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Intuit — Lacerte Tax 2005

From the April/May 2006 Review of
Tax Prep Suites

Lacerte has long been one of the most respected tax suite offerings, providing
a system that can be used on stand-alone or networked systems with compliance
reporting for the full spectrum of entities, including federal forms 1040, 1041,
1120, 1120S, 1065, 706, 709, 990 and 5500, and equivalents for all states with
equivalent reporting requirements. Lacerte’s modules can be purchased
individually or as a fully integrated suite, with optional workflow enhancing
and related programs such as tax planning and document management also integrating
with the tax system. Additionally, the program can be used either as a traditional
unlimited-use system or on a pay-per-return basis. To meet the needs of our
prototype firm (detailed in the intro),
the 2005 version of the tax suite cost about $7,400, with a 15 percent discount
available for professionals renewing their licenses. As noted, this is based
on 2005 pricing; the vendor noted that pricing may change and additional discounts
may be available for TY2006.

Learning Curve — 5 Stars
Lacerte opens to the primary Client selection screen, which enables the use
of a variety of filtering options that are available in a panel to the left
of the list, including segregating E-File clients, separating returns prepared
by different preparers, or sorting by the status of a client’s return.
Additionally, users can sort the spreadsheet list by its columns. The Client
pull-down menu at the top of the window also allows retrieval of form-specific
client lists. All of the system’s primary functions are accessible via
an array of icons across the top of the screen, while several tabs provide one-click
access to the Client Tracker, Client lists, Detail screens, Forms, Diagnostics
and Analysis functions. The diagnostics and analysis tools can be accessed either
from within a client return or simply by highlighting a client in the selection
list and selecting the desired tab function.

Within a client’s return, data is entered in an interview format, but
with the ability to jump immediately to the section of the form for which the
preparer is entering interview information. Although data cannot be entered
directly onto the form replicas, users can jump immediately to data entry for
specific lines or go to associated worksheets. An itemized table of contents
screen and an array of buttons at the top of a client’s file also allow
users to jump directly to specific sections of the interview process. Lacerte
maintains client contact information, including phone and e-mail, on the left
side of the screen. Overall, the system is very well designed, providing intuitive
work screens and data entry, and should require little time for users to gain
basic proficiency.

Use/Workflow & Productivity Tools — 5 Stars
As noted above, the system defaults to a centralized client list that offers
several methods of searching and filtering, and keeps all primary program features
accessible via icons, tabs or other methods. New client setup is simple, and
routine data-entry tasks are aided by auto-fill “smart lists” that
populate as users enter information. These pull-down selection lists are available
for such entries as occupation, city, employer, preparer and other categories.
Throughout the interview process, or during review, users can mark data fields
as “missing data,” which can then be generated into a report, or
the system can be used to e-mail clients requesting specific data that is still
needed to complete their return. Lacerte still offers paper client organizers,
as well as electronic organizers that help clients better prepare for their
engagement and speeds data entry time for the professional by allowing direct
import of data entered by the client.

In addition to the “missing data” functionality, Lacerte’s
diagnostics and analysis utilities are easily accessible while within a client
return, allowing the user to quickly review overridden calculations, erroneous
entries, and other issues, including an audit trail-like feature that notes
changes made per user. Analysis functions enable benchmarking comparison of
a client Schedule A or C with IRS norms. For individual filing, multi-state
processing is available. The system can simply export parent data to child returns,
and enables quick comparison of MFJ vs. MFS, with the ability to split an MFJ
into two returns with a single click. For corporate and partnership returns,
Lacerte exports K-1 data into the appropriate input screens for individual returns
for the partners or shareholders. Lacerte can also transfer return amounts directly
to the optional Tax Planner module. E-filing is available for individual, corporate,
partnership and nonprofit returns. Lacerte’s workflow management functions
continue to evolve, and include a built-in appointment manager that offers at-a-glance
views for day, week and monthly scheduling for multiple preparers. An optional
document management system is also available and reviewed in this issue.

Integration/Import & Export — 4 Stars
As an integrated suite, Lacerte automatically routes client data between modules
as needed, and enables users to easily move between entity types and modules
while maintaining the same interface. An Internet-based alerts tool notifies
users of tax law changes that may affect specific clients based upon client
characteristics. The Intuit-sponsored web site provides a free
peer-reviewed tax research and knowledge web portal that uses a Wiki-style system
where any of the site’s registered users can enter, edit or update data.
Changes are reviewed prior to posting, and sensitive topics can be locked from
editing. Aside from TaxAlmanac, which anybody can use, Lacerte does not directly
integrate with a tax research system. The program also offers integration with
QuickBooks, allowing simplified pull-in of trial balance data as well as export
of billing information back into QuickBooks. Free client data conversion is
offered for users of most major professional tax systems, and the program can
export data into various text formats.

Support/Training & Help System — 5 Stars
Lacerte’s built-in Help system has been enhanced by the addition of a
Help Me panel at the bottom of the screen that offers simple search capabilities
as well as links to common questions related to the screen the user is viewing.
Additionally, the panel shows when new alerts are available. Lacerte also includes
content-sensitive right-click assistance, which
is supported by the traditional built-in Help utility and an online support
center that provides FAQs, tutorials and reference materials. A variety of CPE-eligible
webinars, webcasts and other training options are available. The program includes
an Internet update option that automatically searches online for available updates,
thus ridding the need to keep up with CDs and also getting the updates to the
users more quickly.

Product Evolution & Vendor Vision — 5 Stars
Intuit’s Pro Tax division, which includes ProSeries (to be reviewed in
the June/July issue), has continued working on integration capabilities and
streamlining of workflow processes, in addition to the incorporation of other
technologies that can assist in preparation and client representation. The division
performs hundreds of in-office observation visits with professionals during
the tax season, allowing program developers to see first-hand how the product
is actually used, while also enabling users to become more aware of how they
are using the program. According to the company, these meetings have resulted
in many enhancements to the tax programs over the past several years. The company’s
sponsorship of the nonprofit tax research portal shows a continued
devotion to assisting tax professionals.

Relative Value — 4.5 Stars
While the Lacerte program can be used on a pay-per-return basis and is quite
easily capable of handling bulk simple 1040s, the robust capabilities and price-point
of the unlimited-use version of the entire Lacerte suite is ideally suited toward
firms with multiple professionals whose clients include complex business entities
and individuals whose returns can likewise get complex. The system provides
excellent analysis and diagnostics, provides outstanding support within the
program and through external options, as well as integration with tax planning
and document management systems.

2006 Overall Rating — 5 Stars