Sunday, January 20, 2013

Tax Comments and Saving a Fillable PDF form

It's circus time for the tax business.  This year, I have had a bit more pressure to complete my tax information quickly as I will have 2 children (should I still call them children?) attending college in the fall.

I have always been a do-it-yourselfer when it comes to completing the income tax forms.  In the (not so) old days, I would spend hours laboriously working through these convoluted forms often to find that I needed to call the 1-800 IRS number to request some other obscure and convoluted form with pages of instructions and then wait weeks for it to arrive in the mail.  I'm so glad those days are over; today, I can quickly grab any form or instructions over the internet.  Additionally, there are many electronic filing services that further simplify the process.  I have used Taxslayer for many years.  I started with this provider largely based on cost - it was the cheapest.  Overall, I would say that Taxslayer does an "ok, but not great" job.  Generally, I think the basics are there in Taxslayer, but it isn't always intuitive and it doesn't easily always lead you to forms or credits that you may need to be aware of.  As may be expected, Taxslayer does a much better job with its Federal forms than it does with individual state forms and so it was that upon a review of my first draft of this year's taxes, I spotted a line referring to "College Credit" on the New York State form.  I had done vigorous reading of the federal tax credit for education and I also am familiar with the benefits of a 529 savings account for education, but had never heard of a New York State College Credit.  It would have been nice if the Taxslayer software had picked up that I had submitted a credit for education on my federal return and in turn triggered a prompt... "hey, overwhelmed taxpayer, you might also be eligible for this credit in your state".  But alas, it did not and thus, I am now in the position of filing a "corrected tax form" with New York state.

To my pleasant surprise, filing an amended tax form doesn't appear to be the huge chore that I had envisioned.  I was quickly able to figure out what I needed to do from the on the New York state tax site.  New York provides what are known as "fillable" PDF forms.  Typically, most computer users utilize the free Adobe Acrobat Reader to handle PDF documents; however, while Acrobat Reader will open the "fillable" form and permit you to enter your tax information, this application does NOT permit you to save the form with the completed data (you have to print it out and once you exit, all of the information that you have entered is gone).  Although I was largely typing numbers in from last years state tax form, I estimated my chances of having zero typos in one try was about 0%.

Google to the rescue:  A quick Google search for "save a fillable PDF" seemed to point to a free program called "PDF-XChange Viewer".  I am always leery of "free" software on two fronts.  First, the software itself; second who to download from.  In this case, I read through many of the reviews.  There seemed some question in regards to "adware," but this generally seemed associated to instances where the person installed the "toolbar".  (Caution:  This toolbar install is set as the default; I strongly recommend that you deselect the check box and not install it).  In regards to who to download from, I always prefer to go to download from the software vendor directly if possible; otherwise, I look for a reliable site such as CNET.  In this instance, the vendor provides a download and it is the vendor's link that I have provided in this post.

I installed PDF-XChange Viewer on my "old faithful" Vista laptop and it worked like a charm - I was able to type my numbers onto the New York State fillable tax form AND save the form complete with the numbers. (And per my prediction, in proof reading my amended form, I found a typo and was able to go back, correct the entry and print the form - without having to retype the entire form which would have been necessary if I had stuck to Adobe Acrobat Reader.)  Since I liked it so much and also because I did not find another comprehensive step by step guide, I am going to attempt to install it onto my Windows 8 machine that I am using for my blogging and use the Window 8 Snipping Tool to capture some pictures to share.  I was able to find the Snipping Tool in Windows 8 by hovering in the upper right hand corner of the screen to expose the "Charms Menu" then entered the Search Apps where I was easily able to spot it in the Windows Accessories grouping (below icon in lower right of the screenshot).  From there, I right clicked and pinned it so that I could access it quickly.  I have provided the link to the site where I found the most useful tips on using the Snipping tool.  (Note:  the Snipping Tool is also available within Windows 7 and I am confidant a quick Google search will provide plenty of guidance for Windows 7 users).

Steps to Installing PDF-XChange Viewer:

1.  Go to and download.

2.  Open and Extract the download - it may look something like this where you will click "Extract All"  (For convenience, I generally Extract to the Desktop using the Browse button to specify the location to extract to).

 3.  Go to desktop (or wherever you extracted files to) and double click the installer.

4.  Follow on screen instructions.  Tip:  I strongly recommend that you de-select "Addin for Internet Explorer" and "Addin for Mozilla...".  I don't know how big of a deal this is, but I really don't want any program messing with my browsers.  I also de-selected some of the OCR languages and the Live Update...

5.  You can use your discretion on these 2; I generally clear both boxes, but no harm if you prefer otherwise.

6.  IMPORTANT:  De-select (remove the check mark).  I strongly recommend that you do NOT install the Tracker Ask Toolbar and I can't imagine anyone wanting Ask as their default search provider.  The "Install the Tracker Ask Toolbar..." will be selected by default - Don't Fall Asleep Here!  

Let me say again... clear both of these boxes!

7.  Continue on with the on screen instructions.  Your application will install.  When you first launch, you will get a dialogue box asking if you want to make it your default program to open PDF documents.  You can use your judgment here - I choose no (you can always change this later) and I also check the box to not show the message again.

8.  Congratulations... you now have installed a free PDF application that you may find more useful than the stock Adobe Reader that is likely on your computer...

And to all you tax filers, many happy, large returns...

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