by Roger Russell
Less than a decade ago there were more than 100 tax compliance software manufacturers. Today the total numbers in the twenties. The companies that still exist have managed to survive for a number of reasons - quality, niche, marketing, and technological adroitness, including the ability to make the change from DOS to Windows in pace with the market.
Acquisitions and consolidations have taken their toll, contributing to the shorter list of vendors for next year's tax filing season.
- Franklin, N.C.-based Drake purchased Express Software and the customer list for Alpine Data’s Tax/Pack.
- UCG, which owns Kleinrock Tax Research, acquired Caribou, Maine-based ATX.
- Houston-based TRE Financial Services acquired Orrtax. ATX and Orrtax continue to produce and market their software. Most recently, Best Software acquired CPA Software.
The surviving companies have continued to add enhancements such as new forms, calculators and functionality improvements. In addition, many of the tax law changes introduced in the 2001 legislation were prospective and are reflected in the forms for the first time this year.AccountantsWorld
Micro Vision, newly merged with its sister company, AccountantsWorld, has retained the AccountantsWorld name. Its online proprietary products are now offered at the AccountantsOffice Web site, while the AccountantsWorld site remains a portal for the accounting community. There are currently about 60,000 accountants who visit the site for accounting news, tools and links, and to participate in discussion groups.
Tax Relief software has added Form 5500, as well as additional e-filing states. An online client organizer allows the client to enter information over the Internet, which the CPA can review and roll over into the tax program. "The information can be stored in our CyberCabinet, which the client can access at any time," said Chandra Bhansali, president of AccountantsWorld. "He can find out information on his e-filed return, for example, without going through the CPA. The whole idea is to cut down on the accountant’s nonbillable time."
Total Tax Office
UGC, the new parent of ATX, plans to offer Total Tax Office, an integrated tax prep and research product combining Max with Kleinrock's TaxExpert. The former ATX Forms is now Zillion Forms, which has over 8,000 forms and is included in the company’s Max product. Total Tax Office is priced at just under $1,000. Practitioners can still buy "a la carte" via the company’s Saber package. ATX has added a Web Organizer, which automatically rolls over data collected online into the tax returns.
"The merger has allowed us to be the only one in the market with tax prep and research combined on the same CD," said marketing director Bill Grady. "The response to our new office products has been amazing - 70 percent of our sales in the last two weeks are combined products - tax prep and research."
CCH has been working on numerous enhancements for the upcoming season, as well as some long-range changes that won’t be evident until later in 2003, for the 2004 tax-filing season. Among the enhancements are tighter integration between ProSystem fx Tax and ProSystem fx Practice Management, including the ability to launch clocks and inquiries. Integration between ProSystem fx Tax and ProSystem fx Engagement includes the ability to link trial balance data into the tax returns and automatically pass changes and updates as they are performed in Engagement.
Broader calculation capabilities of informational fields have been added to the K-1, and calculations for the Alternative Minimum Tax and passive credit limitations have been added for publicly traded partnerships. New state forms have been added, including 2D Bar Codes for applicable states.
Global fx, the ASP version of ProSystem fx Tax, is integrated with the local version, so that the user can easily upload or download returns. Two-year comparison capabilities have been added to corporate, fiduciary and partnership programs.
Visual 1040 and Visual
Newly acquired by Best Software, CPA Software will be marketed to Best’s existing nationwide network of accountants who use Peachtree, MAS90, MIP, Abra, Act! and SalesLogix products.
CPA Software’s enhancements for next filing season include a client folder called Visual File Cabinet, which can save and store anything that can be scanned in, according to tax line manager Shirley Harris. "In addition to catastrophic management, it can also result in a reduction of storage costs," she said.
Other enhancements include a Check-in/Check-out feature, which allows employees to work remotely. "It flags the return on the server level so that someone else won’t make changes on it," said Harris.
CSI offers a Web-based client organizer this year. The tax professional makes a link available on his or her Web site or in an e-mail. Customers can complete the organizer at their convenience, which the tax professional can then import directly into Ultra Tax with no re-keying of data.
CSI will be integrating with RIA’s CheckPoint tax research system. CheckPoint users will be able to launch CheckPoint directly from within the UltraTax system. RIA, CSI and Accounting Today are Thomson businesses.
CSI’s paperless office product, FileCabinet Solution, now automatically backs up UltraTax files, as well as files from other CSI programs. CSI has also added the remaining 1041 state programs, and now offers all state 1040, 1120, 1120S, 1065, and 1041 forms.
Drake Tax Solution
Drake’s primary focus this year was to convert the Windows program to 32-bit, and include a DOS Console emulation program for clients currently accustomed to using the former DOS program. The DOS Console looks and feels like the DOS product, but is required to run under the Windows platform. Clients have the option of the DOS Console or the true Windows program at no extra charge.
Drake has enhanced its depreciation function. Preparers will be able to double-click on any depreciation field and be automatically taken to Form 4562. Once in the 4562, the Escape key will take them directly to the previous entry screen.
This year, Drake is including all states at no additional charge. Drake also intends to add some features suggested by former Xpress and Alpine clients.
Dunphy Systems Tax Preparation Software
Dunphy has added a number of new forms, and this year will have updates available on a Web site and bulletin board. Its e-filing will now be supporting the state-only option. Preparers will be able to e-file at the state level without e-filing the federal return, while still transmitting the federal return to the IRS. This facilitates e-filing for people who live and work in two different states, who can only e-file in one state.
ProSeries has concentrated on providing seamless integration with its QuickBooks accounting. The professional can now create a tax return from within a QuickBooks data file.
Other ProSeries improvements include expanded support for cities, including those in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio, Missouri, Kentucky and Florida, and new business states. Additional support has been added for Form 990EZ (Tax-exempt organizations), Form 706 (Estate return) and Form 709 (Gift return).
Lacerte Tax Software
Key Lacerte improvements for tax year 2002 include expanded support for cities and new tax planner states. Multi-state reconciliation worksheets provide a detailed breakdown of multi-state return computations, and allocate income and deduction information between states. The software also will have the ability to split a "Married Filing Jointly" return into two "Married Filing Single" returns.
Lacerte has an e-organizer, which can be sent by accountants to their clients via e-mail. The organizer automatically transfers organizer data to the client file.
(800) 230-2322 x1041
TaxWorks has added nine new business states on its 1120, 1120s, 1041 and 1065 programs. An Asset Manager has been integrated into the 990 program, and new input screens have been added for Form 1099.
A new column on the dependent grid allows the capability to determine if person qualifies for EIC, dependent care credit and head of household.
Laser Systems also produces privately labeled tax prep software for several companies, "without all the bells and whistles that TaxWorks has," according to company spokesman Alan Haacke.
Orrtax has worked on enhancements for both its DOS and Windows products. More worksheets, improved state forms, and a drop-down pick list for many of the fields in DOS are new. The Windows product includes the credit for taxes paid to other states, with fully functional forms and worksheets. A Simplified Service Release application wizard allows return status to be displayed separately for preparation, e-filing and bank products. A new launch allows the preparer to navigate inside and outside the program.
A refund anticipation loan request and return can be electronically filed while the customer waits, in conjunction with Santa Barbara Bank and Trust. Orrtax is also partnering with Vertical lend to offer mortgages and other loans to the preparer’s clients.
Green Bay, Wis.
Nelco, familiar to most preparers as a supplier of tax forms and e-filing services, has entered the tax preparation market with its own Great Tax software. The package emphasizes quick processing, integrated e-filing, a client organizer, and customized reporting. Since it is new to the compliance software market, it includes quick data conversion from other packages. All Great Tax packages include free e-filing software.
Nelco continues to offer refund anticipation loans (RALs) through Bank One, Household Bank, and Santa Barbara Bank and Trust. Preparers may be eligible to earn cash back at the end of the season with the Great Rewards program.
Petz has added support for the new state-only filing program, which allows the electronic return originator to file multiple state returns with one federal return and to resubmit a state-rejected return. Client letter capabilities have been enhanced within CrossLink to support more state mailing addresses for those states, which have numerous addresses. This is in response to the mailing address requirements for supporting 2D Bar Coding.
Petz is offering a new Instant Refund Anticipation Loan (IRAL) in conjunction with Household Bank. This allows the preparer to request a refund loan in less than five minutes.
GoSystem Tax (CD) and GoSystem Tax RS (Web-based)
While the percentage of users who have migrated to RIA’s ASP-based Remote Server system has grown from 8 percent in 1998 to more than 50 percent last year, RIA is committed to supporting its GoSystem Tax program on CD. "An earlier communication we sent out was misinterpreted," according to product marketing manager Boyd Gackle. "We simply wanted our CD users to know what their peers were doing."
RIA has enhanced its offerings for both the CD and the RS versions. The RS platform has been improved with single sign-on technology and greater integration between products.
"For individuals, we’ve concentrated on complying with H.R. 3090 for the states, as states choose to adopt or not to adopt," said Gackle. GoSystem will add a number of items to handle the new Form 4562 requirements from the states.
As a result of a 77 percent increase in e-filing last year, RIA has concentrated on streamlining the process for next season’s returns. A step-by-step guide will help clients through the process, and improved diagnostics for e-filing will insure that returns are accepted on the first attempt. Other enhancements include a K-1 print package that will allow the preparer to view and print the K-1 without printing the entire partnership return.
Next year’s TaxSimple packages will allow the preparer to go directly to the state main form from the federal main form, and back, without going through menus. The current form or a complete tax return will now be printable without exiting the form. Network users will be able to store up to five different paths on the main server, making the network installation of TaxSimple much easier.
Additional state diagnostics have been added. Preparers will be able to create their own dropdown menus for any field. A client management system allows the preparer to sort clients using a number of criteria. Additional enhancements include an improved K-1 interface, laser output for all worksheets, and enhanced Married Filing Jointly vs. Married Filing Separately capability.
TaxSimple is currently testing free e-mail addresses and free Web sites for its clients.
Universal Tax Systems
TaxWise is adding new features, including e-filing for Form 1065, individual state e-filing, and the ability to electronically file partnership returns. An e-file simulator, available 24/7, allows the preparer to practice and experience the complete process at any time. TaxWise is also offering its preparers the opportunity to offer both advance refund anticipation loans and instant RALs.
A custom Web site for each business partner, hosted by TaxWise, is free. The Setup Assistant allows preparers to produce their own professional Web site, which they can edit themselves.
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