Intuit had several things on its mind when it began work on its Lacerte tax preparation software for the 2007 tax year. But they really boil down to one thing. "We are focusing on productivity. It always has been what our customers tell us really matters to them," says product manager Jorge Olavarrieta.
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Among the new elements designed to improve productivity is the Lacerte Trial Balance Utility, which Olavarrieta says is designed to improve productivity throughout the firm's workflow, not just in its tax preparation.
Priced at $450 for the initial license fee, the utility imports trial balance data into the tax return. It automatically maps data from most trial balance packages into the Lacerte tax package. The big benefit, continues Olavarrieta, is the degree of automation.
"It maps automatically without user intervention," he says. While not all fields are automatically mapped, once a user maps those fields the system remembers where to put the data the next time it is used for the same purpose.
Trial balance workpapers can be stored electronically. Pro forma accounts, journal entries, and tax line assignments transfer to the next year, eliminating the need to set up information again.
Also in the data entry arena, the system can import information from Excel for the Preparation of Schedule D. The user will have the ability to take any stock transaction from any broker, provided the file is in CSV or Excel form.
"We expect to save a significant amount of time from the way we are doing it," says Olavarrieta.
Another one of the three steps in which Intuit expects to produce increases in productivity is the collection of client data, often done through the use of Client Organizers, which are increasingly offered via the Web.
However, Intuit studies found organizers do not provide either preparers or their clients with the information either party considers important, and that is to let clients know what information they should bring when meeting with the preparer.
Clients "don't want to feel like they are preparing the return. They don't know what to put in these organizers," says Olavarrieta. Intuit found clients say, "What I want is for the accountant to tell me what to bring," he continues.
Intuit is going to embed a check list in the final release of the 2006 tax software.
The check list can be printed and mailed or emailed, and should produce better results than organizers, which are filled out by about one in 15 clients.
Many multioffice firms are moving to use portals for distributing documents to clients. While Intuit hasn't adopted portals yet, it is likely it will.
Although he acknowledges Lacerte "has gotten a bit pricey," Bob Lind, who operates the Camelwest Tax Service in Phoenix, says he has not been very tempted to switch.
"I could probably save $1,500 a year, by going to another product," he says. But switching to a lower-cost package is like buying a cheap car, he says. "I you are looking for decent transportation, you can buy a Hyundai. I want something better than that."
His home-based practice prepares about 600 individual returns and "100 assorted entities, including nonprofit, which Lacerte does very well," says Lind. "I do drool over the document management system. I am starting to save copies of things electronically, but I am a year or two away from adopting that."
Lind likes the fact that in years when there are no major changes in the tax code, Lacerte upgrades its product.
Despite Intuit's ownership, the company is still responsive, although Lind says, "you have to go through seven layers of corporate goo to get anything done."
Lacerte Professional Tax Software
HQ Plano, Texas
Phone (800) 765-7777
Web site www.lacertesoftware.com
Federal 1040 $2,450, plus $395 per state.
Renewal 15 percent discount.
Pay-per-return Starts at $30, federal 1040 and one state, $15 per each additional state.
Multistate processing Available for unlimited states.
Support methods Toll-free telephone, email, online chat, in-product and online knowledge bases, Web forums.
Tax season support hours Monday-Friday: 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. CT, Saturday: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (Until midnight last week before April 15), Sunday: noon to 4 p.m. CT (8 p.m. last week before April 15)
Electronic storage Lacerte Document Management System
Integration QuickBooks, Intuit's Document Management System, Intuit's Tax Planner, EasyAcct, and BNA Tax Planner.
New for next year Client Checklist that pulls data from the prior year's return; Lacerte Trial Balance Utility for data integration from other sources.