Every time some industry pundit declares write-up dead, sales of this important application simply refuse to dry up. With more and more emphasis being placed on control and accountability, even some of your clients who have moved their accounting in-house have remained or become write-up clients.The reason for this is that there's a big difference between bookkeeping and accounting. Bookkeeping, especially with the sophisticated software now available, is pretty easy for your clients to perform. Unless your client is fairly large, however, they probably don't have an accountant on staff. Not many bookkeepers, even full-charge ones, are capable of calculating accruals, making the correct adjusting entries and redistributions, or computing depreciation and amortization. These tasks call for the judgment and experience that you, as the accountant, bring to the table.

Even if the client does have the capability to make many of these entries, and is able to churn out an impressive-looking and complex set of financial statements, the one task that they are proscribed from doing themselves is generating the compilation or review report letter to accompany the statements. When the financial statements are going to interested parties such as banks or the Small Business Administration, that compilation or review letter is a must, especially with the passage of Sarbanes-Oxley.

Not every accounting practice needs a write-up package, however. Those firms with lots of "mom-and-pop" clients may very well be able to get away with an enhanced accounting package, such as QuickBooks Accountant's Edition, that incorporates some of the perks enjoyed by users of much more elaborate and expensive write-up applications.

These write-up-oriented features are designed to make it easy for the accountant to service many different clients and entity types, as well as extending the accounting system's capabilities well beyond basic journal and adjusting entries. With a write-up package, you can expect not only numerous charts of accounts, which most accounting packages have anyway, but time-savers such as quick client copying for setting up a new client, comprehensive after-the-fact payroll, and even depreciation and amortization calculation engines.

Another feature that's common in write-up is the ability to extensively customize the input and output to meet differing client requirements. Write-up applications often have report generators so that you can quickly meet a client inquiry by generating an ad hoc report, and customizable data entry screens to maximize speed. With hundreds or even thousands of entries for a client's monthly write-up, optimizing data entry is an important step in maintaining profitability.

Many packages also incorporate such features as an engagement letter generator, a working trial balance report, workpapers, and even analytical techniques to assist you on a compilation or review engagement.

After-the-fact or even full payrolls are another common feature of many write-up packages. This permits the breakdown of the payroll, from gross to net, to be posted, as well as providing you with the amounts of the depositories that your client is required to make.

Some write-up applications give you considerable control over the format and presentation of reports and financial statements, and often provide presentation graphics to make the results more readable and easier for the client to understand and use.

Plays well with others

In many practices, write-up will be only one of several accountant-oriented applications. Other applications that may be implemented (or on the list for implementation) include fixed assets/depreciation, service bureau payroll, practice management/time and billing, and the most popular, tax prep.

When other accountant-oriented applications are, or are going to be, implemented, easy integration between write-up and these applications is important. While the other applications don't necessarily have to be part of a suite offering from the same vendor, being able to easily transfer data between different applications reduces data entry time and the possible errors that additional data entry can result in. And when tax prep is integrated with write-up, you can often simply transfer Schedule C, Schedule K or Schedule K1 information from one package to another.

Making hard choices

By now, pretty much every accountant is computer-savvy enough to make a good decision when it comes to buying software. In some ways, this process has gotten easier, since almost every package has very similar capabilities.

It's the differences, though, that make a package a better or worse fit for your practice and its clients. While every package tries to maximize data entry, some let you reorder or even delete input fields, so that your data entry screens match up with the source documents being used for data entry.

Other client needs, such as comprehensive ad hoc or non-standard report requirements, can also determine your choice, as can the presence of nonprofit clients and their specialized formatting and reporting needs. All of these factors, as well as any others that are germane to your firm's specific client roster, need to be considered when making your choice.

How much PC is enough?

None of the applications that we tested require a top-of-the-line PC. In fact, the current crop of applications is hard-pressed to make good use of a high-powered processor, much less the dual-core CPUs that are now hitting the market.

For most firms, however, write-up is a mission-critical application. That means that it requires a reliable PC, as well as power protection in the form of an uninterruptible power supply and good back-up protocols.

With each package reviewed, we installed the software with the sample company that each vendor provided, and added accounts in each category, including general ledger, vendors, customers, payroll, and other ledgers. We added transactions and recurring entries, and made adjusting entries, then generated reports on-screen and to the printer. We also tested each package's filtering and customization capabilities.

AccountantsOffice AccountantsRelief Plus

AccountantsWorld

AccountantsWorld has two very successful businesses, both catering to accounting practices.

The AccountantsWorld Internet portal provides information and forums on a wide range of accounting concerns. The software side of the business, which is where this company started out under the corporate name MicroVision Software, continues to offer accountant-oriented applications under the AccountantsOffice label. These include such applications as Fixed Assets Relief, Payroll Relief, Time2Money Practice Management, and the Accountant's Relief and Relief Plus write-up packages. These applications are all part of an integrated suite of programs, which together make up the AccountantsOffice, and the applications are available as either in-house programs or as hosted on-line applications.

The AccountantsRelief application is the entry-level version of write-up, while the somewhat more expensive Plus version adds a number of very desirable features. These features include an after-the-fact payroll, MICR check printing, W-2 and 1099 generation, and links to a number of the popular tax prep packages put out by other vendors. Even with the enhancements, the price for AccountantsRelief Plus is under $1,000.

We found AccountantsRelief Plus very easy to get up and running. You can select a boilerplate chart of accounts and edit it, or copy the edited chart from another client. You can also import the chart from a general ledger that your client is already using. The data entry screens are very well designed, and offer "Speed Pad," which is an auto-fill feature. One thing that this vendor has always been known for is fast data entry, and AccountantsRelief Plus won't disappoint you in this area.

Once data has been entered, you have a comprehensive set of reports that you can print. These existing reports can easily be customized should your client require a somewhat different report approach. Lead sheets and workpapers can also be generated - a terrific feature for compilation, review or audit engagements. AccountantsRelief Plus also has another excellent feature for this type of engagement - 30 financial ratios and comparisons with industry averages.

With 85 customizable letters for compilation, review and audit reports, AccountantsRelief Plus is an excellent tool for accounting firms that provide this type of work, as well as providing an easy-to-use and comprehensive write-up for those clients for which you don't perform these engagements.

CCH ProSystem fx Office Write-Up V. 2.5

CCH Tax and Accounting

CCH has long been a player in offering accountant-oriented applications. About the only thing missing in the past was write-up. With the release of ProSystem fx Write-Up the year before last, this well-regarded vendor has a full suite, including tax prep, fixed assets, practice management, and ancillary applications such as engagement management. Integration with other Office fx applications is complete and seamless. If you are already using other ProSystem Office fx applications, some of the data from these other programs will automatically populate the appropriate data fields in Write-Up, saving you considerable data entry time and effort.

As with other applications in this roundup, we found set-up to be quick and easy. Boilerplate charts of account are provided for a wide variety of different entity types, and, as with many of the other vendors' packages, you can copy an existing client's set-up to a new client if they have similar charts. Starting balances from an existing general ledger can be imported easily, further speeding up the set-up process.

Once a client has been configured, you have your choice on how to set up the data entry screens. The default is a standard grid-like presentation. If you are willing to spend a bit more time up front, you can re-order the fields to match your source documents, hiding fields that aren't used. This can substantially speed up data entry.

Reports are clean and useful. You can export any report to Excel for further editing, though in most cases you won't need to resort to this. A wizard walks you through report creation and generation, letting you set filters and sort parameters to produce a report to your exact specifications and needs without having to resort to an external report generator.

One area where CCH is less strong than some of the other vendors in this roundup is payroll. There is a very serviceable after-the-fact payroll built into Office fx Write-up. Unlike many of the other vendors, which offer a complete suite of applications, CCH does not offer a service bureau-style complete payroll system. Instead, it has partnered with PayCycle, which offers payroll services to your write-up clients at a discount. With many accounting practices seeking additional revenues from offering payroll to their clients, you may not like the approach CCH has taken with this, though PayCycle can serve as "your" payroll system - your client thinks they are dealing with a division of your practice. On the other hand, Office fx does include W-2/W-3, 1099 and 940/941 printing capability in its base price.

Creative Solutions

Write-Up CS

Creative Solutions

Write-Up CS is one of a number of applications that gained a new moniker this year. Creative Solutions has renamed its entire suite of accountant-oriented applications from "Solution" (as in Write-Up Solution) to CS. Other than the name change, the application itself is still the software that we know and like.

All of the Creative Solutions suite applications are still based around a common database, so when one application updates or changes the data, all of the other applications that make use of this data have the new information available at hand. While tax prep is probably the best known of these other applications, the list is quite comprehensive and includes practice management; a service bureau-quality payroll; fixed assets; the Engagement CS system for managing audits, reviews and other engagements; a document management system called File Cabinet CS; and the Payroll Compliance CS.

You will probably need to purchase Payroll Compliance CS in addition to Write-Up CS. Write-Up CS does incorporate a decent after-the-fact payroll, as is common in write-up software. Creative Solutions has broken out the payroll tax reporting features, which are absolutely necessary for most firms practicing write-up. If you want to generate W-2s, W-3s, 1099s or 940/

941s for your write-up clients, the Payroll Compliance CS is an additional $250. You can also purchase the W-2/W-3 and 940/941 filing capability separately if you don't require both for your clients. Creative Solutions breaks out these features because you might need them for more than one application (like payroll in addition to write-up). As a separate product, you won't wind up being charged for these features twice.

The one bone we have to pick with Creative Solutions is that the license information is still provided on a floppy diskette. CCH also took this approach to licensing its Office fx products, but this year changed over to automatically uploading the license over the Internet when the product is installed. None of the PCs in our office, including our newest laptops, has a floppy drive. We do have an external USB floppy that we use in extreme emergencies, such as this one, but it's high time that Creative Solutions gets more creative about its licensing registration.

Other than this, installation and set-up was quick. Write-Up CS lets you use one of the many default charts of accounts or adopt another client's chart. Also, if some of the client's information has already been entered for another application, you won't have to re-enter it.

Reports are nicely designed and laid out, and you can use the available filters or the Financial Statement Editor to do a fair amount of customization. The financial statements are flexible, and you can include notes, letters, cover sheets and even a table of contents. Write-Up CS also provides some nice graphics that you can incorporate into the material that you generate for the client.

If you do review or audit work for clients, you'll appreciate the ratios and industry comparisons that are available in the application. Those are nice touches, as is the ability to reorder the data entry screens so that they follow the source documents being used. Along with an auto-fill feature, you can really increase productivity.

Write-up CS has been around for quite a while, and it is a mature and polished application. Import and export capabilities are comprehensive and easy to use, and data-sharing with other Creative Solutions modules is seamless and invisible.

Drake Client Write-Up

Drake Software

One of the major benefits of any write-up package is the ability to transfer relevant balances directly into a tax prep application. Being able to populate a Schedule C or K1 can save lots of time on data entry.

It's only natural, then, that tax prep vendors should also get into the market and offer write-up. Of the vendors included in this roundup, only AccountantsOffice provides a write-up package and no tax prep. And that's only because it sold off its user base for tax prep several years ago.

Drake Software isn't trying to compete with the likes of CCH and Creative Solutions. It does not offer practice management, fixed assets or stand-alone service bureau payroll. Drake is, however, trying to make life as easy as possible for its users by offering a write-up system for free with the purchase of its tax prep products. Of course, you don't have to buy a Drake tax prep product to receive the software. Without tax prep, it will cost you $450.

Given the price, Drake's write-up is a credible application. Set-up is as simple as that of much more expensive programs and, like those costlier applications, you are provided with boilerplate charts of accounts. If your client has already been set up in the tax prep system, you can transfer over the relevant data.

There's nothing very glamorous about the software. Reports are pretty basic, and offer only a limited amount of customization. Data entry is straightforward, and unlike more expensive write-up packages, there is no way to streamline the data entry process by hiding or reordering fields.

One big surprise is that the payroll included with Drake write-up allows you to run a live payroll for your client, not just enter the spread after the fact. Considering the price, that's a hard feature to beat.

The manual is somewhat minimal, supplied as a PDF on the CD. It's 20-plus pages and sufficient to get the system up and running. On-screen help is also incorporated.

The one place that Drake's Write-Up falls down is in not providing any facility for calculating depreciation or amortization. You'll have to use a third-party vendor for this, and transfer the figures manually.

Drake tax prep users will find the write-up hard to beat - it's free. Users of other tax prep applications may want to stick with the vendor of that application as the provider of write-up, ensuring smooth integration between the software packages.

Intuit EasyACCT

Write-Up V. 2004.4

Intuit Professional Accounting Solutions

Intuit's EasyACCT is one of the few applications that is still available in a DOS version as well as the Windows version that we tested. The DOS version does not have many of the features offered in the Windows application, but it's available if you need it. Intuit's Web site also mentions that it is in the process of creating a new write-up package, so DOS support may fall by the wayside.

The current release of EasyACCT (2004-2005) has a number of new features, such as Check 21 compatibility and auto-fill in the data entry process. In most other respects, the application is pretty much the same as it was last year. That's not a bad thing - EasyACCT is a mature and polished application with lots of nice features. Intuit does not have a complete line of accountant-oriented applications. There's tax prep, of course, under the Lacerte, Pro Series and Turbo Tax labels. Other stand-alone applications, though, are pretty sparse.

Fortunately, EasyACCT incorporates a lot of applications. There is a very workable depreciation calculator, and both after-the-fact and full payrolls. Accounts payable and receivable are provided, and checks can be printed using MICR encoding. Also included are W-2/W-3, 1099 and 940/941 printing and magnetic filing features.

Set-up is easy to perform, and multiple default charts of accounts are provided for different types of entities. You can also copy one client's chart to a new client. All transaction data entry is accomplished through a single input screen, and, as mentioned earlier, this screen now incorporates auto-fill to maximize productivity.

EasyACCT provides a comprehensive set of nicely designed reports. There are several financial statement formats, and reports can be modified using filters, or the "Automatic Report Design" option. This lets you change fonts, add sub-schedules and messages, and tweak the financials to your clients' needs. You can also produce graphics to help your clients understand what the reports mean.

Extensive import and export capabilities let you use Easy ACCT with a variety of applications from other vendors. The easiest integration is, not surprisingly, with the Lacerte and Pro Series products, as well as QuickBooks. In fact, if you have a number of clients using QuickBooks to perform their own bookkeeping, adding EasyACCT lets you effortlessly import their data for adjustments.

Sage CPAClient Write-Up

Sage Practice Solutions

You have to kind of feel a bit sorry for the folks over at Sage Professional Software. When the company was known as CPA Software, it garnered a great reputation for its applications, which were among the first available for Windows. Since the company has been acquired, it's been a bit difficult for the former CPAS to capitalize on this hard-earned reputation, as the corporate name and, indeed, the name of the product keeps changing.

The company that was originally known as Best Software, which was actually a division of the U.K.'s Sage Software, is now known as Sage here in the U.S. as well as in Europe. While last year the division was still known as CPA Software, this time around it's Sage Professional Software. At least, we think it is. Visual Client Write-Up has also changed names. It's now CPAClient Write-up.

Two things haven't changed. The application is still part of the CPAAccounting Manager series, and CPAClient Write-Up is still a well-thought-out and implemented application.

The CPAAccounting Manager that CPAClient Write-Up is a part of is an integrated suite of accounting applications targeted at accounting practices. The suite includes the write-up package, a stand-alone payroll system, accounts payable and receivables modules, and several add-ons including attendance import (for the payroll system), an Accounting Report Writer, and a Workpaper Manager, which is actually a document management system. All of these are not included in the price of the write-up application. All of Sage's applications, including those from this division, such as the ones listed above and the CPAPractice Manager series, as well as other Sage products such as FAS (Fixed Assets) and MAS Accounting, are seamlessly integrated with the Client Write-up.

Set-up is easy, and there are a number of charts of accounts that encompass different types of client entities. You can also set up print queues for each client to batch print a different set of reports to accommodate differing reporting needs. While a separate report generator is available at extra cost, most clients won't require this add-on. The reports generated are comprehensive and nicely designed, and offer a high degree of customization. The financial statements are particularly flexible, and allow you to include notes in several formats. We also liked CPAClient Write-Up's on-screen working trial balance. It's easy to drill down from the summary entry into the detail, which helps prepare the adjusting entries.

Data entry screens are easy to navigate through, but aren't particularly customizable. Automatic fill-in from the first few letters typed works pretty well, unless you have a lot of similar descriptions.

Sage offers a separate payroll system as an integrated stand-alone application. If you aren't running payroll for a client, the included after-the-fact payroll works well, and should be sufficient. You can set the payroll to automatically enter gross to net spreads for employees whose breakdown doesn't vary from week to week, and the software lets you prepare all of the required W-2, W-3, 940, 941 and other forms.

TaxWise Client

Write-Up V. 6.08

Universal Tax Systems

Not every vendor of write-up software offers a complete suite of applications. Two of the vendors in this roundup, Universal Tax Systems and Drake Software, are primarily selling tax prep software. Still, as evidenced by the other vendors in this story, there is most definitely a market and desire on the part of users to have applications that talk to each other, reducing the number of keystrokes necessary to produce client work.

Both Drake and Universal Tax Systems have taken this to heart. While neither offers practice management and some of the other accountant-centric applications, both offer write-up, and Universal Tax Systems supplements this offering with a basic accounting application for those firms that don't require a full write-up, a computer checkbook to write payroll and accounts payable checks, and several payroll applications. These applications were developed by PC Software Inc., and, in fact, the documentation PDF contained on the CD shows the application as the PC Accounting Client Write-Up System.

As you might surmise from the offering of an optional payroll system, the write-up application does not offer this function. The basic write-up system does, however, offer a usable after-the-fact payroll, and you can use the ATF payroll to produce W-2/W-3s, 940/941s, 1099s and state SUI forms.

We found setting up the system to be similar to the other vendors' applications. Boilerplate charts of accounts are provided, or you can copy the charts from other clients or even the sample data. Once a client is set up, inputting data and producing reports are easy. Different entry screens are provided for journal transactions and ATF payroll entries, and you can import data from QuickBooks or from other applications using standard ASCII text.

Reports are rather basic, but they are nicely laid out and easy to customize. A working trial balance is provided, which is a useful tool, as is the "trend" report, a 12-month income statement. Universal Tax Systems' write-up does not have pre-defined ratio analysis, but you can set this up through the "special functions" module. You specify which ratios you wish to calculate, and what account number ranges to include.

Also available from Universal is PC Software's Computer Checkbook. This optional application can be given to the client so that they can do the majority of the data entry and check printing, and the data will flow into the write-up system so that you can make up the adjusting entries and produce payroll forms like 941s.

Obviously, a major market for UTS's write-up package is its own tax prep user base. That's not to say that other firms wouldn't appreciate the software, but at the price, you might be just as well off examining some of the other packages that we reviewed.

The one major shortcoming we came up with is the lack of any depreciation/amortization computations. Nor does UTS offer this application as an option. With the necessity to perform these computations as part of the adjusting entries or closing for a client, you'll need to look for this capability from another vendor.

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