Revenue appraiser

Clifford German finds a software solution for tax self-assessment
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The Independent Online
In the next few weeks, 1.5 million taxpayers will be getting a statement of account from the Inland Revenue "advising" them (as the IR quaintly puts it) what tax they will have to pay in January 1997.

As the first communication under self-assessment rules, it will serve as another reminder that the clock is already ticking for taxpayers.

Though few of us know it, we are already responsible for keeping records of income and expenditure in the current tax year, ready to fill in our own forms next summer.

Self-assessment could well do more to concentrate the minds and tidy the habits of taxpayers than generations of good citizenship lessons in schools or parental discipline at home. It has already brought into the office Tax Tracker, a smart new "Prussian blue" desk diary, subtitled a "self-assessment tax organiser" retailing at pounds 18.99. Available from stationers (or mail order on 0800-393318), it comes complete with guidance notes and tables for weekly accounts, monthly summaries and yearly totals, and you may think it is in itself a taxable perk, but I couldn't possibly comment.

Keeping track of all the records needed for self-assessment is also one of the functions of Quicken, a software package which its backers, Intuit - a US-based finance software company - has been marketing in the US for the past 10 years and is now promoting in the UK and Europe. It claims to make the traditional pen and paper methods of recording and tracking personal finances obsolete.

It comes in the shape of an instruction book and either a floppy disk or a CD-Rom from which you load the software onto a desktop or laptop computer. Once installed it has a series of features from which the user can track such things as bank accounts, credit cards, investments, housing costs and tax affairs. The user inputs details of payments and receipts, which will be recorded and can be analysed to break down and track weekly, monthly and annual expenditure on subjects such as food, eating out, housing costs and motoring. Each section can be accessed by the click of a button.

Individual investments, shares, bonds, unit trusts and savings accounts can be recorded and the system can be set up to track dividends and other taxable income, and will automatically build into a tax ready-reckoner and a tax summary. Payments liable to VAT can be recorded and the system will calculate current VAT liabilities.

The programme automatically offers these options, and all users have to do is input the basic information and current tax rates. Quicken also has a security lock to prevent unauthorised access, and a telephone helpline is available. The software package sells for pounds 34.95 and will continue to function indefinitely, although new updated versions are prepared at frequent intervals.

A de luxe version sells at pounds 59.95 and includes a feature that records an inventory of house contents for insurance purposes, an invoicing capability, plus Netcomplete, a package which allows owners to access the Internet, and Quicken Family Lawyer, which can be used to create legally binding documents such as wills n

`Independent' readers can obtain a limited number of free CD-Rom versions of Quicken, with which they can have 25 trial uses to explore its capabilities, using their own financial information. Call 0500-232527.

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