Turbo Tax to TaxACT switching experience and 2015 update



Background


We have used Turbo Tax Online for tax filing since the 2000 tax year. Our overall experience was satisfactory although we have had minor problems over the years. The first time we felt the need to try out other tax filing software was 2008 when we realized Turbo Tax pricing was increasing at a fast pace over the previous five years. We blogged specifically about the price increases and also did a comparison of the competitive products (TaxACT, H&R Block at Home - previously TaxCut, and Turbo Tax)  at the time. In the last several years, the base pricing for Turbo Tax was kept steady (if you used online promotional offers), although options could substantially increase the outlay. The changes did not materially change our tax filing expenses as we stuck with the following strategy:


  • Used the Deluxe product even-though they kept prompting us to upgrade to the Premium product saying it is the recommended one when you have stock sales.
  • Availed discounted pricing by signing in through clicking-through from the Fidelity web-site.
  • Ensured we filed before March 22nd to avoid the ~50% price increase after that date - Turbo Tax introduced this tacky back-door price increase strategy a few years ago.

  

Reasons for switching for 2014 Tax Filing



Turbo Tax Online introduced a new concept in 2014 whereby the Free, Deluxe, and Premium products support only specific tax forms. In other words, until last year, you really did have a choice of using one of these three options independent of how many or which forms you intended to file. The only difference between the options from a user experience perspective was that, the less expensive the product, the more manual inputs you had to do. In our case, we had stock sales to report but still used the Deluxe product for a savings of $15, even through that meant inputting the stock sales information manually - the Premium product, on the other hand, has the ability to import the stock sales reports from your broker (TD Ameritrade, E*Trade, etc are supported).

The new concept that Turbo Tax introduced this year meant we had no choice but to buy the Premium product, as we had stock sales to report. We also did not like the 50% price increase after March 22nd as it unnecessarily forces you to do the taxes earlier, although the actual IRS dead-line is almost a month out. 




Once we made the decision to switch, it was easy to go with TaxACT online as we had tried the competitive products before: the deluxe product costs just $12.99 compared to $34.99 with Turbo Tax ($34.99 is the lowest price you would pay, assuming you avoided all their gimmicky price tricks - you could end up paying over $100, if you are not careful).

Switching Experience



The overall experience was very smooth and we did our taxes even faster than last year. Also, we like the fact that the interface is very functional while not being extravagant. Below are some observations:

  • Profile Data Import: One of the main deterrents to switching tax software is the need to manually input your information into the new software. This is no longer the case with TaxACT. In our case, it imported our details from the pdf tax file that Turbo Tax generated last year. There was one minor problem, however: after importing (took a while), while inputting some missing info, it timed out and we had to reimport after signing in again.
  • Stock Sales Import: No option to import 1099-B from E*Trade and so we had to input each of our sales individually using their interface. Only TD Ameritrade, Sharebuilder, Form8949.com, and GainsKeeper are supported in the Import interface.  The only other way to import stock sales data is CSV Import - get a CSV of trades from your broker, align columns, and use the Import interface to do it - cumbersome.
  • Other 1099 Forms: For the 1099-DIV, 1099-INT forms, it shows an online form which you have to fill in manually. The process itself was straightforward, but we did get another timeout in this step.
  • Inputting stock transactions manually: If you need to go back and edit an item, you have to go through seven screens. For example, if you need to change the description of a particular stock sale transaction, the first screen lets you edit it but there is no Done button. So, you have to click the Continue button six more times to get through the item - dreary.
  • E-Filing: Using the Direct Debit option, the process was very fast. The return got accepted in less than 2 hours.
  • Capital Gains: Short options positions - if date of selling is 2012, TaxAct doesn’t like it - it goes on to say it is possible that the date can be a previous year for short sales transactions. But, if you plan to use eFiling, IRS will accept only 2013 sales. But, our return was accepted although we had short options positions written last year that got expired - the warnings made it sound like they will not accept the return when filing electronically - confusing.
  • The new FBAR (FinCEN Form 114): TaxACT lets you fill in the forms through an interface, but overall the idea seems pointless. It is only intended for Worksheet purposes. So, you might as well use the BSA (Bank Secrecy Act) efiling  interface from the government, instead of doing it twice. Further it also confuses the issue: you cannot use the pdf generated from TaxACT to electronic file the form in the BSA interface - the TaxACT pdf has a watermark that states “DO NOT FILE”.

Firefox Browser Specific issues with TaxACT online


  • Sometimes, clicking text links will just result in blinking while clicking the associated icon will function correctly - many buttons (example “Sign out”) have this problem - annoying when you do not know what to do.
  • In many screens, one has to browse down repeatedly to choose common options such as the “Continue” button. In such cases, the first time you scroll down, it automatically scrolls backs up. So, do it again and this time you can access the button - annoying!

TaxACT specific quirks


  • Print vs PDF generation options: there is no clear distinction between these two options in the whole interface. Basically to get a pdf, you go to Print at the top of the page.
  • Functionality/Comparison: The pdf of what is filed appears basic compared to what Turbo Tax gives - ours had just 17 pages - so, no wastage of paper - overall a good thing, but I missed the Booksmarks tab. Any form can still be generated/printed using “Print Individual Tax Forms” under Print. But, some of the worksheets are just not available in the list - so, if you want to double check how a particular item was arrived at, you are out of luck - in our case, we had to manually do the Worksheet for 1040 line 44 to figure out how TaxACT arrived at the tax figure for this line.
  • Navigation: In the Review section, there is no real navigation - for each item that TaxACT tags, you have to go through all the screens - if there are many warnings, the process can be painful.
  • Filing Status Awareness: The “Mail a paper return” button is still enabled after you have already filed using Electronic Filing. Also, in the filing tab, both the buttons (electronic & mail) are still enabled even after eFiling. Further, you can click and it will progress as though you have not yet filed.
  • eFiling Status Interface: It is not obvious after signing in that you have already filed. Basically, the screens does not seem to be aware of the filing status. For example, in the ‘My TaxACT’ link, it says “If you have eFiled, then…” - it should know that you have eFiled.
  • eFiling Status Interface: During eFiling, TaxACT shows three options to check status (web, email, SMS). But, it doesn’t say that you can check the status by logging back into TaxACT. Further, the TaxACT interface is not intuitive. As soon as you login in, it should show the filing status. Instead, you have to click on eFile at the top and then click on “Check eFile Status”.
  • Redundancy: TaxACT has a redundant efstatus.taxact.com interface to check the filing status. The Help links show this as the way to check the status. But, this efstatus interface asks for SSN, Zipcode, and lastname to retrieve the status. Instead, you could just click on “Check eFile Status” as in 6 above and avoid having to input the additional information.

Summary


The switch was very worthwhile and far less painful than we had imagined! If you are in the same situation as us, consider also what is available at the Amazon.com Tax Preparation Software area. The options there are suitable in case you prefer client software as opposed to online interface.

2015 Taxes - Update

TaxACT has become more expensive this year. Basically, they have also gone the route of charging more depending on the tax forms. Checked out TurboTax and others and most are a lot more expensive than TaxACT. Finally, decided to check-out the IRS Free File option. Our AGI is well below $62K this year and so they offer a number of Free File options. Chose TaxACT, but using our 2014 username did not work as the interface did not allow "Free File" using an existing user name.  So, created a new account from the Free File link and that worked. Also, the interface allowed importing from our last year’s TaxACT account.

Some things to note compared to last year:

  1. Username can no longer be the email address. Also, passwords are required to be more stringent (8+ characters, at-least one capital, one number, and one special character, etc.).
  2. One time, it asked to Sign Out as the servers are shutting down for maintenance - really annoying.  Trying to sign in again caused “our system is temporarily unavailable for maintenance on our servers” message.  It did not provide an ETA either - just said to try again later. Thankfully, the system was back online a few hours later.
  3. Tax Act supposedly increased security by asking for a Verification Code with “Don’t ask again on this computer” checkbox each time you login from a different computer. But, for us, even after checking the check box, it asked for the Verification Code repeatedly. Apparently, the interface uses the IP address to determine whether it is a different computer and our ISP plan does not guarantee static IP address and hence the problem.
  4. Going back to make corrections is cumbersome: a) had to browse through several pages to update certain columns in 1099-MISC forms, and b) For Health Insurance Coverage, had inputted that we qualify for exemption as we reside outside US. But during renewal, had to go through that again as the ‘Continue’ button was not enabled. 
  5. The Print and eFiling interfaces have become more intuitive this year. 

Related Posts:

  1. Turbo Tax to TaxACT switching experience - 2014 Tax Filing
  2. 2013 Tax Filing - TurboTax Usage Experience
  3. Turbo Tax Online Price Increase Over The Years - A Comparison.
  4. Online Tax Filing – TaxAct, TaxCut, Turbo Tax – User Experience Review.


Last Updated: 04/2016.




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Below is a spreadsheet that highlights the changes to Michael Price's MFP Investors US long stock portfolio as of Q4 2013:



 To learn more about how to profit from a strategy of cloning hedge fund picks, check out our book Profiting from Hedge Funds: Winning Strategies for the Little Guy.

Tracking Edward Lampert's RBS Partners Portfolio - Q4 2013 Update

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Tracking Ken Fisher's Fisher Asset Management Portfolio - Q4 2013 Update

Below is a spreadsheet that highlights the changes to Ken Fisher's Fisher Asset Management US long stock portfolio as of Q4 2013:



The firm was founded in 1979 by Ken's father Philip A. Fisher. To know more about his pioneering thoughts on growth investing, check-out the investment classic "Common Stocks and Uncommon Profits". Ken has written ten other books mainly aimed at coaching individual investors.

To learn more about how to profit from a strategy of cloning hedge fund picks, check out our book Profiting from Hedge Funds: Winning Strategies for the Little Guy


Tracking Jim Chanos' Kynikos Portfolio - Q4 2013 Update

Below is a spreadsheet that highlights the changes to Jim Chanos' Kynikos US long stock portfolio as of Q4 2013:



As Kynikos is focused on short-selling, his long positions covered in the 13F are probably hedged. Jim Chanos is a well known short-seller (Enron fame) who has successfully shorted stocks since his firm's inception in 1985. His strategy is primarily based on uncovering failings of businesses that are not yet in the public domain. For an introduction to short-selling, check-out the book "Short Stories from the Stock Market: Uncovering Common Themes Behind Falling Stocks to Find Uncommon Short Ideas".

To learn more about how to profit from a strategy of cloning hedge fund picks, check out our book Profiting from Hedge Funds: Winning Strategies for the Little Guy.  


Tracking Dinakar Singh's TPG-Axon Portfolio - Q4 2013 Update

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To learn more about how to profit from a strategy of cloning hedge fund picks, check out our book Profiting from Hedge Funds: Winning Strategies for the Little Guy



Tracking Mark McGoldrick & Jason Maynard's Mount Kellett Capital Management Portfolio - Q4 2013 Update

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Tracking Thomas Gayner's Markel Portfolio - Q4 2013 Update

Below is a spreadsheet that highlights the changes to Thomas Gayner's Markel Corporation US long stock portfolio as of Q4 2013:



To learn more about how to profit from a strategy of cloning hedge fund picks, check out our book Profiting from Hedge Funds: Winning Strategies for the Little Guy

Tracking Wallace Weitz's Weitz Investment Managent Holdings - Q4 2013 Update

Below is a spreadsheet that highlights the changes to Wallace R. Weitz's Weitz Investment Management US long stock portfolio as of Q4 2013:



To know more about Weitz's bottom-up value investing philosophy, check-out the book "Value Investing: From Graham to Buffett and Beyond". To learn more about how to profit from a strategy of cloning hedge fund picks, check out our book Profiting from Hedge Funds: Winning Strategies for the Little Guy.

Tracking Donald Yacktman's Yacktman Asset Management Portfolio - Q4 2013 Update

Below is a spreadsheet that highlights the changes to Donald Yacktman's Yacktman Asset Management US long stock portfolio as of Q4 2013:



To know more about Yacktman's bottom-up value investing philosophy, check-out the book "Value Investing: From Graham to Buffett and Beyond". To learn more about how to profit from a strategy of cloning hedge fund picks, check out our book Profiting from Hedge Funds: Winning Strategies for the Little Guy.

Tracking Larry Robbins' Glenview Capital Holdings - Q4 2013 Update

Below is a spreadsheet that highlights the changes to Larry Robbins' Glenview Capital US long stock portfolio as of Q4 2013:






To learn more about how to profit from a strategy of cloning hedge fund picks, check out our book Profiting from Hedge Funds: Winning Strategies for the Little Guy.

Tracking Ole Andreas Halvorsen's Viking Global Portfolio - Q4 2013 Update

Below is a spreadsheet that highlights the changes to Ole Andreas Halvorsen's Viking Global US long stock portfolio as of Q4 2013:



Viking Global was established in 1999 and Ole Andreas Halvorsen is considered one of the most successful among the "tiger cubs" and he currently manages over $25B. To know more about Julian Robertson and his legendary Tiger Management, check out Julian Robertson: A Tiger in the Land of Bulls and Bears. To learn more about how to profit from a strategy of cloning hedge fund picks, check out our book Profiting from Hedge Funds: Winning Strategies for the Little Guy.

 

Tracking Tweedy Browne Portfolio - Q4 2013 Update

Below is a spreadsheet that highlights the changes to Tweedy Browne's US long stock portfolio as of Q4 2013:

 

Since inception in 1993, the Global Value Fund (currency hedged) has an alpha of 4.47% against MSCI EAFE - 10.36% vs 5.89% annualized. To learn more about Tweedy Browne and its legendary investor Christopher H. Browne's (1946-2009) investing philosophy, check-out his book "The Little Book of Value Investing". To learn more about how to profit from a strategy of cloning hedge fund picks, check out our book Profiting from Hedge Funds: Winning Strategies for the Little Guy.

Tracking Robert & Jeffrey Bruce's Bruce Fund Holdings - Q4 2013 Update

Below is a spreadsheet that highlights the changes to Robert & Jeffrey Bruce's Bruce Fund US long stock portfolio as of Q4 2013:






To learn more about how to profit from a strategy of cloning hedge fund picks, check out our book Profiting from Hedge Funds: Winning Strategies for the Little Guy.

Tracking Eric Mindich's Eton Park Capital Holdings - Q4 2013 Update

Below is a spreadsheet that highlights the changes to Eric Mindich's Eton Park Capital US long stock portfolio as of Q4 2013:






Major activity in the quarter include large stake increases in eBay (EBAY) & Marathon Petroleum (MPC) and the elimination of a huge 13.09% position in Liberty Global (LBTYA)(LBTYK). Also, a 13.39% new stake in Twenty First Century Fox (FOXA) was reduced to a 3.28% position this quarter.



To learn more about how to profit from a strategy of cloning hedge fund picks, check out our book Profiting from Hedge Funds: Winning Strategies for the Little Guy.



Tracking Irving Kahn's Kahn Brother Group Portfolio - Q4 2013 Update

Below is a spreadsheet that highlights the changes to Irving Kahn's Kahn Brothers Group US long stock portfolio as of Q4 2013:


 The portfolio decreased from $696M to $581M this quarter as most of the positions were trimmed. Other significant activity in the quarter include a 2.61% stake establishment in Sterling Bancorp (STL) and stake increases in BP plc (BP) and Trinity Place Holdings (TPHS).

Irving Kahn is a disciple of Benjamin Graham and is the author of "Benjamin Graham The Father of Financial Analysis". At 108 years old, he is by far the oldest protégé and is one of the closest followers of the original teachings of Benjamin Graham.

To learn more about how to profit from a strategy of cloning hedge fund picks, check out our book Profiting from Hedge Funds: Winning Strategies for the Little Guy.

Tracking John Griffin's Blue Ridge Capital Holdings - Q4 2013 Update

Below is a spreadsheet that highlights the changes to John Griffin's Blue Ridge Capital US long stock portfolio as of Q4 2013:






The 13F portfolio increased from around $8.4B to over $9.7B this quarter. Major activity in the quarter include:


  • Large stake increases in Endo Health (ENDP), Charter Communication (CHTR), and Avis Budget (CAR)
  • Fairly large new stake establishments in Actavis plc (ACT) and Marathon Petroleum (MPC)
  • A 25% stake reduction in Priceline (PCLN)
John Griffin is a "tiger cub" who posted an outstanding 65% return in 2007. This was followed up with an 8% loss during the financial crisis. To know more about Julian Robertson and his legendary Tiger Management, check out Julian Robertson: A Tiger in the Land of Bulls and Bears. To learn more about how to profit from a strategy of cloning hedge fund picks, check out our book Profiting from Hedge Funds: Winning Strategies for the Little Guy.

Tracking Dan Loeb's Third Point Portfolio - Q4 2013 Update

Below is a spreadsheet that highlights the changes to Dan Loeb's Third Point LLC's US long stock portfolio as of Q4 2013:



Third Point's US long portfolio increased over 40% this quarter from $4.09B to $5.80B. Yahoo (YHOO), the largest stake by far was reduced by another 50% this quarter after a huge stake reduction last quarter. The remaining stake still represents well over 5% of the portfolio. Other major activity in the quarter include substantial stake establishments in Dow Chemical (DOW) and T-Mobile USA (TMUS). CF Industries (CF), a 4.49% position established earlier this year was eliminated this quarter as well.

To know more about Dan Loeb's Third Point, check-out his letters to shareholders at their site. His activist investing style that is epitomized by scathing letters to CEOs is covered in "Chapter 7: The Poison Pen: Dan Loeb, Third Point" in the book "The Alpha Masters: Unlocking the genius of the world's top hedge funds". To learn more about how to profit from a strategy of cloning hedge fund picks, check out our book Profiting from Hedge Funds: Winning Strategies for the Little Guy.

Tracking Thyra Zerhusen's Fairpointe Portfolio - Q4 2013 Update

Below is a spreadsheet that highlights the changes to Thyra Zerhusen's Fairpointe Capital US long stock portfolio as of Q4 2013:



Major activity in the quarter include substantial stake increases in her largest positions: Juniper Networks (JNPR) and Akamai (AKAM). A large 3.09% position in Molex (MOLX) was eliminated as well.

To learn more about how to profit from a strategy of cloning hedge fund picks, check out our book Profiting from Hedge Funds: Winning Strategies for the Little Guy.

Tracking Chase Coleman's Tiger Global Holdings - Q4 2013 Update

Below is a spreadsheet that highlights the changes to Chase Coleman's Tiger Global US long stock portfolio as of Q4 2013:



The 13F portfolio increased from around $6B to over $8B this quarter. Major activity in the quarter include:

  • Large stake increases in Priceline (PCLN), Twenty First Century Fox (FOXA), and Dollar General (DG)
  • ~1.5% of the US long portfolio new positions in Restoration Hardware (RH), TripAdvisor (TRIP), and Vipshop (VIPS)
  • Significant stake reductions in Liberty Media (LMCA), Stratasys (SSYS), Visa (V), and Groupon (GRPN)
Chase Coleman is a "tiger cub" who is best known for a stunning 44% annualized return during the period through 2007 since inception in 2001. Tiger Global lost 26% in 2008 and had an anemic 1% return in 2009. The last three years showed the following returns: 45%, 23%, and 14% for 2011 to 2013.

To know more about Julian Robertson and his legendary Tiger Management, check out Julian Robertson: A Tiger in the Land of Bulls and Bears. To learn more about how to profit from a strategy of cloning hedge fund picks, check out our book Profiting from Hedge Funds: Winning Strategies for the Little Guy.

Tracking Philippe Laffont's Coatue Management Holdings - Q4 2013 Update

Below is a spreadsheet that highlights the changes to Philippe Laffont's Coatue Management US long stock portfolio as of Q4 2013:






The 13F portfolio increased from $9.8B to $10.2B this quarter. Equinix (EQIX), the largest position as of last quarter at 8.37% was eliminated this quarter. Other activity in the quarter include:


  • Large stake increases in Amazon (AMZN), Apple (AAPL), and Baidu (BIDU)
  • A 1.49% of the US long portfolio new position in Pandora Media (P)
  • Stake elimination of ~1.5% positions in Red Hat (RHAT) and Intuitive Surgical (ISRG)
Philippe Laffont is one of the most successful among the "tiger cubs". To know more about Julian Robertson and his legendary Tiger Management, check out Julian Robertson: A Tiger in the Land of Bulls and Bears. To learn more about how to profit from a strategy of cloning hedge fund picks, check out our book Profiting from Hedge Funds: Winning Strategies for the Little Guy.

 


Berkshire Hathaway 2013 Annual Report - Notes

The Book Value (BV) of Berkshire Hathaway per 2013 AR (released 3/1/2014) is $134,973 per BRK.A share or $89.98 per BRK.B share. The stock currently trades at $115.78 or 128.67% of BV. Buffett’s repurchase criteria is 120% of BV or $107.98. The premium to book value has narrowed as the stock has not moved in the last nine months - also in January, the stock traded near Buffett's repurchase criteria. Net earnings at $11,850 per BRK.A share for a ttm-PE of 14.66. It is down from 16.93 this time last year.

Historical BV Growth: 18.2% vs 32.4% for S&P500 with dividends. CAGR 1965-2013 at 19.7% vs 9.8% for S&P500.

Earnings: $11,850 in 2013 vs $8,977 in 2012 and $6,215 in 2011 per BRK.A share.  32% YOY increase compared to 44% last year. The stunning increases in the last two years were due to the impressive cash generation of its operating entities. It was also helped by realized investment gains of $2.64B in 2013 and $1.35B in 2012. In 2011, they had $316M in losses.  PE is 14.66 including investment gains - at this time last year, PE was at 16.93.  Roughly a third of Berkshire earnings are realized gains historically and so the last few years have shown a divergence on that count. 

Intrinsic Business Value:  The two quantitative components of value:
  1. Per-share investments grew 13.6% to $129,253. This is compared to a 19.3% CAGR since 1970 and 6.6% in the 2000-2010 time period, and 
  2. Pre-tax earnings from businesses other than insurance and investments increased 12.8% to $9,116 per share. This is compared to a 20.6% CAGR since 1970 and 20.5% in the 2000-2010 time period.
The third is a measure of the efficacy with which retained earnings will be deployed in the future - the subjective component.
 
Co-Managers: Todd Combs and Ted Weschler invest $7B each and they outperformed Buffett.

Long-term economic goal: maximize average rate of gain in intrinsic business value on a per share basis. Preference is to own a diversified group of businesses with consistent above-average ROC and second choice is to own parts of such businesses.

Look-through earnings relevance: “Undistributed earnings of our investees, in aggregate, have been fully as beneficial to Berkshire as if they had been distributed to us”. So,
  1. It is preferable to purchase $2 of earnings that are not reportable rather than $1 or reportable earnings for the same acquisition cost, and
  2. Look-through earnings realistically portray yearly gain from operations.
Use of leverage: “We use debt sparingly and, when we do borrow, we attempt to structure our loans on a long-term fixed-rate basis”

Selling businesses: No interest in selling good businesses Berkshire owns. Sub-par businesses are also not sold as long as they are able to generate at-least some cash and managers/labor relations are good. Capex decisions for the latter are made in a much more cautious fashion compared to the former - it is unlikely that sub-par businesses will see increased profitability with increased spending.

BV growth vs S&P 500 Performance Comparison: While this comparison is shown in the first page of the Annual Letter, it has become less meaningful over time. The reasoning has to do with how Berkshire’s business structure has evolved: equity holdings tend to move with S&P 500 and that is now a much smaller portion of overall value. Also S&P 500 gains are reported at 100% while Berkshire’s realized gains get reported at 65% because of taxes.

Also, there is another major shortcoming with this comparison: The carrying value of the businesses that are controlled by Berkshire is much more than their carrying value and so the BV far understates Berkshire’s Intrinsic Value. But, IV by definition (discounted value of cash that can be taken out during the remaining lifetime) is an estimate and so is not quoted in any of the releases.

Below is a YoY comparison of Berkshire Hathaway's largest equity investments:


ConocoPhillips (COP) and POSCO are not in the list as they no longer are among his largest investments - not because they have been completely sold out - see our Q4 2013 13F update for details on the current holdings in COP. 

Below is a comparison of Berkshire Hathaway's asset distribution in the "Insurance & Other" area for the last five years: 


The equity exposure at almost 58% is the largest in the last five years. So, it is apparent that Buffett is not that concerned about valuation of his holdings despite the rapid increase. 

Warren Buffett's writings (pdfs) are a treasure trove of information and are a very good option for anyone starting out on individual investing. To learn more about how to profit from a strategy of cloning super-investors, check out our book Profiting from Hedge Funds: Winning Strategies for the Little Guy.

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