After completing its second tax season with a Web-based tax preparation product, Petz Enterprises has seen VTax, its hosted 1040 service, adopted by more than 1,000 offices. And vice president of product development Charles Petz expects the number to expand to at least 5,000 offices this season. VTax, targeted to electronic return originators that operate a network of tax services bureaus, allows EROs to sign up small locations or preparers under one umbrella, and have control over the returns. Perhaps most importantly, organizations no longer have to install software at each site, and the time once spent setting up before tax season and closing down afterwards is dramatically reduced.
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"The tax returns are centralized, and so is the reporting. EROs can see the status of the returns, establish fees, and see how much revenue each site is making," says Petz.
VTax is priced at $2,500 for the first 10 offices and $50 for each additional office. Petz adds, "VTax allows preparers who want to increase volume but not break the bank to be successful. Even if there are only 10 returns from one site, it works. If there are 50 returns per site, it's cooking." The result is that where in the first season, VTax users had two or three locations, the average last year was 40 sites per practitioner.
Meanwhile, new features on the company's flagship product, CrossLink, include more client billing and client letter options. There are also an increased number of tax return printing options, including city taxes; free form client search capabilities; and secure email for technical support. Petz also added a QuickReports option from the main screen, which allows preparers to set a list of reports they wish to see just once, and bookmarks to set fields, and run validations.
One of the most important changes is the adoption of the Windows interface. Even though CrossLink operated under Windows, Petz had maintained a character-based interface because it felt that most graphical interfaces did not help preparers maintain data entry speed. The company also implemented the ability to edit client letters, including changing fonts and performing spellchecks, in a Word-like way, although it did not actually adopt the use of Microsoft Word. The report writer can also now export reports to Word and Excel.
But even though improvements are nice, calculation speed is still foremost in the mind of Harry Picou, an enrolled agent in Houma, La. Picou completes 1,500 returns per year.
"We run a small mom-and-pop shop in a rural area, and the speed of calculations is important," says Picou. "Also, CrossLink's efiling communication program guarantees that we don't have too many late nights during tax season."
Picou chooses to file his clients' returns through the phone lines rather than email because he "can sell the service to his customers." He says, "We like the fact that Petz gives us choices. Not to mention we can send 40 returns and it takes one minute for them to be completed."
Meanwhile, on the consumer tax preparation side, the company's TaxBrain.com grew again. "We've seen growth primarily because Intuit dropped its refund product and we picked up a lot of those customers," says Petz.
New this year, TaxBrain will offer MyTaxBrain, a personalized tax forum with tax tools to help create returns. There will also be a tax calculator, which allows users to get an estimate for their refund. The new Tax Center provides tax news, articles, analysis, and tools. Topics include tax basics, tax information laws, and tax analysis featuring senior tax analyst Eric Hayes.
HQ: Tracy, Calif
Phone: (800) 345-4337
Fax: (209) 835-2759
Software distribution: CD-ROM and Web downloads.
Price: Federal, $695.
Renewal: 30 percent discount.
Pay-per-return: Not available.
Multistate processing: Up to nine states per federal return.
Data entry: Interview/interactive, easy estimator is included.
Support method: Telephone, fax, and Web.
Electronic storage: Not available.
Electronic filing: 1040 through Petz Enterprises.
New for next year: Internet transmission capabilities, quick report options, bookmarks, new client billing features, and city tax preparation.