The words free and taxes usually don’t go together. But if you’re using tax software to do your tax return this year, then downloading StudioTax will get your taxes done for free. Yay!

StudioTax, by BHOK IT Consulting, may just be the best free tax software in Canada today. With over 100,000 downloads in 2007 and 170,000 downloads in 2008, Canadians are quickly adopting StudioTax as their tax preparation software of choice. Sure there are the costly competitors — like QuickTax and UFile — but why pay $30 bucks or more for a few tax returns when you can get it done for free with StudioTax?

StudioTax 2009 is the current version. Just be sure to prepare your income tax return by April 30, 2010 — the Canada Revenue Agency’s tax return deadline.

StudioTax 2009 Details:

  • Windows-based
  • Free Download, donations accepted
  • Free for personal use, regardless of income
  • 20 Returns Maximum (a CRA required limit)
  • NETFILE Certified
  • Bilingual: French, English

Installing StudioTax

Installing StudioTax is easy. There’s no hassle getting the download since you don’t need to register for the site. There’s no questions asked, no registration requirement, no software key, and no activation code. Using tax preparation software to complete your return is a good choice for those worried about privacy.

StudioTax installs directly onto your computer’s hard drive and saves your tax return locally, so your personal information is secure. StudioTax requires the Microsoft .NET Framework Version 2.0 SP2 to run. The installation wizard provides a link in case StudioTax does not detect this needed software on your computer.

studiotax tax software setup

The StudioTax setup wizard is simple. Just follow the step-by-step instructions to get the job done.

StudioTax Dashbard

StudioTax 2009 has changed little from my StudioTax 2007 Review.

free tax software tax forms

The dashboard gives you access to a number of tasks, including:

  • Open an existing return
  • Create a new return
  • Import your StudioTax 2008 Return
  • View a list of recent returns
  • Access to Online Tutorials
  • Check for updates
  • Switch languages
  • Get help
  • Plus a toolbar gives you quick access to the wizard, tax validation tools, and tax forms.

Creating a New Return in StudioTax

To launch the StudioTax Wizard, just click Create a new return to get started. The StudioTax Wizard is simple, so don’t expect this free software to hold your hand through the process. Also, because StudioTax is free tax software, expect to see a few ads in the product. Hey, the software developers need to get paid somehow.

free tax help

If you’re new to StudioTax, then forget importing your user data from other tax software. StudioTax only supports their own .stx file format. So you will have to enter all your personal information (name, residence, SIN number, etc.). This is a minor quibble, but it would be nice to not have to re-enter all this data.

tax forms free tax help

Another complaint I still have with the StudioTax wizard is the page where you choose your tax forms. It would be nice to have a tip or two explaining each form. As it stands, you’ll have to know beforehand which tax forms fit your needs since the StudioTax wizard doesn’t ask interview-style questions to gauge your needs. If you need your tax software to pick the tax forms for you, then StudioTax may not be for you. For this value-added service you’ll need to fork over the big bucks for tax software giants QuickTax or UFile.

Doing Your Return

I used the StudioTax wizard to complete my tax return, but if you prefer entering your T3s, T4s, and T5s using CRA forms, then StudioTax gives you the option to switch views.

tax forms tax tips taxes

Entering your RRSP contributions, medical expenses, and dealing with dependants is pretty straight-forward as well. Families will have no issues claiming these tax breaks: Children’s Fitness Tax Credit, First-Time Home Buyers’ Tax Credit, Home Renovation Tax Credit (HRTC), and the Public Transit Tax Credit.

homebuyer tax credit child tax credit

Students have good luck too with StudioTax. Entering such breaks like your Education Amount, Textbook Amount, Tuition Fees, student loan interest, and Moving Expenses is just a form away.

Validate Your Return

When the wizard is done prompting you to enter taxing data, StudioTax brings you to a review screen where all tax forms are accessible and can easily be reviewed. Here you can use the Validate feature to check over your return for missed forms or inconsistent details.

Tax Explorer

Most people will love the Tax Explorer feature, where at a glace you’ll see a refund or the dreaded balance owing. I used fictitious numbers in this example.

Pension Income Splitting with Tax Optimizer

The StudioTax Optimizer feature is handy for those couples looking to maximize pension income splitting, charitable donations, and medical expenses. The trick here is to link spousal returns before completing the process. The Optimizer feature only works after spousal returns are linked at the beginning of the wizard.

Who Benefits from StudioTax 2009?

If you’re one of the enviable Canadians with a plain vanilla tax return comprised of simple T4s, RRSP contributions, and standard student or family tax breaks, then StudioTax is your ticket to CRA nirvana. However, if you’re the type of tax filer who prefers being prompted to enter every line using interview questions, then stick to tax preparation software like QuickTax or UFile.

If your return is more complicated — for example you have a small business or have a unique income tax situation — then StudioTax may not contain all the answers you need to file correctly. StudioTax’s help is basic, intending to facilitate the needs of many common tax circumstances rather than those with tricky cases. If you’re in need of assistance, then perhaps skip the tax software all together and hire an accountant. Could be the best money you’ve ever spent.

Oh, and because StudioTax is NETFILE certified, it’s easy to get your taxes done and filed on time. You can also download previous StudioTax versions from the StudioTax Free Downloads page. This includes StudioTax for tax years: 2004-2008 (inclusive).

Your Two Cents: What’s your favourite tax preparation software?