why. It would be helpful because if you make a mistake in Netfiling you can’t correct until the Notice of Assessment arrives and then you file a T1ADJ.
    It would be handy to have it right in the program instead of downloading from CRA site. Ap[art from that I ‘ll keep using ST,

  16. 16. Patrick

    Lol, I think I must be a doppleganger of the other “Patrick” (Post #5). I usually use taxfreeway to do my taxes, and also use studio tax to double-check that I didn’t do anything wrong (I found that I made one small error this year by using this method).

    There are a couple of bugs in Studiotax, but in general it is pretty solid.

  17. 17. JACK

    I AM TRYING TO TRENSFER $5000.00 IN TUITION ON SCHEDULE 11. ON LINE 20 I HAVE $13048.79 AND LINE 23 $5000.00. WHEN I ENTER THE $5000.00 ON LINE 24 IT GOES BACK TO $2611.46. DOES ANYONE KNOW WHY THIS IS HAPPENING? I’AM USING STUDIO TAX 2011.

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