Why You Should Evaluate Your Tax Software Now
The software you use can make or break your tax practice. Four key tips revealed to help you evaluate your current software and see if it's time to make a switch.
May 8, 2008
by Mark Washburn, CPA/MST
Now that tax season for the masses is over, it is time to evaluate how your tax practice functioned effectively during those critical 100 days between January 5th and April 15th. For many of you, the key to such an evaluation should be to look at how well your preparation software performed.
Since many of you just completed your first tax-filing season as an independent preparer, you should be focusing on the functionality and ease-of-use of the software you selected. If you did your research prior to the tax-filing season, you probably evaluated several software programs before making your choice. But for those of you who did not spend the time upfront, you may now be questioning the choice you made.
Even veteran tax preparers sometimes switch software programs after the final deadline has passed in October. They look for a better fit for their staff and the clients they serve. Often it is tempting to believe that another vendor's product is better than what you are currently using. Everyone seems to have favorite features from a particular software program. Finding the "right" software package for your firm requires some honest evaluation about the needs of your clients and those of your staff.
How do you evaluate the success of the software you used? Here are some key points to consider.
Organizers. Did the software allow you to create a dialogue with your clients? For example, the presence of an organizer in a software package can be very valuable. With an organizer you can communicate expectations upfront to your clients, collect needed data and increase your client's awareness of substantiation requirements. Organizers, when properly used, decrease the amount of time between initial receipt of client data and the final processing of their tax returns. To foster client retention and goodwill, consider offering a discount to clients who complete the organizer as a way of thanking them for making your job easier.
Forms and Schedules. Did the software package provide all the forms and schedules you need for the different types of clients you routinely serve? While most brand name software packages have all the most commonly used forms and schedules, some of the lesser-used forms are not always present. There is hardly anything more frustrating than discovering a much-needed form or schedule absent in the software program you selected. Knowing the clients you serve is particularly important in selecting the software you use. It is also important to evaluate properly your needs for modules that are not part of the basic federal tax preparation software.
For example, how easy is it to process an accompanying state tax return using your current software? Many modules are available on a pay-to-print format, making accessibility to forms cost-effective. During the heat of the tax prep battle it is possible to lose track of just how many such returns were processed. Therefore, don't overlook the necessity of seeing how many of these pay-to-print returns you processed, as it may be cheaper just to purchase the module outright, providing unlimited access.
Staff Evaluation. How did your staff like the software? Training is important, but if you fell short in that area (staff software training), the best software works intuitively to help overcome a lack of training. Software that doesn't create barriers for data entry is essential. I once used a software package that made data entry for depreciation about as difficult as one could imagine. Needless to say, after enduring complaints from my staff until October 15th of that year, the search for a new software program was fully underway on October 16th!
New Product Analysis. During the coming summer months, you will probably be contacted by various software vendors trying to get you to consider their products. Many offer evaluation products either free or at substantial discounts, so don't hesitate to look at different products. If the software you used fell short of your needs or expectations, now is the time to be bold and make that much-needed switch. And don't fret over having to rebuild your client database. All the major software packages include a conversion feature that allows you to transfer your client information from one vendor's program to a different vendor's program, usually with very little loss of data.
The software you use can make or break your tax practice. If your current software satisfies your needs, then fine. If not, don't be apprehensive about considering a switch. If change is warranted, don't waste time agonizing over the decision. Evaluate your needs, find a tax program that meets those needs and make that transition. Work with the vendor representative to ensure the transition from one product to another is as seamless as possible. Once you find the software package that works for your firm, you will be glad you made the change.
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Mark Washburn, CPA/MST, is a Senior Lecturer in Accounting at The University of Texas at Tyler. He teaches both Individual and Corporation tax courses at the undergraduate level. He is a certified public accountant licensed in Texas and holds a Master of Science in Taxation from The University of Texas at Arlington.