What Tax Preparation Software Looked Like in 1991

"Today's sophisticated tax software is almost like having a CPA in your CPU!"
[optional image description]
"Computer Chronicles" via the Internet Archive

If nothing is certain but death and taxes, it's telling that death often seems more pleasant. Doing taxes is, inevitably, excruciating. All those forms. All those numbers. All that bureaucratese. No wonder we all procrastinate.

But at least it's not the early '90s. Back then, when personal computers were new, software designers and the IRS alike were experimenting with ways to use computers to replace mailed-in tax forms. The results were, as so much software was back then ... clunky. And text-based. And oddly fluorescent. Those early tax prep programs replicated analog tax documents in digital form; their main value-add, besides offering their users a whiff of The Future, was that they did your tax calculations for you.

[optional image description]
"Computer Chronicles" via the Internet Archive

But that didn't stop them from proliferating. As early as 1991 -- the same year that AOL for DOS was introduced -- there were no less than 15 options for computerized tax preparation. There was J.K. Lasser's "Your Income Tax." And "Taxcut 1040." And "Easy Tax." And "Tax Preparer." And "Personal Tax Filer." And "MacInTax." And "Taxcut EZ/A." And, yes, "TurboTax for Windows."

All those offerings were, despite their simplicity, expensive. They ranged in price from $70-$100 ($119-170 in today's dollars). Compare that to today's largely web-based apps, whose paid versions start around $35 -- and which are, the misery they mediate notwithstanding, much more sophisticated and user-friendly than those early versions. 

[optional image description]
"Computer Chronicles" via the Internet Archive

Computer-based tax prep was, in 1991, cutting-edge enough to have an episode of "Computer Chronicles" dedicated to it (archived, in full, in the video below). "Today's sophisticated tax software," the show's host says, "is almost like having a CPA in your CPU!"

Via the Internet Archive and Mental Floss

Presented by

Megan Garber is a staff writer at The Atlantic.

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well. Bestselling author Mark Bittman teaches James Hamblin the recipe that everyone is Googling.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.

Video

Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.

Video

The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.

Video

Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.

Video

Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses

Video

Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in Technology

Just In