Which tax filing software is right for you?
It's tax season. You have until April 17, 2018 to file your tax return. If you can't afford or don't want to hire an accountant to do the heavy lifting, you still don't have to do it all yourself. There are several different programs on the market that will make filing your taxes a breeze. This list breaks down the pros and cons of each one.
Best all around: TurboTax
TurboTax is probably the most widely recognized tax filing program. This is an application you download to your computer for offline use. It has five pricing levels from free for basic filers to self-employed. There is also the TurboTaxLive level for $170 which gives you a tax professional who will look over your return before filing. State taxes cost an additional $39 per filing.
TurboTax has been on the market for several years and is therefore the most robust. The user interface is clean and simple. To file, you answer a series of questions. It feels more like talking to a real human than a computer. While its pricing might be more heft than others on the market, you do get excellent service and support. As a veteran in this market, you certainly can't go wrong with TurboTax.
Best for additional support: H&R Block
H&R Block is TurboTax's most direct competition. The prices on this program are slightly lower, but you'll still get the same basic functionality. There are four pricing tiers here that cover basic filers for free and goes all the way up to include self-employment income. State tax filings cost an extra $37 per state. H&R Block is also a program that you download to your computer.
It's just as easy to use. You answer a series of questions regarding your finances and life situation. This process will maximize your deductions. Throughout the process, the app will also periodically check in with you and make sure you're feeling confident about what you're doing. Because H&R Block has many brick and mortar locations, you also have the option of walking into any of them for help during the process. This is a newer program but still just as solid. It's a perfect option if you like having the option to talk to someone in person if you need it.
Best for business: TaxAct
TaxAct is a much newer program, but still offers all the options that you'll get from the previous and more. It also offers options for not-for-profit corporations and even professional tax preparers. If you've used TaxAct in previous years, you can quickly and easily import your data too. That's a perk you'll probably get to cash in on next year.
The key difference here is that TaxAct is an online-only application. You don't need to download anything to your computer. And the browser-based interface lets you use it on almost any device, though you can download mobile apps if you prefer. The user interface for this program is a lot much simpler and stark compared to the others, but it gets the job done. You can even snap a picture of your W-2 and have the program take out the relevant information for you. TaxAct is a bare bones app that will get the job done. Its wide range of pricing tiers might even give you a better deal than its competitors.
Best on a budget: IRS Free File
Not many people know that you don't have to actually pay anyone to file your taxes. The IRS provides its own tax prep software for free. All you have to do is go to their website. However, you can only use it if you make under $66,000 in income. It's geared toward lower income Americans, but it will get the job done without incurring any extra cost. You can also file for free with your favorite commercial software if you prefer.
You also get access to free state tax returns. No need to pay extra to file those either. Another drawback is that it may not be as friendly to use as the commercial options. You'll need a little extra help if you're completely unfamiliar with the process. But if you qualify and just don't want to or have the extra money to buy software, IRS Free File is a good resource.
- Best Tax Software 2018 - NerdWallet ›
- The Best Tax Software of 2018 | PCMag.com ›
- Best Tax Software for 2018 - The Simple Dollar ›
- Which Tax Software Is Best for You? ›
- The Best Tax Software: Reviews by Wirecutter | A New York Times ... ›
- TaxACT vs TurboTax vs H&R Block - Best Tax Preparation Software? ›
Looking for a job? In addition to encountering those annoying never-ending job interviews you may find yourself face-to-face with an artificial intelligence bot.
Companies worldwide increasingly use artificial intelligence tools and analytics in employment decision-making – from parsing through resumes and screening candidates to automated assessments and digital interviews. But recent studies claim that AI does more harm than good.
While AI screening tools were developed to save companies time and money, they’ve been criticized for placing women and people of color at a disadvantage. The problem is that many companies lack appreciable diversity in their data set, making it impossible for an algorithm to know how people from underrepresented groups have performed in the past. As a result, the algorithm will be biased toward the data available and compare future candidates to that archetype.
The City’s Automated Employment Decision Tools (AEDT) law is designed to offset the potential misuse of AI and protect job candidates against discrimination. It was enforced on July 5th, 2023 in New York City - with other cities and states expected to gradually follow suit. Employers must now inform applicants when and how they encounter AI. Furthermore, companies have to commission a third-party audit of the AI software used, and publish a summary of the results to prove that their systems aren’t racist or sexist. Job applicants are able to request information regarding what data is collected and analyzed by the AI. Violations of the law can result in fines of up to $1,500.
Replacing Human Hiring Decisions
However, should a job applicant want to opt-out of such impersonal judgement by a bot, the new law's scope is quite limited.
While the law specifies that instructions for requesting an alternative selection process must be included in the AI screening disclosure, companies aren't actually required to use other screening methods. Not to mention that the law only applies to AI in hiring and not any other employment decisions. It also wouldn't apply if the AI, for example, flags candidates with relevant experience, but a human then reviews all applications, making the ultimate hiring decision.
Some civil rights advocates and public interest groups argue that the law isn’t extensive enough and that it’s even unenforceable. On the other hand, businesses say that it’s impractical, costly, and burdensome, and that independent audits aren’t feasible.
Responsible use of AI in hiring
Although this law may be a good first attempt to assign more regulatory guardrails around AI, it remains to be seen if it ensures the responsible use of AI in hiring processes. At the end of the day, perhaps recruiting talent should remain a human-made decision.
The good news is that AI can help companies without harming potential job candidates in many ways – such as connecting new employees with internal organizational information and company benefits during onboarding. Or helping employees to do their jobs more effectively rather than replacing them.
There’s all this talk about solo travel. And for good reason — no wasting precious time waiting for others to get their act together, take the plans out of the group chat and actually buy the tickets. Going solo, you can be spontaneous. You can plan your trips according to your precise tastes. You can hop on any flight and fly awayyyyyy.
But what if each time you flew you’d get a free ticket? That’s what you get with the Southwest Companion Pass.
Award status, upgrades, lounge access — there are many perks in the frequent flier game. But one of the coveted holy grails is the Southwest Companion Pass.
What is the Southwest Companion Pass?
The Companion Pass is part of Southwest’s Rapid Rewards program. You get to choose one person to be your “companion,” and they fly with you for free (plus some taxes and fees) on every flight. That’s right. Two for the price of one. That’s half off each ticket if you split it! Whether you’re flying with a partner, family member, friend, or anyone else, they can tag along for free.
And it gets better: once you earn the pass, you can reap the rewards for that full calendar year … AND the next. That’s why people go mad trying to earn a companion pass during the early months of the year. The sooner you qualify, the longer you can use it.
There are also no blackout dates. There are no limits. And if you didn’t purchase the ticket (think: work travel, your companion, or a generous benefactor), there are no restrictions! As long as you’re the one on the plane, your companion can also … be on the plane.
You can also switch out your designated companion 3x a year. So, no need to stay in a relationship simply to get the most out of your companion pass! Ghost and fly away — with a whole new companion!
If this sounds too good to be true — it’s not. But there is one small catch. It’s kinda tough to earn this mega reward.
How to qualify for the Southwest Companion Pass?
You can qualify for the pass in one of two ways:
- Fly 100 qualifying one-way flights
- Earn 135,000 qualifying points in a calendar year.
Clearly, this is no small feat — especially if you’re trying to qualify ASAP.
So how do you actually earn the Southwest Companion Pass?
Don’t worry, there’s a path to earning this amazing reward without climbing on 100 flights or spending an exorbitant amount of money.
Earning 135K reward points may seem completely impossible, but it’s easier than it sounds. Simply sign up for a Southwest Credit Card and turn those spending habits into a rapid rewards account. Through the Rewards Priority Credit Card, earn points when using local transit and commuting, plus score major points and miles whenever you spend.
Stay with me here. This is not some scheme to get you into credit card debt. Many airline cards come with potential savings, giantic rewards, awarding you points, and cashback with every purchase you make that can be redeemed for travel. And often they can come with passive sign-up bonuses. If you spend a specific amount of money within a certain timeframe of opening the card, you can be in for a windfall of points.
Now that’s where the companion pass comes in:
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card
- Southwest Priority Credit Card
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business Credit Card
- Southwest Performance Business Credit Card
Southwest has three personal cards and a business card. Each of these cards offers rewards between 30K-80K points. In the past, people could open two cards and get a bonus that granted enough points to almost meet the minimum. However, with new restrictions on personal cards, you can only get one bonus every 24 months. Boo!
However, this doesn’t apply to business cards. If you’re eligible, have good credit, and not likely to spiral into insane credit card debt, you can open a business card and a personal card, and accrue 100K+ points. The Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card will get you points after you spend money in no time.
Now to earn the rest of them.
The secret to gaining these credit card points is to plan your card sign-ups around big purchases. Just before a recent move, I opened a card . . . and the rewards came rolling in — a small balm to ease the pain of how exorbitant moving can be.
Put everyday spend — especially big purchases or bulk items — on your Southwest credit card and watch your award points quickly add up. Typically, you earn 1 point per $1 spent on your Southwest card and 2 points per $1 on actual Southwest purchases.
But there are other ways to earn points, including:
- Flying Southwest: Booking travel on Southwest earns more points. The cost of this travel will be worth it with your companion pass
- Shopping from Rapid Rewards Partners: Purchases with Southwest’s “Home & Lifestyle” and “Shop and Dine” Partners also earn Companion Pass qualifying points. While you shouldn’t make gratuitous purchases, browse Southwest’s partners to see if you could earn extra points for items you'd be purchasing anyway. All this, simply from enrolling in their Dining Program and shopping with their partners.
So there you have it! And since it’s almost Spring, get to earning and soon you’ll be flying two for the price of one!