Anyone who is self employed will say that accounting is the bane of their life. Self assessment is an annual chore which involves completing an online or paper tax return in order to tell HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) about your income and capital gains (profits on the sale of certain assets), or to claim tax allowances or reliefs against your tax bill. HMRC then uses the figures on the tax return to work out your tax bill, or you can work it out yourself. This is all fine, except the fact that the actual process of number crunching is beyond the patience of most of us. And then there are different types of tax return and different ‘supplementary pages’ you may need to complete depending on your circumstances. There are also deadlines for sending your tax return in – and penalties and interest charges if it arrives late. It’s all a nightmare!

If you are lucky/unlucky (delete as appropriate) enough to be employed and pay tax on your earnings or pensions through PAYE (Pay As You Earn), your employer or pension provider deducts tax on HMRC’s behalf and you won’t usually need to complete a tax return. In other words, you are kept oblivious to the inner workings of your tax deductions. But if you have more complicated tax affairs – like running a business on the side – you may need to complete a tax return. There are also certain circumstances in which you will always need to complete a tax return – for example if you’re self-employed, a company director or a trustee or if you have foreign income.

TaxCalc is one of the UK’s leading Self Assessment tax software applications – and with good reason. Designed to make light work of preparing your personal tax return, the TaxCalc Personal range of products bridge the gap between you (the taxpayer) and HMRC forms. Not only does TaxCalc make completing your self assessment tax return a lot easier, it gives you a better oversight of your tax affairs, and calculates your tax liability or rebates as you make your way through the program.

There are TaxCalc products for all major returns: the SA100 for individuals, SA800 for partnerships, SA900 for Trusts, CT600 for companies as well as the R40 repayment form. TaxCalc 2009 Personal 6 (£28.95) reviewed here contains six Personal Tax Returns (SA100) and all the supplementary pages including self-employment, foreign, land and property, capital gains and non-residence, making it perfect for individuals.

New features
In addition to numerous small improvements and updates required because of HMRC changes, Acorah software has added a few new features to TaxCalc 2009 Personal 6 which make the software even easier to use. If you have a question, one way you can now get help is by sending an anonymous version of your tax return directly to the support team without having to use e-mail. TaxCalc can do this for you directly from the program using a secure encrypted connection.

Multiple rows can be sorted by clicking on the heading of the appropriate column so you can, for example, sort your bank accounts into alphabetical order. Where there are repetitive entries, the new ‘auto-complete’ function assists you when adding further entries. Lastly, TaxCalc automatically populates the Memorandum report with information about capital and trading losses carried forward.

Ease of use
TaxCalc’s simplicity is largely due to its unique method of entering your information. Thanks to a process called SimpleStep, the software guides you through the data that you will need to input to complete the self-assessment tax return. Alternatively, you can enter your data directly onto HMRC ‘identical forms’. Once complete, you can then either file online or print a paper copy of your HMRC form and post it. TaxCalc’s Secure Online Filing using the official HMRC gateway and also confirms that the return has been received by HMRC.

The ‘My Returns’ screen is the start point for Personal, Partnership and Business users. From this screen you can import files from TaxCalc 2008 (useful for static data, such as contact details and tax references) and create or edit existing 2009 tax return files. You can choose which type of tax return you need to work with, and if your licence does not include that type of return then you will be prompted to upgrade. There are two ways to enter information in TaxCalc and you can switch between the two methods at any time using the Mode Chooser.

SimpleStep is designed to remove the anxiety out of completing the tax return and hides all the complex forms and calculation behind a user-friendly interface. Simply enter the information requested and you are only presented with questions that are relevant to you. You do not need to worry about which HMRC forms you require, or the calculations, as TaxCalc takes care of all of that for you. Forms Mode enables you to complete the tax return directly. However, it does not have all the advantages of SimpleStep. For example, in Forms mode you need to attach computations of each disposal for capital gains tax in 2009. However, SimpleStep automatically creates these and attaches them to your tax return as you enter data.

A neat usability touch is that as you work through a return, you will find that TaxCalc changes the colour of some boxes that you can enter information into. For example, a white box is an ordinary box that you can enter information, whereas a pink box means there is an error in this box. You can find out what is wrong by holding the mouse cursor over it and reading the pop-up text that appears.

You’ll also find wizards everywhere in TaxCalc, which are used, for example, to list individual amounts which are totalled up and put onto the tax return, as well as take information from you and perform any number of difficult calculations. TaxCalc lets you compare 2008/09 data with 2007/08, assuming you used the software last year. Hovering your mouse over a comparison icon next to each tax return box displays last year’s value and shows the variance between them. You can drill down by clicking a Notepad icon next to it, which is perfect for catching potential omissions or errors.

Accounting isn’t fun at the best of times, but TaxCalc makes light work of filing SA100 individual returns. Having said that you’ll still need to have a solid understanding of core accountancy terms such as capital allowances, net business profit and losses, in order to prepare a self-assessment form correctly. The software’s Help system does a good job of explaining this gobbledegook, but it does not shelter you entirely. The only criticism is that personal and business versions of TaxCalc 2009 restrict the number of tax returns you can prepare to just six (either SA100 individual returns or R40 Repayment forms). If that’s not a problem, TaxCalc 2009 Personal 6 is just the ticket for individuals wanting to cut down on expensive accountancy fees and missed filing deadlines.