The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) already collects more than half of Canadian taxpayer returns electronically through its NetFile service. There are no specific numbers indicating how many of those are unincorporated businesses and sole proprietors, but chances are they’re a growing segment, like the rest.

I’ve tested both Intuit Canada’s QuickTax Unincorporated and UFile for the last two years, and this year I wanted to focus entirely on how they both performed for any kind of unincorporated member of the workforce.

It seems Intuit may have responded to some criticism it received last year for limiting the number of returns over $25,000 to just two, while allowing up to 18 returns for income below that threshold. The current 2008 version now allows up to eight returns above 25K and 12 below that. That’s more in line with what UFile and other tax software programs have offered all along.
In the meantime, UFile’s Accuracy and Satisfaction Guarantee means they will foot the bill in case you incur any interest or penalties based on the software’s incorrect calculations. It was previously only offered for the Web service, but has now been extended to the desktop software as well.

Generally speaking, the layout is virtually the same with both, which is good and bad. On the one hand, QuickTax continues to do a good job of holding your hand through the process, but more importantly, you get to see what your refund will be as you go along. UFile simplifies a lot of things and is still user-friendly, but you still have to wait till you get to the end to find out what the magic number is. Assuming you’ve done anything wrong during the process, you can take a peek by clicking the “Results” tab but it can get annoying to have to go back-and-forth each time you want to see what impact a deduction might have. It reminded me of the one time where I inputted the wrong amount in one of the boxes in QuickTax, only to see me owing six-figures. I went back one step, fixed the problem, and then carried on. Had I not noticed it at that point, and made it all the way to the end, I definitely would’ve been frustrated.

Needless to say, UFile needs to add that long overdue element into its software. But it’s always been great that you can load prior QuickTax returns into UFile and start working without any compatibility issues. As far as I could tell, QuickTax won’t recognize a UFile return. And if you filed your taxes last year using a Web-based service, neither QuickTax nor UFile seem able to load those details.

Moving past that, I’ve always been fond of UFile’s MaxBack Refund Analyzer, as it can be pretty crafty in finding loopholes and deductions to increase the refund or decrease the owed amount. But this seems to have a little more traction with personal income taxes. Self-employed income can be a little more complicated, and I find QuickTax to be cleaner and more intuitive in that regard. It asks the right questions and explains where certain deductions fit. UFile has an interview process that does this, too, but it’s not quite as refined, in my opinion.

It also doesn’t help that UFile isn’t as quick with customer service. Not that QuickTax is fantastic in their own right, but they will at least respond to an email within 24 hours. UFile had a reputation for taking as much as a week to respond. I heard back in three days, so there is some notable improvement, but not nearly good enough. There was talk last year of including live chatting with UFile personnel, but I didn’t see any sign of that with the software or on the website. Intuit does offer live chatting, and it seems to work fairly well, but I wonder if users out there would prefer to talk to someone over the phone. Both do offer that, too, but you need to have UFile Plus or anything above QuickTax Platinum to utilize it.

I did like that both programs mentioned deductions can be held and carried over to following years, but I wish they would’ve done it during the fill-in process, and not at the end when I’ve already inputted everything. This can get a little complicated if you have home business or contract income, but you have a full-time day job. The deduction rules are pretty much the same, but I’m assuming that they have no bearing on any of the income collected from your employer.

One thing I could see being useful for those who are self-employed to split pension income. UFile already had this, but QuickTax added it this year (they had it in their other versions) in Unincorporated. Not being in that situation, I was naturally not able to see just how good it can be. But just having the option and seeing an optimizer go to work based on whatever amount you type in was cool.

At the end of it all, I found both of these to be pretty evenly matched, though in different ways. QuickTax presents the tally as you go along, has a cleaner and more intuitive interface and has better customer service. But it’s pricey. Business Unincorporated is a hefty $99.99, compared to UFile Standard, which can be had for just $15.95. Even if you were to go with UFile Plus, the cost is $29.99. UFile also has the MaxBack Refund Analyzer, plus a solid pension-splitting section. But it doesn’t show you a tally for your refund as you go along, and it isn’t as refined in some areas.

Doing your taxes, especially when self-employed, can be tedious but it’s necessary to get the numbers right. Both of these can do that, so it comes down to how you would respond to what they offer. Since everyone’s tax situation is more or less different, your taste in the software that does the grunt work for you will be, too.

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