Concerning H&R Block At Home Business Tax Prep Software

In keeping with my blog’s theme,  the following post is a public complaint about a software package and a bit of rant therapy.  In the past I have found that (mostly) well written public complaints can cause a reaction from a vendor.  Not always, but enough to warrant an effort to make a difference.  And, I feel better when I write about it!

I’ve been using the H&R Block At Home software for personal tax prep for about five years.  While the UI is pretty clunky (something I can sympathize with considering our Harpoon 3 software), the net result has been pretty effective preparation of my tax return.

I’ve had issues with the software and with their support especially during March and April when they are clearly overwhelmed with requests and using a large part time work force on the IT side (regardless of the spin put on by recent TV ads).

Last year our simulation software firm’s overall complexity was such that I wanted to try to roll my own 1120S.  Given the amount of time I usually had to put into prepping the return for our wonderful CPA, I thought it may save me several hundred dollars and expedite the date things were done.

I had some issues with the software last year – for example information in the 1120S not being transferred to the simple Texas Franchise Tax or Public Information Report.  This year is a whole new story.

I purchased the software in December and for valid reasons it really couldn’t be used as Congress was still polishing off the law and H&R needed some time to finish the forms.  However, I figured I’d at least import my 2011 information.  No joy.  Seems you have to have the 2011 software installed for the 2012 version to read the taxes.  And, as I later found out, you have to UNINSTALL 2012 before INSTALLING 2011?  How about the fact that the 2012 provided by Amazon actually was so screwed up that H&R Block sent me a new download link?

After restoring some backups I had several 2011 data files to choose from.  Did you know each time you open and convert a prior year’s files, the company name tag appears in the File Open dialog and stays?  There is no mouse over with a date or path to differentiate between the different files.  Nor is there a way to DELETE any of the entries once you’ve opened them.

After some digging I was able to import the correct return but frankly, all it imported was the company name address and TaxPayer ID.  Nothing else.  Really?

I waited till early February, executed the software update, and proceeded to enter the few forms that constitute our 1120S return and K-1’s.  Then I went to enter our Texas forms.

Again, no data was transferred from the 1120S.  I re-entered our contact information and tried to re-enter the exact same ownership information from last year’s return.  Turns out there was a bug with that form and it wouldn’t allow me to enter the data.  So I saved the return and waited another week.  I opened the software, executed an update, and began to knock around the UI trying to get a data entry form to open for our Public Information Request.  I entered that data and wanted to review my overall forms as PDF.

First problem was that the PDF print function produced 18 pt garbage.  The second problem was that there was no 1120S data.  NONE.

I executed a check of the other files – nothing there.  I contacted H&R Block Support via Chat and the tech was unable to help me other than to escalate my issue to Level 2 support.  I kept asking here if she could give me the file path then my Carbonite software might have made a backup of the files and at least I could do a restore.  She couldn’t.

Being an old time MS DOS dinosaur, I did some digging and discovered that the software no longer uses file extensions “.Txx” where xx was the year.  They now use MS Access MDB style files that are, of course, password protected.  There appears to be one per tax return.  They are also located in the Program directory where nothing short of a disk image will back them up on my system.  This is because I partition all of my systems to keep the OS and the data separate.

So, I am now faced with redoing my taxes as I have little faith that Level 2 support is going to help me.  I did execute a disk image about a week ago and I will retrieve that disk from my day job office today.  I’ll see what Acronis put on there, I may get lucky.  If I do I’ll have to execute individual backup commands with each save, submit and switch to Turbotax next year.

If I happened to backup before I did the partial return, then I’m going to return the product to Amazon, buy both TurboTax packages, print out this blog entry and mail it to H&R Block’s President.

I really understand how hard it is to maintain high impact software and keep up with the current technology.  Our Harpoon products were originally released in 1989 and 1994.  The older Harpoon/Classic/Commander’s Edition has been converted to Windows and maintained by exceptionally dedicated and caring customers.  Our Harpoon II/3 product is 2 million lines of C++ code w/o a lick of documentation (due to two publishers going bankrupt and a scorched earth policy).  A trio of brilliant programmers have kept the software running, improved the simulation results and even added some really cool military grade features.  Yet, we needed six figures to update the UI and a sizable chunk of a million bucks to further update the software (not even a total re-write). We never could come up with the business model to provide a return on that investment.  How is this relevant to H&R Block?  This leads me to believe that H&R Block considers the software a cash cow and sees no value in re-capitalizing it.

So is it better to use a product from a tax firm or product from a software firm?

Well readers, I’m darn near certain that I’ll be trying out both the Personal and Business editions of Turbo Tax this season.  Stay tuned.



One Response to Concerning H&R Block At Home Business Tax Prep Software

  1. Odd Ball says:

    I had the same problem as you did. You can read my complaints where you left yours. For the business software data files, I think they’re actually under MyDocuments under H&R Block business folder as an atx file. It looks like that this database file is actually reused year to year if you import. So if the latest program corrupts it, then it may be difficult to recover your older returns. I have been backing up my previous returns every year but to be read, you need to transfer them back to the MyDocuments location it seems. It also seems that the programmers writing the personal tax software and the ones writing the business software are two different groups. I assume that because the personal software is actually pretty serviceable while the business one is different in style and can be termed not user friendly, even when it works. That’s why it takes me about two weeks to do the business return, just because I’m actually reading through and double checking all entries with the 1120s instructions. At that point, I might as well just download the PDF forms from the IRS website and fill them out. I did switch to another software, Taxact, and although it has its own quirks, it has business and personal efile, and most importantly, it hasn’t crashed yet, knock on wood.

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