Internet Investor: Cut out the paperwork on your bank accounts and tax returns

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Prior to Gordon Brown's March Budget, capital gains tax (CGT) was a fiendishly complicated, expensive to operate tax which raised only a few hundred million pounds for the Inland Revenue and only affected a small proportion of the population.

Following the Budget reform of CGT, it is still a fiendishly complicated, expensive to operate tax which raises only a few hundred million pounds for the Inland Revenue and only affects a small proportion of the population.

If you don't believe me about how complicated CGT has become, ask an accountant. Last month, a meeting of tax experts, accountants and city fund managers concluded that the Finance Bill's proposals make CGT so complex that it would be impossible to write software capable of calculating tax liabilities!

As taxpayers, we can only hope that the confusion the Chancellor has succeeded in creating is resolved as soon as possible. However, it is not a problem most of us will have to worry about. The "joys" of the self-assessment tax return provide enough headaches.

Help with your tax return is one of the facilities available in Microsoft Money 98 Financial Suite, which is locked in battle with Intuit's Quicken for supremacy in the personal financial management field. Money's Tax Estimator will help you to prepare for submitting your tax return.

Money 98 has an online facility which you can access directly through the program and includes Money Manager, a database of articles and information about personal finance.

It may be difficult for most consumers to choose between Money 98 and its competitor from Intuit, Quicken, when deciding which software to use to manage their finances. However, one group of computer users does not have this problem - those artistic types who use Apple Macintosh computers since neither program will run on the Mac operating system.

One area in which Microsoft's program appears to be setting the pace over Quicken is in online banking. Barclays Bank, Nationwide Building Society and Royal Bank of Scotland have all developed online banking systems based on Microsoft Money 98.

In addition, NatWest Bank's online banking service, which goes live later this year, will also work with Microsoft Money and Royal Bank has launched a complete PC banking and money management package specifically designed for small businesses, Royline Account Master, which is linked to Money 98.

A recent survey by NOP for Barclays Bank showed that more than a third of us with computers at home spend more time in front of the PC than the TV, which leads me to the inescapable conclusion that we all need to get out more.

However, Barclays does claim to be adding 5,000 customers every month to its PC Banking service. Set up in April 1997, in its first year of operation Barclays' PC Banking gained 43,500 customers. Nationwide claims 50,000 customers for its own online service.

In fact, personal financial management at the basic level of organising one's own bank account is likely to be one of the big selling factors in getting more people into computer stores and on to the internet over the course of the next couple of years. Barclays' survey shows 82 per cent of people believing that banking via a PC will become increasingly popular in the future.

For example, the new bank Alliance & Leicester, after a year-long pilot scheme, will shortly follow Co-op Bank and offer all its customers the option of an online facility. Lloyds TSB is also working on an online facility and asking customers to register their interest in taking part in its trials on the bank's website.

The phrase "high street bank" has already had something of a hollow ring for much of the 1990s with all the big institutions cutting staff numbers, closing branches and reducing their street presence. The current rush to offer online services could sound its death knell. What should replace it? "E-street bank?"

Microsoft: www.microsoft.com

Lloyds Bank: www.lloydsbank.co.uk

Alliance & Leicester: www.alliance-leicester.co.uk

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