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RIA ‘ GoSystem Tax RS

Although other tax vendors are starting to take notice and are preparing to offer online preparation systems, GoSystem Tax RS from RIA, a Thomson business, remains the premier offering. It offers support for the complete breadth of tax compliance, with available modules for individuals, businesses and other entities, including 1040, 1041, 1065, 1120, 1120S, 706, 709, 990 and 5500. The company also continues to produce a CD-based version of this program, but the online version is reviewed here. As a remotely hosted application, the system easily integrates with RIA’s tax research products and includes other web-centric features, including the ability for authorized users to access the system from any location, even a client’s business location. Pricing for the modules needed for the four users of our prototype firm (see page 8) would cost approximately $15,000, although pricing may be considerably less depending upon actual firm needs and usage. The company noted: ‘This fact pattern does not represent the typical user or market for GoSystem Tax RS. While certain functionality requirements due to the complexity of the returns may cause a firm with this fact pattern to require GoSystem, this type of firm is not representative of the company’s market. Pricing is offered with assumptions of minimal return complexities and with no operational and system customization. In most cases, custom pricing is required due to the nature of services available.’

Learning Curve ‘ 4.5 Stars

GoSystem Tax RS is accessed online through the user’s web browser, with the actual program and data residing on the secure servers at RIA. The program opens by default to the master return search screen that includes filtering by tax year, type of return, recent returns, and other options, as well as sorting and search functions. The screen also provides a vertical menu for starting new returns, processing functions and accessing case studies. A horizontal bar remains in place at the top of the screen throughout program use, providing access to help, system setup, accessing the master return screen and logging out of the program. Within client returns, the column on the left side of the screen changes to a menu that allows access to forms or data-entry sections.

GoSystem Tax RS provides both organizer and forms-based data entry, which can be selected from this column. The remainder of the screen serves as the workspace, providing either client data organizer sheets or replicas of the forms, with tabs to allow movement between multi-paged forms. During data entry, users can switch to the alternate method of entry with one click and, during forms entry, the system provides links from all entry fields to the client organizer or the supporting form or worksheet. Movement within the system is, for the most part, the same as working within a traditional program, with the obligatory pull-down menus and icon bar across the top of the screen providing access to primary system features. Access to forms and the various components of the program is intuitive, and because the system is using Windows Internet Explorer as the background for its interface, little training is required to understand the basics of operation. The system’s QuickTrack and QuickForm further ease navigation by allowing users to jump to the most frequently used organizer screens and listing all major forms on one screen, letting users jump to the corresponding organizer screen.

Use/Workflow & Productivity Tools ‘ 4.5 Stars

GoSystem Tax RS automatically transfers data as needed throughout the program, minimizing data entry, and provides a Partner Bridge for quickly importing or exporting partner information to K-1 questions or for interaction with Excel. In addition to the logistical benefits of a remotely hosted system such as mobile access and decreased IT requirements, GoSystem Tax RS offers several productivity features related to its online nature, including online tax return conferencing, allowing for private web-based review sessions, and electronic organizers called MyTaxInfo that provide a web-based data collection tool that clients can use to enter their financial information, and then sync into the preparation modules.

The system also includes audit trails for each calculated amount in every return with one-click access from the form to the trail, as well as preparer and reviewer note categories, review tickmarks, printable or on-screen diagnostics with drill-down capability, and the ability to review full returns on-screen prior to printing. Documents and customized links can also be attached to client returns. If desired, multiple users can work within a client’s file concurrently, with the system preventing data overwrites. Additionally, users can open and work in multiple files at the same time, with returns for different clients opening in additional windows.

The system can be set to automatically compute calculations as data is entered or set to a mode that waits for the preparer to prompt the system to perform calculations. GoSystem Tax RS’s Tax Summary screen provides an overview of a client’s return, with the ability to drill-down to supporting documents or system calculations. The system’s 1040 Tax Review allows preparers to create customized files for each client, with client-specific checklists that ensure compliance with firm review and preparation processes. For consolidated returns, which was discussed in our recent meeting with RIA, the system also provides review tools that track calculated amounts to each member of the consolidation, with the ability to access all entities and subsidiary amounts. The system supports unlimited subsidiary consolidations, and includes automatic 1065 reconciliation schedules, with the ability to customize allocations for any field. In support of this, the system offers a subview that shows all contributions from all subsidiaries. With ‘RS to Go,’ the program also allows access to the system’s data-entry functions when users are not connected to the Internet, allowing them to sync back with the system when their contact has resumed. This can be a valuable feature, allowing professionals to work on client returns while traveling or away from connectivity.

GoSystem Tax RS’s ability to handle complex corporate returns is essential to Jean-Charles Bodin, a partner with Constantin Associates ( in New York City, a multi-national accounting, audit and tax practice that specializes in corporate representation. The firm has been using GoSystem Tax RS and its predecessor Fast-Tax in its New York and Paris offices for more than eight years. ‘One of my largest clients is an 1120 return with two corporations that consolidate and five one-member LLCs. Around 60 state returns are generated, with 20 on a consolidated/combined basis and 20 for each corporation on a single entity basis,’ he said. ‘The system handles it really well and includes several automated processes including download from trial balance and fixed asset applications. It’s really easy to navigate from one entity to another.’

Integration, Import & Export ‘ 5 Stars

All of the GoSystem Tax RS entity modules share a common browser-based interface, and the system shares and automatically directs data as needed between components, including the transfer of K-1 data between related returns, including partner 1040s, and subsidiary 1065s and 1120s. GoSystem Tax RS can integrate directly with Checkpoint for tax research, and client data can be converted from Lacerte and ProSystem fx Tax. The system can also import *.DIF files and includes a trial balance bridge, and users can print forms into *.PDF format. The system also integrates with Creative Solutions’ Depreciation Solution asset management program.

Support/Training & Help System ‘ 4.5 Stars

RIA provides numerous built-in help utilities, including linked form instructions, and context- and line-specific assistance, as well as tutorials and online user guides, and links to case studies from within the program that provides hands-on practice with form preparation. The vendor also offers on-site and online training, seminars and additional options, some of which qualify for CPE credit. The company also offers online support including FAQs and best practices tips, and offers on-site and web-based training.

Product Evolution & Vendor Vision ‘ 5 Stars

GoSystem Tax RS evolved from Fast-Tax, which was acquired by Thomson in 1998. The company also offers a CD-based version of GoSystem that evolved separately. As part of Thomson Tax & Accounting, RIA’s GoSystem Tax RS has strengthened its marketing efforts and primarily targets national, regional and large local firms, according to product manager Boyd Gackle, who recently visited with our editorial team. However, he noted that the system has many users from smaller and even single practitioner firms whose complex client base requires the advanced data sharing capabilities of RS, as well as the other features the application offers.

Relative Value ‘ 4.5 Stars

Just as Mr. Golden noted in the introduction to this review section on page 8, pricing is not always the overriding concern for firms when selecting a tax preparation suite. Those firms with a complex client base and a high need for mobility, especially those with multiple geographic offices, will greatly benefit from RIA’s web-based nature. But in addition to this mobility, which could even allow practitioners to make ‘house call’ tax engagements at their client’s business locations, the remotely hosted essence of RIA GoSystem Tax RS allows the added benefit of virtually no need for IT staff involvement with the program: no installation, no maintenance, no program updates, no update discs, limited computer requirements and less CPU storage needs. This also means that annual improvements and updates to the program won’t require computer upgrades. The program is maintained by RIA automatically. For many firms, especially those with multiple offices or remote workers, these benefits add up to increased productivity, profitability and value.

2005 Overall Rating: 4.5

Each of the programs was assessed in the following areas: Learning Curve addresses the ease with which new users are likely to grow comfortable and proficient with the program. This encompasses expected prerequisite knowledge and whether average users will likely need advanced training or support in order to use the program productively. Use/Workflow & Productivity Tools addresses how well a user can move around in the program and perform necessary tasks as a result of the interface, and the way work is handled from the start of a tax engagement (interview) to finish (delivery of return and possible planning for next year). This section notes tools that help professionals keep track of client and tax authority status for returns, as well as additional functions such as integrated calculators and cross-form linking that streamline the entire process.

The Integration/Import & Export section concerns a system’s ability to transfer and work with data within its various modules, as well as whether it supports importing from and exporting to software from other vendors, as well as how the program retrieves existing data from the previous year. A program’s Support/Training & Help System includes how the vendor has incorporated assistance features into its program through components such as its help utility, the quality of its support documentation, and the extent of its online help component, whether it be simple FAQs, online user communities or other more advanced systems.

The Product Evolution & Vendor Vision segment looks at the vendor’s apparent commitment to continued development of its product by looking at the technological culture of the company and its product development history. No professional wants to invest in a preparation package that stagnates or whose vendor goes out of business. Finally, Relative Value offers the reviewer’s subjective assessment of the dollar-value ratio of the software. The most expensive option does not necessarily guarantee the best value, nor is the product with the lowest sticker price always the greater bargain.

The Overall Score will provide an average of the review components, rounded to the nearest half-star. Following the review section, the Executive Summary provides a synopsis of the review and is accompanied by a summary chart with all products and grades. To add more value and insight to our reviews, we invited the various tax preparation vendors to visit our office for a hands-on demonstration of their respective products. Each vendor had an opportunity to demonstrate the functionality of their product and highlight the various aspects they believe sets their product apart from those of their competitors within the specific review sections outlined above.