Preparers using this year's version of Lacerte tax software will be able to lock completed returns to prevent inadvertent changes, preserving the version of a return as it was filed to the Internal Revenue Service and meeting one of the biggest concerns expressed by tax professionals, says Jorge Olavarrieta, senior product manager. "It prevents anyone from going in and inadvertently making changes," he says, adding that the lock feature was in high demand by Lacerte users. The lock feature becomes particularly important, he adds, when changes occur to tax laws after a return is completed. "You can file a return in January, and then in March the IRS makes a change," he says. The lock feature assures that preparers have the original information provided to the IRS as a base for making any necessary adjustments, he adds.
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Lacerte also offers other new features designed to help preparers speed up and simplify the processing of complex returns, Olavarrieta says. If filed returns need to be amended, for example, the newest version of Lacerte will automatically populate information fields at the click of a button. "In the past, the preparer would have to re-enter original data," he says. "Now the information is already there."
Another new feature requested by preparers is the ability to set alternate years, based on odd and even years, for claiming dependents within a tax return. Preparers, serving clients such as divorced couples who alternate claims for their children, can now set a trigger to automatically include a dependent in a particular year's return.
Char Elena Mano, a CPA based in Racine, Wis., says the extra functionality in Lacerte makes it worth its premium cost, which runs $2,140 for the first year and $1,819 for a renewal. For instance, she says, Lacerte makes it easy to file returns for families that have multiple personal and business returns. One of her clients, who has five children, had four S Corp returns, a Schedule E form, a family trust, and a family limited partnership. Each of the children as well as the parents had to file personal returns. Mano completed the S Corp returns first, and then hit a button to automatically transfer pertinent information to other returns. "I can get these kinds of returns done in a day," she says.
Among Lacerte's other advantages, she says, is its support for efiled returns, including checking that Social Security numbers and birth dates are entered correctly. "I did 360 returns last year, and only four questions came back from the IRS," Mano says, adding that she files almost all returns electronically.
A downside of Lacerte, she adds, is that it doesn't work well with inkjet or dot-matrix printers. "As long you have a good laser printer, it rocks," she says.
Lacerte has also expanded support services, with additional customer service reps on call and an enhanced ability to email Lacerte from within the software application. Preparers can use the email feature to send a file to Lacerte for review, and receive a reply within 24 to 48 hours, depending on the time of year. That email function can only be used to communicate directly with Lacerte, but the software now also supports ease of linking to a preparer's own email program for communicating with clients and colleagues or for sending files home for after-hours work.
The software will also generate message templates that preparers can customize to address a taxpayer's particular needs.
In addition, Lacerte integrates with Intuit's ItsDeductible software for calculating the value of taxpayer donations. Lacerte also supports transfer of tax return data, such as asset depreciation, into Excel spreadsheets for further analysis with other financial information outside of the tax return.
HQ: Plano, Texas
Phone: (800) 765-4065
Fax: (214) 387-2693
Software distribution: CD-ROM and Web downloads.
Pay-per-return: $22 (includes federal and one state).
Multi-state Processing: Unlimited.
Data entry: Input sheet/batch, plus interview/interactive input.
Support methods: Toll-free telephone, fax and Web.
Electronic storage: Lacerte Document Management System.
Electronic filing: Forms 1040 (and all supported or mandated states), 1065 (and applicable states), 5500 through Intuit efiling transmission system. Utilize Republic Bank for RALs and RACs.
New for next year: Form instructions provided at the forms screen. Automated amended return preparation. Alternate odd-even year reporting of dependent claims. Workflow utility to track status of returns. Ability to lock returns. Customizable client letters that can be e-mailed from the software application.