It's only January, but the tax prep companies are battling hard for your April 15 business. This week Intuit (NASDAQ:INTU) launches its first nationally televised ad campaign for its TurboTax software.

The 30-second spot starts with a user electronically filing her family's tax return. Her skeptical husband hits her with a series of concerns, giving her the perfect platform to pitch the software's benefits: simple interface, deduction tips, and guaranteed calculations.

Intuit tested TV ads in some markets last year and decided the time was right to go national -- and why not? Intuit controls more than two-thirds of the tax software market at the retail level, and it needs to market aggressively if it wants to stay on top.

Rival H&R Block (NYSE:HRB) is no disinterested slouch. Last year, 1.8 million users filed their returns with its TaxCut program. However, Block has a quandary in the higher sums it collected from the 19.2 million taxpayers assisted last year through its global network of 10,000 offices. While Intuit is all about the software, Block bears the risk that self-empowered users may render its hand-holding bread and butter obsolete.

But more is at stake than just a simple one-time software purchase. It's practically an annuity, much in the same way that your video game-loving kid demands the annual updates to Electronic Arts' (NASDAQ:ERTS) Madden Football.

I've been a satisfied TaxCut user for years; so the Intuit ads won't make a convert out of me. Still, it may reach a lot of the walk-up customers that H&R Block has relied on over the years.

Despite the heavy seasonal traffic at our Tax Center, I'm surprised more people don't take an active role in the tax process. Oddly, the same person who spends time pondering whether or not to fork over another 30 cents to supersize his combo meal isn't committing the effort to understand how efficient tax planning can pad the billfold.

That's the upshot of the Intuit ads. By educating the market, they draw more taxpayers to their computers to prepare their taxes, enlightening them every step of the way.

While April may be months away, now is the time to get your tax planning in order. Are you ready? Do you know your 1040 from your WD-40? What tax moves have you done to improve your tax situation this year? All this and more -- in the Tax Strategies discussion board. Only on