With varying fiscal years and extensions, is there such a thing as tax season anymore? Many practitioners find themselves starting to set up for the 1040 influx pretty much right after they finish off the Thanksgiving turkey.

And with extensions, even the 1040 season extends almost to Halloween. That’s before you even start thinking about 1041s, 1120s and 990s. It’s still some time before you have to start setting up office procedures and hiring temp staff, but it’s not too soon to start evaluating how the past glut of return preparation went, and whether or not improvements and changes are desirable.

Pretty much every tax practitioner finds something they didn’t like about the way their software or provider handled the 2016 season. Even when a majority of things go right, the ones that don’t can provide a considerable annoyance.

But are these annoyances enough of a reason to change vendors? That’s not an easy question to answer. At the heart of the matter, pretty much all tax software performs the same basic functions. Hopefully, this happens without significant errors or bumps in the road. And when you’ve been using the same vendor for a number of years, there’s a significant amount of inertia; it’s just not that easy to make a change, especially when your staff becomes more and more proficient with the software after several years of experience.

Still, vendors are quick to point out that there are enough differences in the approach and capabilities of their products to support multiple suppliers in a very competitive market. Consider that Wolters Kluwer has four 1040 preparation products that it sells, Inuit has three, and Thomson Reuters has a pair. Obviously, there are enough differences in the market to support all of these.

Sometimes the differences are in the schedules and forms supported. Having only a single client that requires a schedule or form not supported in your current software might not be a reason to look elsewhere. But if you have multiple clients that require capabilities not in your current software, it might be time to consider another vendor.


Form 1040

A CHANGE MIGHT DO YOU GOOD

Sometimes, it’s hard to remember exactly why it was that you chose a vendor. And one bad year’s experience, even with a vendor that has served you well for a number of seasons, can sour the relationship, as can needing support at an off hour or on a holiday and finding out the hard way that your vendor falls down in this respect.

Regardless of the reason you are thinking about the possibility of a change, losing client data should be one of the least of your concerns. Almost all vendors offer software or a service to take your clients’ last year’s data and transfer it into their application. Many also offer a free or inexpensive copy of the current year’s software so you can get a good idea of what it’s like in use. Using the software on a few extensions will give you a good idea of what’s involved in a changeover.

To help you in making a decision about the possibility of a change, we’ve surveyed the major vendors of tax prep software and compiled a comprehensive features chart. Along with the chart, we’ve also asked the vendors what they are working on for the upcoming year. Hopefully, it will be something that you find interesting and useful.


WHAT’S NEW

  • Wolters Kluwer (CCH ProSystem fx Tax and CCH Axcess Tax): Enhancements this year include “jump to supporting statement;” the ability to e-file the U.S. Nonresident Alien Income Tax Return in the 1040 NR return; a number of taxpayer and tax return preparer safeguards against identity theft; a number of new forms, states and calculations, including Nevada Commerce Tax forms, and Form 1128; electronic filing for a number of new state business returns; and updated federal and state filing instructions reflecting new return due dates.
  • Drake: Enhancements include a new data entry toolbar; the ability to print 12 different taxpayer forms in Spanish; the ability to import, export and sort Schedule K-1 information in a number of ways; and access to a secure off-site backup for SecureFilePro customers.
  • Intuit Lacerte: Enhancements include the ability to generate bookmark templates that highlight chosen sections on all of the clients’ PDFs; an autofill address data feature; and the ability to send customizable signature requests for any document they need a client to sign, not just the 8879.
  • Intuit (ProSeries and ProConnect Tax Online): Enhancements for ProSeries include the auto-attach form capability for e-file compliance for 1040s; and the ability to lock returns to prevent them from being changed once filed. Enhancements for ProConnect Tax Online include enhanced data import capabilities; expanded tax content capabilities; a new split-view feature; batch processing capabilities; and more granular access control features.
  • TaxACT! Enhancements for 2017 will include continued improvements to product navigation and workflow efficiencies, and improved client reporting.
  • Thomson Reuters (GoSystem Tax RS and UltraTax CS): For GoSystem Tax RS, enhancements include the ability to process all tax return types within their Web browsers; enhanced print options; a new e-file quality control capability; and a streamlined extension creation process. For UltraTax CS, enhancements include expanded 1040NR e-file capabilities, and an estimated 18 newly supported filings across a number of state jurisdictions, with more expected later in the year.

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Ted Needleman

Ted Needleman

Ted Needleman has been covering technology for more than 30 years, writing frequently on software, hardware, and related subjects. He was previously editor-in-chief of Accounting Technology.