Drake aims to speed up its customers' work and ease e-filing this coming season. Entering data is one of the biggest time-consumers. So for 2008, Drake is expanding its W-2 import capabilities for W-2 eXpress and Schedule D import will now be included in business packages. Trial balance import will be based on specified format and users can export tax information from a parent's to a child's return.
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While many systems allow for populating returns with scanned source documents, someone still needs to feed those documents through the scanner and ensure everything is mapped correctly, explains John Sapp, Drake's vice president of sales and marketing.
Firms tend to struggle with scanners, Sapp says, noting that not as many firms take advantage of the vendor's document management system, Drake Document Manager, as he would like.
Often people don't realize their copier can also serve as a scanner, which usually only requires a network connection and a piece of software that usually comes with it.
Another area of document management in which they struggle is making electronic annotations to files.
"We're so used to holding a pen and taking notes, so we're adding more annotation features, so it looks like it would on real paper. Help equate the two and see the relationship," Sapp says.
For example, when scanning a W-2, a drop-down box lets users identify it as such, which prevents naming inconsistencies among different users. Users can stamp items as Draft, Internal Use Only, For Review, or other action items. And additional password protections and other security features have been added.
Portals to exchange information with clients via the Web is a high priority for 2009 but not 2008.
Sapp also notices that several firms only e-file when states mandate it, so Drake is attempting to take on some of the burden serving as a retransmitter so firms don't have to "babysit" the returns in fear they will be sent back.
"If you have a conglomerate of tax returns, instead of trying to figure out where to e-file each one, send all of them to us. We bundle them and send them to the proper taxing authorities. We're like the post office sorting letters," Sapp says.
If the IRS accepts the return, which usually occurs within 12 hours, Drake immediately notifies its customer. If the IRS rejects it, Drake returns it and provides the reason for the rejection, Sapp says.
The Electronic Training Center saw more than 26,000 students and dished out more than 5,000 CPE credits. The center offers basic staff training in English and Spanish accompanied by a recorded Webinar and examples so administrators can see where their employees need help.
This year, Drake is offering video training, which Sapp says helps new customers transition.
Drake switched approximately 2,000 customers last season with its free conversion tools, growing the total number of customer from roughly 23,700 in 2006 to 26,400 last year. Most of the new sales were to preparers starting their own practice who were attracted to the price, which has not increased in 17 years. Price also helps convert customers whose vendors have raised the price for three or four years in a row, and keeps loyal customers from leaving, Sapp says.
One of those loyal customers is Brian Bharat, president of Deltax Financial Services. The enrolled agent has roughly 350 to 400 clients, mostly 1040 clients.
He reviewed several other tax software packages but found Drake to be the most friendly and affordable.
HQ: Franklin, N.C.
Phone: (828) 524 -2922
Price: $995-$1,395 (including early season discounts)
Renewal: $995-$1,395 (including early season discounts)
Online preparation: Available for consumers only
Multi-state processing: Up to 49 states
Data entry: W-2 import, Schedule D import, Trial Balance import, Zip code auto-fill
Support methods: Phone, email, online knowledge base, forums, online tax research
Support hours: Mon- Fri: 8 am to 10 pm ET; Sat. 8 am to 6 pm ET
Document management/storage: Drake Document Manager
Online organizer: N/A
Internet portals: N/A
Internet capabilities: Access to RIA, state DOR Web sites, program updates, Pay-per-return purchasing, W-2 downloading
Bank products: IRAL, RAL, Bonus, Debit card
New for next year: Enhanced importing capabilities, auto worksheet to work with more schedules, sum calculator on select screens for real-time totaling during data entry, enhanced view/print mode options, video training, downloadable updates