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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Howto: Download TurboTax state forms for free

TurboTax is great for filling out those pesky tax return forms without relying too much on manual brainpower, especially if you have a complex tax situation. The federal forms are free, but TurboTax only lets you file one state return free of charge. If you need additional state forms, it’ll run you $39.95 each. Needless to say, this is a pretty ridiculous fee when you could buy another copy of TurboTax (Deluxe) for a similar price. Fortunately, there’s a way to remedy this…inconsistency.

DISCLAIMER: THE FOLLOWING TUTORIAL IS FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY. I DO NOT CONDONE THE USE OF THIS INFORMATION FOR FRAUD OR OTHER ILLEGAL PURPOSES, AND AM NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR ANY CONSEQUENCES SUFFERED AS A RESULT OF USING THIS INFORMATION.

The basic premise is to install and use TurboTax in a virtual machine. There are several VM solutions out there, but this guide will illustrate the use of VirtualBox. VirtualBox is free and lightweight, making it ideal for the relatively simple task here. We will use the snapshot feature of VirtualBox to create an image of the TurboTax install BEFORE downloading the first free state. After downloading the free state, the virtual machine can be reset to this snapshot, whereby another state can be downloaded for free.

You might complain about having to use TurboTax in a virtual machine – true, it’s slightly more inconvenient, but who doesn’t like the added layer of security?

Materials needed:

  • VirtualBox (download here)
  • Windows XP/Vista/7 install media
  • TurboTax (2009) [duh!]

Prepare the Virtual Machine for TurboTax

Install VirtualBox if you haven’t already, using the download link above.

Install your virtual operating system of choice in VirtualBox. The intricacies of this will not be covered here. However, I recommend Windows XP since it is smaller in size than Vista or 7.

Install the VirtualBox Guest Additions (highly recommended). This enhances the video quality in the guest OS and also allows shared folders, which can make it easier to transfer files (e.g. tax documents).

*If your guest operating system is Windows XP or Windows Vista, you will first need to install the .NET Framework 3.5 SP1. (web installer, full offline installer)

Install TurboTax (2009) into the guest operating system. Run the application and allow it to grab updates, then exit out. Shut down the guest OS.

From the VirtualBox interface, create a snapshot of your VM.

tt2

Download the 1st free state

Start up the virtual machine and open up TurboTax.

Click “Start a New Return”.

Go to the “State” menu. Keep clicking “Continue” until a window pops up asking you to choose a state to download for free. Proceed with the download.

tt3

Once the download is finished, quit TurboTax. Navigate to the location “C:\Program Files\TurboTax\Forms”.

tt1

Of the directories listed, it should be relatively easy to pick out the one that corresponds to the state you just downloaded (e.g. ohi_09 corresponds to the 2009 Ohio forms). Simply transfer this folder (zip it up first if you’d like) to your real OS, or any other permanent storage location.

Shut down the VM.

Reset the VM and download more states for free

Go to the snapshots menu in the VirtualBox interface (see screenshot above). Right click the snapshot you made and hit the “restore” option.

Reboot the VM. The VM and the TurboTax install are now in the original state (no pun intended) where it will allow you to download one more set of state forms for free.

Repeat the process described above to download the state forms.

Rinse and repeat, if desired.

Add the state forms back into TurboTax

Now that you have all the state forms you need, it’s time to add them back into TurboTax. Copy/move these form directories back into the “C:\Program Files\TurboTax\Forms” on your virtual machine.

The next time you start up your virtualized TurboTax install, it should scan and pick up these new forms. You can now proceed to use TurboTax normally. If desired, the new form files can also be added into the forms directory of a TurboTax installed in a real OS.

4 comments:

Davwein said...

This was very helpful. I usually do taxes on my machine - but for some reason TT wouldn't install. So I installed it on my wife's machine. After I filed, I had somehow fixed the problem on my machine so I thot I would get the tax files back on my machine -0 but the state files wouldn't display. Your discussion of where the state forms are stored fixed the problem. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Any idea where these files are stored on a Mac? I think my state file is corrupted and I need to re-download it.

Elizabeth J. Neal said...

If you need additional state forms, it’ll run you $39.95 each. Needless to say, this is a pretty ridiculous fee when you could buy another copy of TurboTax (Deluxe) for a similar price. Fortunately, there’s a way to remedy this…inconsistency. turbotax vs hr block

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