Though among the least complicated computing applications in the accounting marketplace, payroll software and services continue to set the trends in both utilization of advanced technologies and business development for accounting firms.Payroll was one of the first practice areas to make a strong move toward the Web-based application service provider model. It was one of the first to encompass non-traditional practice areas, such as human resources and 401(k) plan management, enabling accountants to expand their services to clients. And it was one of the first areas to recognize the dangers of bypassing accountants in an effort to sell directly to small businesses - payroll systems and services now are almost all directed to using accountants as a primary channel to reach SMB customers.

2005 is the year in which payroll again will set the pace for a major new trend - security. With massive data breaches occurring on almost a weekly basis, regulators and legislators are considering whether new laws are needed to safeguard the personal information of consumers. Since payroll applications collect and use the very information being sought by identity thieves, payroll software vendors, service bureaus and Web-based services are in the middle of a massive effort to harden their defenses against intrusion and provide additional data safeguards.

This remains a very active and robust field, with nearly a score of major competitors and excellent products at every range of pricing. For 2005, we cover eight payroll solutions with strong support for accountants and their clients.

Abra Payroll
Sage Software

Abra Payroll is a flexible and economical in-house payroll management system that works well as a stand-alone and as part of the Sage Abra Human Resource Management System, and is aimed at the needs of midsized companies.

A powerful Windows-based application, Abra Payroll has the flexibility to manage unlimited earnings, taxes and deduction types, multiple user-defined pay groups, and customizable transactions. Abra Payroll also offers a full range of tax management capabilities, including all standard tax tables (federal, state and local), compatibility with the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System, and electronic media reporting for all states.

Reporting capabilities are particularly strong with this package, with over 100 standard reports, as well as the Abra Secure Query report writer and Crystal Reports reporting options. Highly customizable, it also provides complete integration with Abra HR, Abra Attendance and Abra ESS, and interfaces with many major general ledger and timeclock systems.

Abra Payroll is scalable to handle the needs of both small and large organizations. Customized data-entry screens with user-defined fields and the ability to establish access security at the company, group and individual person reporting and individual field levels provide excellent flexibility.

Additional features include the ability to process a "trial" payroll; the ability to create NACHA (Electronic Payments Association) compliant files for electronically processing employee direct deposits and payroll tax deposits; the ability to print to several different types of check stock, including MICR encoding; and automatic time sheet entry. The Abra ESS module, when used with Abra Payroll, provides secure, online information to employees, including payroll history details, W-4 changes and W-2 copies.

Both part of an integrated human resources package and a stand-alone resource, Abra Payroll is notable for its focus on mid-range businesses, its power and its flexibility. Few payroll solutions in its class can offer the same ease of navigation, customization and economy.

Intuit Payroll
Intuit Inc.

Intuit offers four levels of payroll support geared for use by accounting professionals with their clients, from in-house payroll processing to full outsourcing. In addition, there is an Accountant Payroll Referral Award program for those who recommend Intuit payroll solutions to their clients.

Intuit Complete Payroll is a full-service solution that works either with or without QuickBooks and includes processing of tax payments. The client simply sends payroll information over the phone or via computer. QuickBooks Assisted Payroll uses QuickBooks and integrated tax tables to calculate the payroll, with Intuit processing the checks and managing compliance items that include tax filings and end-of-year forms.

QuickBooks Standard Payroll, Enhanced Payroll Plus and Enhanced Payroll Plus for Accountants offer flexible, in-house solutions featuring up-to-date tax tables and current payroll forms. All use QuickBooks as the base product, so it smoothly integrates other accounting and tax functionality in a format that is easy for clients to use and understand. Standard Payroll handles basic payroll chores, with automatic filing of federal taxes. Enhanced Payroll Plus adds state tax functionality and automatic upgrades to QuickBooks.

Enhanced Payroll Plus for Accountants lets accountants use the QuickBooks platform to perform payroll for their clients, with full support for state and federal filings, worker's compensation management, local check printing, integrated direct deposit (an add-on service) and payroll reports. As many as 50 clients can be managed from a single subscription.

Intuit also offers QuickBooks Employee Organizer and HR Assistant - employment tracking and compliance services that round out its HR offerings.

Intuit has built an impressive set of payroll solutions for more than 900,000 small and midsized companies built around - but not exclusive to - its QuickBooks accounting platform. With a dedicated solution for accounting professionals, this is an economical and easy-to-use system with excellent support for detailed taxes and reporting.

Paychex Online
Paychex Inc.

Paychex is one of the most successful payroll and HR services companies in America, and has nimbly made the transition from service bureau to PC to online processing.

Its flagship online payroll processing program, Paychex Online, is a tightly integrated suite of Web-based services first introduced in 2001. The suite has undergone a continuous process of improvements, including an update earlier this year to Paychex Online Reports, which makes it easier for accountants to view and print information about multiple clients, as well as get W-2s and quarterly and annual state returns online.

Three things set Paychex apart from other online payroll services. First, it is extremely flexible and scalable. Data can be entered or viewed en masse or by individuals, and the application can handle complex as well as simple payrolls. Second, it offers integration with a host of other essential programs that include an interface to post payroll data into popular general ledger programs such as Accpac, Creative Solutions, MYOB, Peachtree and QuickBooks, as well as integration with other accounting programs.

Finally, it offers an array of additional services for small businesses and accounting firms - from assistance in electronic payment of payroll taxes to handling of 401(k) plans and workers' comp. For accountants, a wealth of reference material is supported by educational programs in 14 practice areas. There are even referral sources for employee assessment, pre-employment screening, health insurance and other small business services. For added control, companies can give their accountants access to online data at no additional charge.

Aimed at small and midsized businesses and their accountants, Paychex Online is a smart, flexible online service that offers high value and superior performance in a simple, easily navigated package.

PayCycle Wholesale Program for Accounting Professionals
PayCycle Inc.

The PayCycle Wholesale Program for Accounting Professionals is designed to help accounting firms tap into the vastly underserved market of small employers with the company's fast, economical online payroll solution.

The service allows accountants to manage multiple payroll clients from within a single dashboard view accessible from a single login. It permits the accountant to decide whether they or the client will perform employee set-up and data entry. And the program exports paycheck data to most small business accounting packages, including QuickBooks, QuickBooks Online, CCH ProSystem fx Write-up, Microsoft Money and Microsoft Excel, eliminating the need for data re-entry.

PayCycle is organized to make payroll less complicated and more profitable for the accountant. Direct deposit is available at no extra charge. Paychecks and paystubs are printed locally from the Web site either by the accountant or the client. Blank check printing eliminates the hassle of maintaining a separate inventory for each client.

An update to the service for 2005 adds new electronic state tax payments in Arizona and Colorado, plus 100 percent electronic state tax payments and filings in California, Pennsylvania and Tennessee. PayCycle now offers electronic state payroll in 20 states, representing 73 percent of the nation's small employers, and plans to add more paperless states before the end of the year.

Also new are PayCycle's 1099 processing capabilities, expanding the service to small companies that primarily use outside contractors rather than employees. PayCycle now also supports clergy payroll, additional fringe benefits such as S corporation owner's health insurance, personal use of a company car, and group term life insurance, as well as W-2 printing on professional perforated sheets. Accounting professionals also get a co-branded Web site that prominently displays their name across the top of their PayCycle account. PayCycle has partnered with CCH to offer easy and profitable client payroll to CCH ProSystem fx Write-up professionals.

PayCycle is a relatively new company that has created a place for itself through high value and marketing savvy. With a new chief executive at the helm and a three-month free trial promotion at www.profitablepayroll.com, the company continues to impress both the analysts and accountants serving the small business markets.

Payroll CS
Creative Solutions

Creative Solutions has rebranded its line in 2005 to follow the CS Professional Suite nomenclature, but either as part of the suite or stand-alone, the payroll product continues to be an advanced, flexible application that is well-tailored to the needs of accountants.

Payroll CS is built on the concept of a "paperless" payroll, using Internet connectivity as an engine to permit remote payroll entry and remote check printing services to clients for those looking to reduce the traditional mountain of paper used to document payroll. In addition, NetClient CS private portals give the client access to their accounting and payroll data in a secure environment, and individual employees can use the Web Employee option for read-only access to electronic copies of their payroll information, including W-2s, W-4s and personal earnings history.

A payroll compliance module supports both a multitude of day-to-day tasks, as well as quarterly and year-end processes, including preparation of federal employment tax forms and quarterly and year-end reports that comply with federally mandated changes. State payroll tax modules are linked directly with Write-Up CS and Payroll CS software, and use data already entered to create submittable quarterly reports without having to re-enter employees' Social Security numbers, names or total wages for the quarter.

Key elements of the program, many enhanced for 2005, include impounding to hold funds from the client's bank accounts in a central account for payment of taxes; global payroll tax processing for selected clients or all clients at once; check processing for recurring checks at the click of a button; and import of data from ASCII files or timeclock systems.

Payroll CS offers an excellent integration of tight accounting functionality and technology to provide accountants with a system capable of handling simple to complex payroll challenges. Its sophisticated portals, secure client communications and tight integration with the CS Professional Suite make it a strong value for accountants looking to build on their payroll services to clients.

Payroll Relief AC
AccountantsWorld

Payroll Relief AC is a Web-based payroll service bureau that aims to help accounting firms boost the revenue of their firms by $400 to $2,000 per client per year through steeply discounted pricing and streamlined features.

A payroll solution incorporated as part of the AccountantsOffice Web site, Payroll Relief is well designed, with navigation via a top line of buttons. At the heart of the system is the Payroll Center for accountants, which offers reminders of pay and filing dates, as well as payrolls in progress and helpful links; and the Employer Activity Center, which provides a detailed overview of the active employer's tasks, including current payroll status, pay day reminders, tax due dates, taxes paid, forms filed, general reminders, and critical diagnostics, if any.

Key features of the site are calculations and payment coupons for all 50 states and localities, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico; the ability to handle multiple pay schedules and multiple states, including multiple unemployment states; fast data entry via spreadsheet format or one-employee-per-page format; the use of 18 pay types, including tips and reimbursement; and support for third-party sick pay, dependent care benefits, health insurance for 2 percent shareholders, and handwritten checks.

Payroll Relief AC provides for direct deposits with multiple accounts per employee; electronic payments for federal and most major state taxes; electronic filing of 941 and quarterly forms, and electronic filing of W-2s and W-3s. It generates 25 comprehensive reports, with export capabilities to Excel and RTF file formats for additional report formatting. And it supports all compliance forms for the 30 most popular states.

With exceptional training and marketing support, including continuing education courses and online seminars, AccountantsWorld continues to set the standard for accountant-centric payroll process services. Payroll Relief AC is a particularly well-designed solution that benefits both the accounting firm and its clients.

PowerPayroll/XpressPayroll
PayMaxx

PayMaxx focuses its considerable expertise in the small business payroll market with two distinct gateways that share a common database and payroll engine. Over the next few months, PayMaxx will introduce a new generation of technology for both called the Phoenix Platform.

PowerPayroll is the core Internet-based payroll and tax filing service, introduced in 1999 and aimed at the needs of companies with 11 to 100 or more employees. Customers can perform their own data entry online, and can submit their payroll via the Internet and receive payroll checks and reports the next day or, alternatively, print their payroll checks and reports in their offices.

PowerPayroll provides expanded capabilities that include multi-level password protection, multi-worksite processing, unlimited deductions and earning types, accruals, links to HR systems and electronic timeclocks, and links to general ledgers and 401(k) systems. Further enhancements to the PowerPayroll product are slated for introduction on the Phoenix Platform in early 2006.

Already in use with more than 300 customers is the Phoenix Platform version of XpressPayroll, a streamlined Internet-based payroll service for micro-businesses (companies with one to 10 employees). XpressPayroll can be used easily with little or no payroll experience. It includes a general ledger link, electronic new hire reporting, and a comprehensive tax filing, compliance and payment feature for all payroll taxing authorities for one state, including quarterly 941 and EOY 940. Direct deposit is supported for all employees (limit two accounts per employee).

Both PowerPayroll and XpressPayroll offer online, real-time processing; access to Payview, a powerful employee portal; a structure optimized for performance, redundancy and data security; nationwide tax filing and compliance; direct deposit via ACH; and electronic new hire reporting.

PowerPayroll and XpressPayroll made their mark as an efficient and economical pair of payroll solutions well-suited to small and midsized companies. The continued development of the product line and a strong focus on the needs of customers makes it an invaluable toolkit for both simple and complex payroll requirements.

SurePayroll's Custom Payroll Service
SurePayroll Inc.

SurePayroll's Custom Payroll Service is a product designed specifically for accountants who want to offer SurePayroll's simplified three-screen solution to their small business clients under their company name. The accountant can run payroll for their clients, or the accountant's client can run payroll directly - both parties receive access to the system. Access is through a single user name and password, whether the accountant is performing the payroll or referring the client.

The CPS is a turnkey solution that lets accountants offer a "branded" Web-based payroll service to their clients - licensing and remarketing the service under their brand and pricing. The solution is ideal for accountants who don't offer payroll services, and the pricing includes direct deposit, all tax filing and tax payments (federal, state and local), quarterly returns, unlimited customer service, and employee self-service functionality.

Streamlined navigation is at the core of the system, in keeping with SurePayroll's commitment to using advanced technologies to simplify the payroll process. Navigation is via five tabs along the top of the site, or by links along the left side of the page.

Calling up payroll information allows the administrator to adjust and preview the payroll, then see the payroll cash requirements and the date that the money will be withdrawn from the company bank account prior to approving the payroll.

New since the last release are additional earning codes (34, up from 10) and deduction codes (57, up from 13); check printing from SurePayroll with overnight delivery to the client; an early process option that allows payrolls to be processed in advance; and the ability to run more than one payroll in a day, allowing payroll to be altered, voided and re-issued without missing a payday.

SurePayroll is already an exceptional package for accountants, but the company is implementing a phased-in program of enhancements that will improve the flexibility of the program in how the accountant accesses client data; expand the billing options to include direct billing of the client; and permit customization of the Account Center for each accounting firm.

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