For most tax professionals, tax return preparation is one of those things that never seem to end. Even though April 15 is the official filing target of Form 1040, there are extensions, and other returns, such as corporate, partnership, and others, that may have different filing dates depending on the client.

One other thing about tax prep is that it’s almost a truism that no one is 100 percent satisfied with their tax software. Chances are excellent that most preparers will tell you that there are things they wish the software would do better.

This uncertainty, the nagging feeling that another vendor’s offering might make the process easier, is one of the major reasons why tax prep software vendors spend so much money on advertising. And while most practices don’t play musical chairs every time it comes to filling out a return or adding another class of return to their capabilities, enough do so that vendors continue to laud their capabilities.

 

IT’S HERE, IT’S THERE

To be honest, to a very large extent the offerings from the major vendors of tax prep software are very similar, at least at their core. While one may offer an esoteric, seldom-used form or schedule, all of the major players in the game have to include the majority of forms and schedules applicable to a specific kind of return.

But as the famous architect Mies van der Rohe said, “God is in the details.” The differences from one tax prep package to another may be small, but it’s those small differences that frequently determine how irritating or pleasant the software is to work with. And that's why we've put together this Comparison Guide to Tax Prep Software.

 

TIME TO SWITCH?

All too often, practitioners stay with a tax prep package that they really don’t like simply because it’s what they know. And the thought of having to learn a new way — how to override entries, how to skip around within the return — is disheartening. And having to understand a new package well enough to teach seasonal part-time staff is almost unthinkable.

Still, if the past tax season left you with a somewhat sour taste in your mouth, you owe it to yourself to at least consider what other vendors have to offer. We surveyed the top tax return preparation software vendors for data and capabilities on 12 of the most popular packages. The results are detailed in the accompanying grid. We tried to zero in on the areas where one package might vary from the standard features we’d expect in any tax return application, such as error checking and e-filing. Cloud-based tax preparation offerings have become more plentiful over the past few years, and may be the impetus you need to make a switch. This approach makes it easy to add new preparers as needed without the need for additional in-house hardware.

Obviously, no one will make a decision to adopt a new package based solely on the information detailed here. But just about every tax prep software vendor offers a demo package for little or no money, especially at this time of year. And those demo packages are perfect vehicles to finish off returns on extension and to give an application that interests you a good test drive.

Packages vary from vendor to vendor. And needs and wants vary from practice to practice, and even from tax season to tax season. Now is the perfect time of the year to start making decisions about staying with your tax prep software vendor, or taking a big step and making a switch.

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