What Tax Prep Software Looked Like in 1991

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YouTube / Computer Chronicles

Let's face it, tax time is upon us. For most of us, "doing our taxes" means using some kind of tax preparation software -- whether it's using a website, a desktop app, or having a professional run some fancy system for you, it is rare these days to do your taxes entirely on paper from start to finish. But in 1991, things were different: a thriving market of competing tax prep packages were on the market (at about 1:50 in the video below, the host plops nine different boxed tax prep packages on a desk), and they marked the beginning of a massive shift from filling out forms manually to filling them out digitally. Although IRS e-file existed then, it wasn't widely used -- and you still had to mail in a signed form anyway. (By 2010, over 70% of IRS returns were e-filed.)

In this episode of Computer Chronicles, we see what tax prep software looked like in 1991. It wasn't pretty. For the most part, the competing software makers took the IRS forms and put them onscreen, adding help text and ways to search for the forms. While this was arguably an improvement (since the computer could at least do the arithmetic for you), it was a far cry from today's "Let me ask you some questions about your finances, then fill in all the details for you" model seen in modern versions of TurboTax and similar apps. So while you procrastinate and avoid doing your 2013 taxes, take a peek at what things were like more than twenty years ago:

It's also interesting to note the cost of these software packages in 1991. They ranged from $70-100, whereas today's (much more sophisticated) apps start at around $30.

A prior version of this article appeared last April.

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