Taxing Our Patience

turbotax_family.gifTax-preparation software TurboTax has a number of Web pages devoted to helping people determine the tax implications of various life changes, such as changing jobs, getting married, or having children. To the right is the image they use under the title “Your Child.” They also use it in one of their television ads.

Not exactly the picture of my family, even ignoring the strange Weeble-like leg of the woman. How hard would it have been to make an image of a child or children at play, or to show some building blocks and a bicycle, images that would get the point across while excluding fewer parents?

The TurboTax software does in fact address the particular twist on tax preparation we married Massachusetts folks (or civil-unioned/DP’d folks in other states) face, which goes something like this: Complete and file our separate federal forms as “Single.” Fill out a third federal form, which the federal government will never see, as “Married.” Fill out the state form as “Married,” and submit it with the Married federal form. Of course, if you are not married/unioned/DP’d, but are both the legal parents of your child(ren), you may have to do additional iterations of your taxes to determine who should claim the child as a deduction.

TurboTax tells those in legal same-sex relationships, however, to “Select Registered Domestic Partnership to indicate an RDP, civil union, or same-sex marriage.” I’m sorry. I’ve fought long and hard enough to call my marriage a marriage that I balk at calling it a Registered Domestic Partnership. Why not list all three and make us happy? Yes, this could be a matter of limited space in the software interface (and as a former dotcom executive, I understand such things), but really. There’s a reason the U.S. Census now has a plethora of choices under “Race,” breaking down Asian and Hispanic into more accurate subcategories. As the Census Bureau itself says (PDF link), “changing lifestyles and emerging sensitivities among the people of the United States necessitate modifications to the questions that are asked.” Same applies here. Find the room, TurboTax, and include all the options.

If you are still considering using TurboTax this year, and deciding between their desktop and online versions, here’s the advice they give to those in Registered Domestic Partnerships (RDPs), civil union, or same-sex marriages:

Although both the desktop and online versions of TurboTax can be used for RDP, civil union, or same-sex marriage returns, we recommend using the desktop version.

Here’s why:

  • The desktop version saves you time. You can easily create your state married return from your existing individual federal return (the one that gets filed with the IRS). You won’t have to re-enter a lot of your federal information, only add your partner’s. With the online version, however, you’ll need to re-enter your information multiple times using multiple user IDs.
  • The desktop version saves you money. You only have to pay for the software once (plus applicable electronic filing charges per return). If you use the online version, you’ll have to pay separately for multiple returns.

I haven’t done a comparison myself, though, so caveat emptor. (Also, by way of brief, but not rigorous, comparison, competitor TaxCut’s site has a little information on how Connecticut civil-union couples should use their software, but has nothing obvious for those from other states, at least not after a few quick searches.)

TurboTax’s marketing images and options for indicating our relationships are just another reminder—like we need one—that the law and tax codes treat same-sex families differently from others, even when we supposedly have equal rights within our state. Don’t rub it in, TurboTax, or pretty soon we’ll find that going to an LGBT-savvy accountant is a less stressful option even when we might otherwise use your product.

(Disclosure: I am not a tax professional. None of the above should be taken as advice about how to do your taxes.)