The best solutions can squeeze more out of a popular service

Some accountants view write-up as grunt work - something akin to bookkeeping, that they have to do to keep particular clients. Others are more enlightened. With more and more clients purchasing inexpensive accounting software and taking over the basic bookkeeping tasks, these accountants see write-up as an opportunity.

Not only does write-up give the accountant the capability of performing quarterly and annual closings more rapidly and accurately, and the ability to zip those numbers into a tax prep application, but the write-up process also eases the pain of making adjusting entries and correcting the inevitable mistakes that most clients are going to introduce into the books.

It's a rare client that doesn't perform an entry that needs to be corrected - either through simple human error, or from a lack of expertise or training. Some clients are scrupulous about giving you a shout if they aren't sure how to handle a transaction, and some just muddle through and figure that you'll catch it.

Regardless of whether you view write-up as an inconvenience or a necessity, the right software can increase your productivity, squeezing more profitability out of this popular service.

Not many practitioners keep client records in a spreadsheet these days, but there are still more than a few who use generic accounting software, like QuickBooks or Peachtree Accounting for write-up tasks. If you are using the same generic version of these applications as your clients, you're working harder than you have to.

WHAT IS THE RIGHT WRITE-UP?

The underlying basis of the accounting process is the same, whether the task is accomplished using paper ledgers, spreadsheets or software specifically designed for accounting functions.

What differentiates write-up software from generic accounting applications is the addition of capabilities and features that most clients wouldn't use, but which let the accountant perform necessary operations such as corrections and adjusting and closing entries with greater ease.

Some of these additional accountant-oriented features include the ability to slipstream entries and adjustments into a client's books without disrupting their ongoing accounting tasks, increased analytical tools, the addition of after-the-fact payroll so that you can make up tax depositories and quarterly payroll reports for the client, and integration with other applications, such as tax prep and fixed assets.

Not all accountants have practices that really require the additional power and capability provided by the typical write-up package. If your practice falls into this situation, some vendors of generic accounting software offer "Accountant Editions" that provide some of the capabilities of write-up software at a very affordable price. We've included two of the most popular, QuickBooks and Peachtree, in the eight reviews that comprise this roundup.

In reviewing some of the other popular write-up packages for this year's roundup, it became obvious that a number of vendors that in the past had treated write-up as just something they had to provide to their customers are becoming more serious about this important application.

Keep in mind that even if you already have a write-up package, this might be the year that you might want to consider trading up to a write-up application that offers more features, or tight integration with a growing field of increasingly sophisticated additional software packages.

ACCOUNTINGRELIEF

AccountantsWorld

Hauppauge, N.Y.

(888) 999-1366

www.accountantsoffice.com

Pricing: $695 per year, plus $9.95 per month per client if client performs their in-house bookkeeping with AccountingRelief.

Write-up is one application that many accounting practices frequently perform at a client's site, rather than specifically in a central office. Sometimes this means having a copy of the software installed on the practitioner's laptop; at other times, the write-up software is installed on the firm's server and accessed remotely.

AccountingRelief is a perfect example of what people are talking about when they discuss computing in "the cloud." AccountantsWorld was very quick to realize the benefits of offering Web-based applications, and today offers one of the more complete suites of accountant-targeted software solutions available. In addition to the write-up application AccountingRelief, AccountantsWorld can provide practice management, document management, fixed assets, sales tax management, and even a service-bureau-quality payroll, all hosted on its own servers and designed specifically for browser-based remote access.

The application itself is very nicely thought-out and designed. There's an easy-to-understand navigation flowchart, and tasks are also listed across the top of the screen. Because AccountingRelief was designed for remote access from the get-go, data entry is fast and intuitive. You can set up AccountingRelief so that a client can perform their data entry directly into the application, as well as generate their own checks and invoices, obviating the need for a separate "checkbook"-type program or low-end accounting application installed at the client's site.

We've reviewed AccountingRelief as a trial balance application as well as write-up, and the lead sheets and other features make AccountingRelief suitable for use in both practice scenarios. AccountingRelief does not support a wide range of direct export to tax prep applications, but it does support close integration with the popular Lacerte and UltraTax programs, and it won't be difficult to use with other vendors' tax prep products.

AccountingRelief is also highly customizable. You can modify the reports and statements considerably, and control what is displayed and accessible to both your staff and clients who use the application.

Given the netbook trend of providing very useable ultra-lightweight laptops, and the almost universal availability of high-speed Internet access (through a 3G data card, if not available at the client's site), Accounting Relief is the right service at the right time. You don't need to worry about software updates and maintenance, nor adding or maintaining hardware. Adding a new staff member? A $400 netbook gets them up, running and on the road.

If AccountingRelief wasn't an attractive enough proposition already, how about its new feature, "Pricing Relief?" Actually, that's not what AccountantsWorld is calling the price reduction, dropping the price from $995 to $695 a year. New this year is a charge for having your client do their bookkeeping using AccountingRelief. This used to be free, but is now $9.95 per month per client. That's not out of line with what some other vendors are charging, and in many cases, it's less expensive than providing your client with some kind of checkbook software.

WORKING PAPERS

CaseWare International Inc.

Berkeley, Calif.

(800) 267-1317

www.caseware.com

Pricing: Single user - $499; up to five users - $1,399.

CaseWare is a company that specializes in accountant-oriented applications. Unlike some of the vendors whose products are reviewed in this roundup, CaseWare does not offer applications like payroll or fixed assets. Rather, this vendor provides somewhat more specialized applications, including the well-known and highly regarded audit tool Idea.

Working Papers straddles the line between being a write-up application and a trial balance application, and works well in both situations. At the heart of Working Papers is a very sophisticated record and document management capability. While retaining the ability to perform the mathematical operations necessary to produce financial reports and statements, this inherent document management facility lets a practitioner also incorporate other types of records into a client's books, including e-mails, faxes, scanned documents and extensive notes. This permits a considerable amount of transparency, if desired, which is a good capability to have these days, as well as the availability of ancillary materials that might be required or helpful during closing.

Unlike many write-up packages, there isn't an extensive set of boilerplate charts of accounts, though a number of sample clients are supplied that can be used to set up your clients. Likewise, there aren't hundreds of different reports available, though the ones that are provided will serve the needs of many practitioners. The underlying reports and documents that comprise Working Papers, however, are very easy to modify for specific client requirements, and a report writer makes such customization even easier. Additionally, add-ons, such as GAAP Financials, provide an extensive template collection that considerably extends the capabilities of Working Papers, including a large collection of boilerplate footnotes.

Working Papers isn't optimized for fast data entry, and doesn't provide a client bookkeeping solution. The application does, however, have extensive import capabilities, including support for just about all of the entry-level accounting applications being sold, so providing a client with one of the very basic free or inexpensive bookkeeping packages (or even using one of these as a front end in your practice for data entry) is a workable solution.

Also impressive is Working Papers' export capability. It supports direct mapping to many of the popular tax prep applications, including ProSystem fx, UltraTax, Lacerte, ProSeries and others.

CCH PROSYSTEM FX WRITE-UP

CCH Tax and Accounting

Torrance, Calif.

(800) PFX-9998

http://tax.cchgroup.com

Pricing: Starts at $2,240.

Sometimes, it makes sense to look beyond a specific application to the overall workflow in your practice. That doesn't mean that features contained in a particular application are unimportant. But depending upon the makeup of your practice and staff, it may be wise to look beyond features.

CCH is a major player in the suite approach to an accountant's practice. Assuming that a firm takes on engagements beyond just write-up, the ProSystem fx suite includes applications encompassing tax prep, engagement management, trial balance, practice management, document management, fixed assets, workflow management and others. Payroll, both in-house and with a service bureau, is also available.

This approach has its good points and not-so-good points. On one hand, you can pretty much run just about every aspect of your firm's business using the components of the ProSystem fx Suite. The downside is that the cost of doing so isn't inexpensive, both upfront to purchase the initial licenses, and in yearly renewal and maintenance fees. That's true of ProSystem fx's primary competition, Thomson Reuters CS Suite, as well, which is why both of these vendors have a large following among larger accounting practices.

Built on the Microsoft SQL Server 2005 database engine, ProSystem fx Write-Up is easily scalable from a single-user application to one that can handle a considerable number of simultaneous users. Set-up of many SQL-based applications can be troublesome, but our test application went very smoothly, with the install routine configuring SQL Server 2005 without any intervention.

Considering its premium pricing, ProSystem fx Write-Up is fairly straightforward. You can navigate easily through it, and data entry can be performed without undue difficulty. Reports are fairly comprehensive and can be easily modified, and import and export capabilities are generous, with the ability to import transactions directly from Quicken, QuickBooks, Peachtree, Lacerte or even Thomson Reuters' write-up application. ATF Payroll is provided, and includes the requisite W-2, 1099 and quarterly payroll tax reports. If your client is using QuickBooks for payroll, these transactions can also be directly imported, saving re-keying.

ProSystem fx Write-Up stands up as a stand-alone write-up application very nicely, even if you are using other vendors for the other applications you use in your firm. But the real value in using ProSystem fx Write-Up is how smoothly it slots into the ProSystem fx Suite, so if you aren't going to implement other applications from the suite, you might not find this particular write-up package quite as compelling.

ATX CLIENT WRITE-UP

CCH Small Firm Services

Caribou, Maine

(877) 728-9776

www.atxinc.com

Pricing: $470; with payroll - $895.

In recent years, CCH has made a number of acquisitions, including Universal Tax Systems and ATX Software. It formed a new division named Small Firm Services to house these acquisitions, and this year integrated the two former companies under the ATX label, which now offers an ATX suite of applications that includes trial balance, tax prep, fixed assets, payroll, document management and others, including the ATX Write-Up included in this roundup.

This suite is not as comprehensive as that offered by CCH's ProSystem fx Suite, but it's also nowhere near as expensive as ProSystem fx and is designed to appeal to somewhat smaller practices.

Two versions of ATX Write-Up are available. The ATX Write-Up Suite includes write-up and ATF payroll, while the more expensive bundle adds live payroll capabilities, along with MICR check printing, direct deposit and additional features. If you will use these capabilities with even one of your clients, the $895 cost is well worth it.

The standard ATX ATF Payroll includes the ability to print payroll quarterly returns, W-2s and 1099s, but electronic filing of these returns, now required in an increasing number of clients, requires either an optional $160 W-2/1099 e-filing module, or the $290 Payroll Compliance Reporting module (which adds e-filing of quarterly federal and state payroll forms.)

ATX products are designed to be affordable for smaller firms. That means that there aren't quite as many bells and whistles as you'll find on more expensive write-up applications. Still, the application installs quickly, offers sample client charts of accounts, and is simple to navigate and use. You can do a modest amount of customization on the reports, and many practices will find the standard report collection quite useable.

Clients can perform their own data entry using an optional ATX Checkbook program or with QuickBooks or Peachtree accounting, for which a direct import into the write-up system is provided.

One thing to be aware of is that if you are a first-time user of ATX Write-Up, purchase of a $99 Web-based training course is mandatory. You don't have to use it, but you might as well since you have to pay whether it is used or not.

With a unified and integrated practice suite, ATX now offers smaller firms and practices a viable and affordable alternative. If you've lusted after ProSystem fx or CS Professional Suite for years, but have just not been able to justify the cost for your practice, take a look at ATX's offerings.

DRAKE CLIENT WRITE-UP

Drake Software

Franklin, N.C.

(800) 890-9500

www.drakesoftware.com

Pricing: Included with Drake tax software bundles; stand-alone - $445.

These days, it's not enough to offer just a basic product, like tax prep. To be competitive, you have to offer products that complement your basic application. That's become more than evident in the tax prep market. Drake Software is one of the few remaining independent vendors there, and rather than lose customers because the client needs just a little bit more than tax prep, it has had the good business sense to provide its tax prep clientele with some ancillary applications.

These include a tax planner, RIA's Checkpoint research service, W-2 import, a basic document management system, and Drake Client Write-Up. The client write-up is included in many of the tax prep bundles that Drake offers, but is also offered (and priced) as a stand-alone product.

Drake isn't in the write-up business, so the write-up application is not all that fancy compared to some of the other packages in this roundup. At the same time, it is a write-up package, rather than an "Accountant's Edition" of a generic accounting application. As such, it has a few bells and whistles that might make it a more attractive choice than an accountant's edition.

For the most part, the write-up functions are fairly basic. Sample client set-ups and charts of accounts are provided, and set-up and data entry are straightforward. Reports and financial statements are somewhat plain in appearance and, compared to some of the reporting and formatting options that several other vendors offer, somewhat sparse. You can output them in RTF format, so they can be spruced up, if necessary, with almost any word processor.

Client Write-Up does offer a trial balance report, which can also be directly imported into one of Drake's tax prep applications, which is a nice touch.

Where Drake's Client Write-Up really earns its keep is in the payroll area. The write-up application includes both ATF and live payroll. And those payroll subsystems provide electronic filing and MICR check printing - features that some other vendors charge as much for as Drake does for the whole write-up package.

QUICKBOOKS PREMIER ACCOUNTANT'S EDITION

Intuit Inc.

Mountain View, Calif.

(800) 4-INTUIT

www.quickbooks.com

Pricing: Single user - $399.

With so many clients using QuickBooks in one edition or another to perform their bookkeeping, and both clients and practitioners using TurboTax (or ProSeries/Lacerte) for tax prep, Intuit really doesn't want to give a practitioner any reason to go elsewhere. So several years ago, the vendor decided to bring out an edition that incorporated some additional features specifically targeted at accountants who had clients using QuickBooks.

Prior years' Accountant's Editions were fairly robust in accountant-oriented features. These included the ability to slipstream adjusting and correcting entries into a client's books while the client is using the software. Intuit also built in backwards file compatibil­ity with prior Accountant's Editions, different editions of the current year's releases, and the ability to create a SmartMap to export client data directly into Lacerte tax prep applications.

Other write-up-like features in the Accountant's Edition include an integrated trial balance tool, and a remote access capability so that an accountant can actually open up a client's files from outside of the client's offices.

One feature that gets a lot of use in most write-up applications is a report generator, most often to create customized financial statements, a requirement that's becoming more common as banks and other statement users want these financials in a format specific to their organization. The new statement writer in the Accountant's Edition makes it easy to create customized financials. It exports a client's statements to Excel along with the underlying statement formulas and formatting, so creating a custom statement is a very quick process.

While the Accountant's Edition of QuickBooks requires that you make some concessions compared to many write-up packages, it also provides you with a unique feature - the Client Data Review, which examines your clients' books for errors such as mis-postings and unapplied balances. Not only does it make these errors easier to find - it also supplies a handy checklist of where an accountant is most likely to find them, and provides a note capability so that correcting entries can be described in greater detail than is usually provided for with an adjusting entry.

Finally, one feature that isn't actually part of the software, but which will be of great value to most practitioners, is the large number of QB users and consultants who are only an e-mail away. They may not have the answers to all of your questions, but having such an active user forum does provide another layer of support and comfort.

PEACHTREE BY SAGE PREMIUM ACCOUNTING ACCOUNTANTS' EDITION

Sage Software SB Inc.

Norcross, Ga.

(877) 495-9904

www.peachtree.com

Pricing: Single user - $499; five users - $1,199.

Intuit is not the only big player in the entry-level accounting market. Peachtree Software, a division of Sage, still maintains a comfortable foothold in this market as well.

Sage does not market the Accountants' Edition as a write-up application, and strictly speaking, it is not. As with the Accountant's Edition of QuickBooks, Peachtree's Premium Accounting Accountants' Edition offers all of the functionality of Premium, along with the ability to make adjusting and correcting entries to clients' books as long as the client is using some version of Peachtree other than Quantum Accounting. These entries can be slipstreamed into the client's files without interrupting the client's own use of the application.

The Accountants' Edition also lets users maintain a history from 2007 on, which can be used to do comparative analysis. Tight integration with Excel and an included copy of Crystal Reports make custom and ad hoc reporting possible.

Over the years, the impression has built up that QuickBooks is more appropriate for the financially unsophisticated, while Peach­­tree is for "real" accounting. To a great degree, this is not true. While QuickBooks has always been highly targeted to a consumer market, both it and the Peachtree products at each edition level have, for the most part, similar features and functionality.

One place where Peachtree's Accountants' Edition stands out, however, is in its ability to perform consolidations. A Consolidation Wizard automates this task - just specify which companies you want to consolidate, and the wizard will construct a new company that embodies those selected companies.

One impressive new addition this year to the Peachtree line-up is an Accountants' Edition of Peachtree Quantum Accounting. This has the same type of licensing (and cost) as the regular Peachtree Quantum Edition, and is able to handle between five and 40 users. If your firm has a number of clients using Peachtree Quantum Edition in addition to clients using other Peachtree versions, this might be a very good way to implement write-up capability, along with the ability to handle client files regardless of which edition of Peachtree Accounting a particular client happens to be using.

THOMSON REUTERS WRITE-UP CS

Write-Up CS

Thomson Reuters

Dexter, Mich.

(800) 968-8900

www.cs.thomsonreuters.com

Pricing: $1,800; Payroll Compliance module - $280 extra per year.

When it comes to suites of accountant-oriented applications, there are two big players. One is CCH with its ProSystem fx, and the other is Thomson Reuters with the CS Professional Suite. Having undergone a number of name changes over the last several years, Thomson Reuters CS is the latest name incarnation of the former Creative Solutions, which pioneered the notion of a suite of accountant-targeted applications that share an underlying database. This approach is now common in the accounting software industry, but Creative Solutions has been doing it a long time and has it down pat.

The CS Professional Suite has a large number of member components, many of which can be used as stand-alone applications, but when used in conjunction with each other present a common user interface and eliminate redundant data entry.

The suite currently consists of tax prep, practice management, document management, fixed assets, a Web site builder, trial balance, an engagement manager, and write-up. Write-up contains an ATF payroll, but not a live payroll system, which is another component of the CS Professional Suite. And the ATF payroll does not provide the ability to generate W-2s, 1099s, or quarterly federal and state payroll reports. For this you'll need to purchase the optional Payroll Compliance module, which can also be used with the service bureau payroll application (which also does not provide these capabilities).

Other options many Write-Up CS users will consider are the Client Bookkeeping System (which lets the client do the data entry); Financial Analysis CS, for extending the write-up system's capabilities in this area; and File Cabinet CS, a document and file management system.

We found Write-Up CS easy to install, and the application has a very comprehensive set of charts of accounts for different types of client entities. Data entry is flexible, and entry screens can be customized to hide unused fields and tie data entry sequences to different source documents. You can also import client data from Microsoft Office Accounting, QuickBooks and Peachtree accounting, Sage BusinessWorks and Paychex General Ledger Reporting Service.

Write-Up CS has a large number of standard reports that can be easily customized, extensive graphics capability, and a Financial Statement Editor, so there's not much that you can't do in the presentation area.

If Write-Up CS has a downside, it's the same one its main competition has: By the time you are finished configuring your firm's suite of applications and multi-user licenses, it can wind up being a considerable investment. For many mid-to-large-sized practices, it will be well worth the expense.

Ted Needleman is senior director of the Technical Services Division of Industry Analysts Inc., an independent market research firm and testing laboratory. He was previously the editor-in-chief of Accounting Technology, and writes frequently on software, hardware, and technology-related subjects.

(c) 2009 Accounting Today and SourceMedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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