Online Tax Prep: Is It Cheap and Safe?


Earnhardt did a side-by-side comparison between TurboTax and OnePriceTaxes: "I wanted to make sure they were doing the math right." He liked what he found, and he definitely preferred the $15 price. If he'd done his taxes with TurboTax Deluxe this year, he thinks, he'd have spent $29.95 and "maybe another $35" for his North Carolina filing.

Not only has he already filed, he's gotten a refund big enough to cover "a new set of golf clubs."

If, like Earnhardt, you efile, take a few precautions to make sure you don't leave your data vulnerable to identity thieves.

If you'd filed the old fashioned way, on paper, you'd of course want to shred tax documents you no longer need. Do the same with your electronic documents.

For Apple users, says security consultant Securosis, that's easy: Macs come with what amounts to a built-in shredder, "Secure Empty Trash," listed in the Finder menu. By selecting it, you overwrite your data, making recovery of it by thieves all but impossible.

PC users can delete a document and then empty their recycle bin. For greater security, they can buy document-shredding software, such as Erasure or File Shredder, that overwrite their data.

Any tax documents you want to retain should be stored, says the Identity Theft Resource Center, on a password-protected USB thumb drive or external hard drive. Drop these in a safe deposit box or put them in your home safe.

If you're satisfied with the safety precautions of storage companies like Carbonite, you can store your tax documents in "the cloud" -- the company's secured servers. Or you can leave them on your desktop as password-protected PDF files. Click the "save as PDF" option on your computer, then, from the drop-down menu of "security options," select the one that lets you add a password.

PC owners running Windows 7 can use the "BitLocker" feature to encrypt an individual file or an entire drive.

When the day comes that you finally dispose of your computer, the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse in San Diego recommends you use special products called disk wiping utilities or disk erasers to wipe your hard drive clean.

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