The rivalry between TurboTax and H&R Block is like Hertz and Avis. I started with one company and ended up with the other.
Despite my glowing review of TurboTax a couple of months ago, I ran into a snag. I had a complicated tax situation because my husband invested in partnerships. They generated a kind of document called a “K-1.” Actually, lots of them.
On the TurboTax website, I pushed the “Do my taxes for me” button and got a nice lady in Missouri. But she bailed out when she found out about my K-1 tax docs. TurboTax experts won’t handle returns with more than one of those. She suggested I do them myself and use their live chat, but I was afraid of messing up.
So I went on H&R Block’s website. There you can choose an accountant by location and I found one nearby. I biked over and dropped documents off rather than uploading them to the site. It took the guy only eight days to complete my returns. That was five months faster than last year. Even better, the H&R fee was 20% less than I paid previously. I owe no taxes this year and will get a $400 refund! What a contrast to TurboTax. Its computer said I owed $3,635 to the state. H&R’s human representative said I owe nothing.
To VPN or not to VPN
A reader asked if he should get a Virtual Private Network for enhanced privacy. You can get a great one from Proton Technologies, for free.
A VPN shields your identity from malware and hackers. This is important when you’re using public WiFi in a risky place. Also, a VPN also enables you to watch Netflix when you’re in another country. And it allows you to get better prices for stuff you buy online. Some sites give discounts based on location.
The free version of ProtonVPN works great. Proton Technologies was founded by a group of scientists who met at CERN, the European Center for Nuclear Research. It works with Android, iPhone/iPad, Windows, Mac, Chromebook, Linux and Android TV. They also offer free, encrypted email.
When I launched the VPN on my Chromebook, I clicked the “quick connect” button and didn’t have to do anything else. But I didn’t see a big drop in ads until I turned on incognito mode. That’s exactly what HowToGeek.com predicted. They say you to be incognito and use encrypted email and messages for full protection. To get to incognito quickly in Chrome, Edge or Firefox, click the hamburger icon (three stacked lines). You’ll see “incognito” or “private window” on the menu.
● “Global Compass” puts a compass on your phone. I found it helpful when getting off a train in Chicago. The voice on Google Maps said to turn south, but which way was that? Yes, there’s a compass in Google Maps, but it’s so tiny I didn’t notice it. I like the big one Global Compass has.
● “Relaxed,” from Game Mavericks, will put you to sleep. It’s a free app with stories, games, meditation exercises, music and nature sounds. Get it at relaxed.mobi.
If your phone is getting slow, it might be running out of storage space.
The iPhone works constantly to juggle things when your storage dips below one gigabyte, according to an article on ZDNet, “Is Your iPhone Feeling Slow?” At that point you should delete or transfer any extra photos and videos, as well as games or apps you aren’t using. To delete an app, put a finger on its icon till it jiggles, then tap the “x.”
If your battery is more than three years old, it will slow down your phone. Check its health with the free app “CoconutBattery” from coconut-flavour.com. It works with iPhone, iPad and Mac.
If your Android phone is running slow, get the free CCleaner. It gets rid of junk files and empties the cache. Consider uninstalling any apps you aren’t using. Ccleaner periodically asks me to do that, but I love my apps too much to get rid of them, even if I haven’t used them in a while.
Free Microsoft Office 365
The only reason to buy Office 365 is if you prefer to work offline on documents, spreadsheets or slideshows. Otherwise, you can do all of that for free at Office.com.
The only trick is you’ll need your Microsoft password. If you’ve forgotten it, go to account.live.com/resetpassword.aspx. Or search on “forgot Microsoft password.”
How to spot a scam
Beware of email that looks legit, like the one that tells you “it’s time for the annual review of your Social Security account.”
That email directs you to socialsecurity.gov, which sounds real. But a woman told CBS News that after she went there and began verifying things, she grew suspicious. She called the Social Security Administration, and sure enough, they said it was a scam. The real site is ssa.gov.
Here’s the basic rule: Avoid any email asking you to verify your information, unless it’s an email you were expecting. Be leery of any unexpected offers.
When my Gmail inbox gets overloaded, I select all messages by clicking the box at the top of the list. Then I uncheck the boxes next to any I want to keep before clicking “delete.” This really speeds things up!