By most accounts, there have been three great evolutions in accounting software over the past three decades: the introduction of the personal computer, the emergence of software that served small-business accounting needs, and the likely move to Web-based/Software-as-a-Service/cloud-based accounting services that take accounting online. But when it comes to low-cost accounting systems, there are three equally important revolutions taking place.

The first of these is that small business has become more complicated. Small companies today need business management tools, customer relationship tools, and stronger support in fixed asset management, inventory control and a host of other business venues.

The second is that the world has become smaller, forcing small companies to become multinational, multilingual and multi-currency from the outset.

The third is that compliance with regulatory and tax pressures is taking a toll on small businesses that can only be resolved by strong accounting and business management systems.

Today's generation of low-cost accounting systems still remain under $1,500 per year to implement, and some are less than $100. But they meet the needs of this changing and emerging small-business market in ways never envisioned just a decade ago.

AccountEdge

Acclivity

(800) 322-6962

www.accountedge.com

AccountEdge, once known as MYOB, is a simple accounting system that is nonetheless very scalable for growing businesses.

Assistants are used to set up company and account information, using either one of the 100 pre-configured charts of accounts, or a customized chart. Budgets for up to two years can be entered from a single window that displays all balance sheet accounts together on one window, and all profit and loss accounts on another. Shortcuts allow for the current-year budget to be copied into next year's budget, rather than spending time starting on a fresh budget screen.

Banking functions include the standard check writing, deposits, reconciliations and electronic banking, but also offer a handy feature to undo a reconciled transaction if it is incorrect. The AccountEdge GL includes the option to set up recurring journal entries and view the transaction journal. A sales module handles the entire sales process, including quotes, orders and invoices, with 50 standard reports available.

Management analysis capabilities are fairly strong, with more than 200 reports on the state of the business. Reports can be customized to sort and filter information, and most-viewed reports can be stored, sent to an Excel spreadsheet, or e-mailed as a PDF with one click.

Perhaps most impressive are the business services either packaged in the software or available as add-ons. A merchant account system allows processing of credit cards, and both a full-service payroll and a payroll tax service integrate with the software as well.

Though it is marketed as a low-cost system, AccountEdge has been loaded with a number of critical features that include support for time and billing, purchasing, inventory, contact management and payroll. These features, combined with a strong set of standard accounting features, make this an excellent low-cost accounting system with a strong history of performance.

Accounting Relief

AccountantsWorld

(888) 999-1366

www.accountantsworld.com

Accounting Relief is a Web-based system that combines full bookkeeping, write-up, trial balance, client management, and customizable statements in real-time in a unified system. It is part of a set of accounting-centric applications bundled together in the AccountantsWorld Power Practice System, which also includes a wide range of tools.

Accounting Relief provides an online solution consisting of two modules, Accounting Relief Pro and a Bookkeeping Module. Accounting Relief Pro provides for write-up, trial balance and preparation of financial statements by an unlimited number of staff members for an unlimited number of clients. The Bookkeeping Module, which is provided to the client by the accountant, provides for check writing, AR, AP, job costing and more. Key components of the system include the general ledger, AP and AR, inventory management, write-up and trial balance, financial statements, document management and client management.

The Bookkeeping Module can be customized for each client, based on their needs and level of accounting knowledge, to minimize client errors. Accountants and clients work collaboratively within the same system, eliminating the need for file transfers, and built-in capabilities for document management streamline workflow.

Set-up is fast and flexible, with 30 industry-specific charts of accounts and the option to copy accounts and set-up information from one client to another. The system features transaction entry by department, import of electronic transactions from banks or credit cards, tracking by job types and expense categories, and simplified reporting of sales tax.

Accounting Relief is notable for its easy, Web-based collaboration style and scalability to manage clients as they grow. It is also an economical service, though at the upper end of the low-cost category. For the feature set, though, it is a worthwhile upgrade.

AccountMate 7 for LAN

AccountMate Software Corp.

(707) 774-7500

www.accountmate.com

AccountMate 7 offers 16 accounting modules and customization features - all with the same user interface as the more robust SQL-based AccountMate products. This means that the software is infinitely scalable.

The application operates through a System Manager module that controls the system environment and set-up, and includes desktop shortcuts to AccountMate functions and external applications, online help, multi-level password security, module and company selection, and all pop-up menus. It also initializes the system, provides easy access to Microsoft Office tools and has multilingual capability. The other modules include the general ledger, AP and AR, bank reconciliation, inventory control, contact management, manufacturing, payroll, sales order management, and purchase order management. But the system also offers some unique modules, such as those for kitting; an Upsell Management module that shows "upsell" inventory items when orders are placed; a lot control module for inventory; and a manufacturing module. AccountMate 7 for LAN also has some of the most sophisticated inventory management tools of any low-cost product on the market, including serialized inventory handling.

Recent enhancements include an executive summary, for a snapshot of the company's current condition; and a view of a company's real-time cash position and the current book balance for each bank account. The system also provides streamlined check and payment processing.

AccountMate has some of the more fascinating aspects of any of the low-cost accounting products reviewed. Its strong capabilities in inventory enable flexible sales and upselling, features not found in other low-cost accounting packages. And its scalable, source-code-available platform make it ideal for companies with aggressive growth plans over the coming years.

QuickBooks Accountant

Intuit Inc.

(877) 683-3280

http://quickbooks.intuit.com/

QuickBooks Accountant 2011 is designed for accounting professionals who support multiple clients who use QuickBooks. QuickBooks Accountant 2011 is the master QuickBooks program and includes fully functioning current-year editions of QuickBooks Pro, Premier and Industry Editions for Windows - enabling accountants to easily view client files in whichever version they use.

Identical in functionality to other versions of QuickBooks 2011, the accounting version adds eight tools for the professional. The Client Data Review tools automate and consolidate separate processes so that accountants can quickly find and fix common data entry errors. The tools allow the reclassification of transactions in bulk, instead of individually; the write-off of invoices in batch; the ability to find and fix inventory discrepancies from a single screen; to easily identify added, changed, deleted or merged list items from the previous review period; the ability to easily see changes to account balances from the previous close; and to clear up undeposited funds account from one screen; and more.

QuickBooks Accountant also features a fully functional fixed asset manager, as well as an integrated working trial balance, so the accountant can view beginning balances, current period transactions, period adjustments, and ending balances for any time frame, and enter workpaper references. It also supports all global currencies.

New features include the ability to work on two different company files at the same time; the ability to manage all your client files, passwords, and company file upgrades in one place; the ability to create client balance sheets by class; the ability to create identical invoices in batch, rather than individually; the ability to update changes to the client company files via e-mail; and saving time by using client data review in multi-user mode.

Sage Peachtree Complete Accounting

Sage Peachtree

(877) 495-9904

www.peachtree.com

Sage Peachtree Complete Accounting 2011 includes all of the basic accounting features of other versions, plus inventory management, business analytics, payroll (managed in-house or outsourced through Sage Peachtree Payroll Services), and over 80 customizable reports.

Its core strengths include inventory, with multiple inventory costing methods; job costing to control job revenue and expense at the phase and cost code level, with at-a-glance job status; customizable reports, including financial analysis, budgeting, competitive benchmarking with export to Excel, PDF or e-mail; and enhanced controls that include an always-on audit trail and up to 15 difference checks on data to find potential errors.

This functionality is expanded with the ability to process credit-card transactions, online backup of data, online bill pay, payroll services, and remote access to data.

For accountants, Sage Peachtree Complete Accounting offers a clear audit trail. The audit trail logs when an individual enters, edits or deletes data. It allows management of information on up to 200 fixed assets with Sage FAS for Peachtree, including the ability to calculate and post periodic depreciation entries into Sage Peachtree for each asset, choose from a complement of operational and tax-oriented reports and worksheets, and streamline fixed-asset tax reporting.

Sage Peachtree Complete is not as accountant-centric as some other low-cost packages, and some of the features that accountants may wish for - or fast-growth companies will need - are in the Peachtree Complete and Peachtree Quantum versions for more money. However, for an accounting system that best combines ease of use with solid capabilities, small to midsized companies will find Sage Peachtree to be a strong choice today and a scalable solution for future growth.

Sage Simply Accounting Premium 2011

Sage North America

(888) 261-9610

www.simplyaccounting.com

Sage Simply Accounting comes out of Sage's global research and development center in Richmond, British Columbia, which makes it all the more interesting that this product is meant to act and work in two languages - English and Spanish.

Simply Accounting Premium 2011 provides for basic and advanced financial transactions, including cash flow, budgeting and inventory in multiple currencies, and automatic calculation and updates of federal and state taxes. But the company is also focused on matters of primary interest to small businesses: faster payments, through an integrated Sage Payment Boss that enables entrepreneurs and small-business owners to get paid immediately in the field using their 3G- or 4G-enabled mobile device and an existing merchant account. For $9.95 a month, Sage Payment Boss users can authorize credit-card payments anywhere at any time and seamlessly synch that information with Sage Simply Accounting, eliminating invoice processing time, reducing the possibility of errors and helping improve cash flow.

The 2011 version also offers 11 dashboards, providing financial and sales analytic reports to assess company performance. It also provides more sophisticated budgeting, forecasting and cost analysis tools. For companies that carry inventory, a new inventory management toolset helps business owners conduct pricing comparisons with quotes from different suppliers to make the best purchasing decisions.

The software also provides more than 100 standard reports, including general ledger reports, vendor reports, customer reports, payroll reports and inventory reports, all with graphing capabilities.

But the strongest feature is its bilingual capabilities. In a world in which bilingual business becomes commonplace, accountants and their clients can benefit from software that it equally facile in either Spanish or English. AT

Dave McClure is the president of Kent Associates, in Alexandria, Va., an independent testing laboratory and evaluation service.

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