I must love doing my taxes. This is the second time I’ve done them this year. My first tax attempt involved UFile Standard 2007, which I reviewed (and didn’t like to be honest). Since trying UFile, I’ve had a number of readers suggest I try StudioTax 2007. From what I can tell, the company behind StudioTax (called BHOK IT Consulting) is a tiny little shop of two developers located in Ottawa Ontario. Since StudioTax is free to download and use, I thought I should give StudioTax a spin.

StudioTax Details:

  • Windows-based
  • Fully Bilingual
  • Available free of charge (they accept contributions!)
  • Personal use only
  • Offers a maximum of 20 returns (this is a CRA requirement to limit 20 returns)
  • Created for Canadians by Canadians
  • Very likely to be NetFile certified

Getting Started

My first impression of StudioTax came from their website. To be honest, some of the advertisements look kinda spammy. A spammy website doesn’t really instill confidence in a product, especially one I am trusting to do my tax return. But hey, everyone needs to get paid, so I continued onwards (psychic advertisement aside).

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Download and Installation

Downloading and installing StudioTax is a breeze. The software does not require a license key or code so a quick double-click on the program executable is all that is needed. I should note that StudioTax requires the Microsoft .NET Framework Version 2.0 to operate. The installer provided a nice link, so the .NET installation was painless.Once the program launched, I was greeted with a very pleasant (and attractive) setup wizard.

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StudioTax’s setup wizard is really nicely done. I was able to install the software easily and right away gained confidence in using freeish tax software.

Dashing Dashboard

Once installed, StudioTax displays a very easy-to-use dashboard window.

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On this window, I have access to a number of tasks. I must say, I really love how StudioTax gives me the option to easily access and perform numerous tasks from a dashboard. I didn’t have to hunt for a software update tool or though complex menu systems to get my taxes done. Here are some of the tasks available via the dashboard:

  • Opening an existing return
  • Create a new return
  • View a list of recent returns
  • Check for updates
  • Get help
  • PLUS: a handy toolbar (across the top of the window) is available for quick access to the wizard, validation tools, and forms. YAY!

Creating a New Return

After marveling over the dashboard I clicked Create a new return and began my 2007 taxes. StudioTax provides a straightforward wizard to help the user enter basic CRA tax information. From what I can tell, it seems StudioTax cannot import user data from other tax software (QuickTax, UFile, etc.) and only supports their own .stx file format. This means I had to enter all my personal information (name, residence, SIN number, etc.). This is a minor quibble, but it would be nice to not have to re-enter all my infos.

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Another minor quibble I have with the StudioTax wizard is the page where I am to choose my T Slips. I must admit to being a little stumped on this page, wondering exactly which T Slips I should choose. Perhaps my confusion results in not having all my Slips yet (it’s still January). But it would really help to have a tip or very brief sentence defining each slip, so I can better understand if I need to select it. Nonetheless, I easily selected T4, T5, RRSP, and Medical Expenses.
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Entering Taxing Numbers

Moving through the StudioTax wizard is fast, easy, and painless. I actually had fun entering my T4, T5, and RRSP contribution numbers. When it came to enter my medical expenses I was resigned to entering a single number into one box. This is a bit of a pain for me since I have carry forward medical expenses from 2006 and I need to calculate the best 12-month period ending in 2007. Neither UFile nor StudioTax handle this calculation. Since I am dead against paying $40 bucks for QuickTax to perform this new math, I decided to just enter everything into an Excel Spreadsheet, and find the best (most expensive) 12-month period by hand.

Validated with the Tax Explorer

When the wizard is done, QuickTax brings the user to a review screen where all T-Slips are accessible and can be easily navigated or reviewed. My favourite part of this screen is the Tax Explorer pane (left hand side), where I can review all my entered amounts and see if I have a refund or a balance. I used fictitious numbers in this example.

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Conclusion

I must admit to be surprisingly impressed with StudioTax. The software is easy-to-use, attractive, fun, and affordable! Yes, I said StudioTax is fun! The user interface is simple to follow, easy-to-navigate, and the Online Help is written concisely. StudioTax offers simplicity with an easy-to-follow wizard, which basically holds the user’s hand and gets the job done. Certainly my return is pretty straight-forward as I’m a single foxy gal, with no dependants, some RRSP contributions, many medical expenses, modest interest income, and some capital gains. But getting my taxes done was seamless.

I will definitely follow StudioTax to see when/if they get NetFile certified. Since learning of StudioTax a few weeks ago, I have highly recommended it to my family and friends. A few of my colleagues at work are smitten with it. None of us can believe it was developed by two guys (or gals?) from Ottawa.

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