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Thomson Creative Solutions — UltraTax CS

From the April/May 2006 Review of
Tax Prep Suites

Thomson Creative Solutions offers what is arguably the most comprehensive line
of applications for public accountants that includes its UltraTax CS professional
tax compliance suite, as well as tax planning, fixed asset management, write-up,
trial balance, practice management, engagement, financial analysis, paperless
document management and client accounting. All of these programs share data
from the same database, allowing excellent cross-application integration with
the tax suite and thereby reducing data entry and ensuring consistency of information.
The tax suite supports all federal year-end income reporting as well as those
for all states and municipalities that require returns. An UltraTax CS license
meeting the filing needs of our four-person professional prototype firm (defined
in the intro
) would cost about $6,200 including e-filing costs. Creative
Solutions offers each of the modules individually and also has a pay-per-return

Thomas J. Longman CPA, (
based in Miami, Florida, selected Creative Solutions because his firm was looking
for a company with good standing and market share. They needed a product that
would help reduce training time due to turnover, offer reliable software integration,
good tech support, software updates, education, etc. “Most importantly,
we were looking for a company that could add ‘real value’ to our
firm instead of just buying from another product vendor,” Longman says.
Longman refers to Creative Solutions’ integrated software approach as
the “Jon Baron Approach,” and says it has enabled his firm to reduce
training and high labor costs and increase productivity and efficiency to clients,
which in turn has led to increased profitability. “This certainly has
brought about a better quality of life, which has been an issue/goal for us
in the past,” he says. “I feel it is the only way a small to medium
firm can operate and compete effectively in today’s market.” Longman
also believes that implementing just one or two software pieces to your platform
is like driving a car with two wheels. “Partial implementation may be
ineffective and costly long-term,” he says. He also advises potential
users to “do your homework and make sure you’ve aligned your firm
with a vendor that will provide your firm with a proper fit.”

Learning Curve — 4.5 Stars
Creative Solutions has given UltraTax CS a new start screen, replacing the formerly
mostly blank window with a homepage that provides links to common tasks such
as creating clients, opening existing clients, recent return activity, tax research
functions, and client status summaries. Traditional function icons and pull-down
menus are also available across the top of the screen. The program’s client
selection list opens within a subwindow that is sortable by ID, name and type
of return, and is filterable and searchable by several methods. UltraTax provides
three methods of data entry: Interview, Form and Quick View, with the latter
being mostly for review purposes. Within client returns, the program opens into
a screen with a menu tree on the left that enables jumping to data-entry sections
such as general information, payments, income, adjustments, itemizations and
credits, with the rest of the screen housing either the interview screen or
the form view. Within the interview mode, the system provides several tabs that
further break down the information entry area the user is in, allowing users
to easily jump to necessary areas.

General navigation and data entry within UltraTax CS is intuitive, with customizable
options that enable users to make the program more comfortable for their needs.
Additionally, many of the entry fields use smart lists that build every time
an entry is made, allowing the user to select common entries such as ZIP Code,
employer and other options from a list. Several assistive functions are available
throughout the system, including right-click menus, line-by-line instructions
and content-specific Help. The new homepage to the interface is a simple addition
but enhances the product by allowing users to more quickly find files and get
to work, although the interview mode could perhaps use additional user prompts
to go to the next section or to close a return.

Use/Workflow & Productivity Tools — 5 Stars
The greatest productivity enhancing feature of the Creative Solutions system
is that all of the vendor’s products thoroughly integrate with each other,
utilizing the same database. This prevents errors and speeds return preparation.
The program also houses an impressive array of other features, including a diagnostic
system, and the ability to move quickly to source documents and worksheets from
both the form and the interview modes of data entry. UltraTax CS highlights
overridden and calculated entries and provides several other text cues to alert
preparers to potential issues, such as the use of blue marks in the corners
of input fields, indicating that the field had information in the prior year,
but has no data entered for the current-year return.

UltraTax CS enables linking to RIA, PPC and IRS research materials, with the
ability to query line-specific research and analysis, as well as attaching notes
and follow-up markings to returns and specific line entries. Creative Solutions
has been aggressively developing its web-based components over the past several
years, and includes online client organizers, as well as secure client web portals
that enable clients to access and fill out their organizers online, with the
data flowing directly into their client files in the firm’s UltraTax system.
Depending upon the client relationship and firm choices, the clients can also
be given access to *.PDF versions of prior tax documents. UltraTax easily handles
multiple state allocations and K-1 distributions as needed. The program also
includes a robust depreciation module, capable of all state’s specific
calculations as well as property tax returns.

Integration/Import & Export — 4 Stars
As noted above, total integration throughout the line of Creative Solutions
products greatly enhances workflow and decreases redundant data entry. The company
produces virtually everything an accountant or tax professional could need,
with each of these programs supporting the others. Integration within the tax
package itself ensures proper transfer of K-1 data and child/parent return relationships.
Users will also benefit from the electronic client organizers, where attachments
such as spreadsheets or scanned documents can be sent to the preparer. Through
integration with Trial Balance CS or Engagement CS, third-party accounting packages
and spreadsheets can be imported into UltraTax CS. UltraTax CS integrates with
the research offerings of RIA CheckPoint, enabling the linking of line entries
to specific research findings. The company offers free conversions for users
of most major tax systems.

Support/Training & Help System — 5 Stars
The Help utility within the UltraTax CS system provides good support through
right-click menus, line-specific guidance and instructions, and access to a
variety of online support and reference web sites. Online support options include
a knowledgebase, various reference materials, account management functions,
downloadable updates, marketing tools and other offerings. Additionally, the
company sponsors ARNE2, an online user community for users of the software that
enables professionals to assist each other with real-world issues and tax treatments.
The company offers an extensive array of training options through its Creative
Solutions University, including online, telephone-based, group and on-site options.
Additional training is offered at the company’s annual user conference.

Product Evolution & Vendor Vision — 5 Stars
Creative Solutions, a Thomson company, has actively pursued continued integration
with research vendors PPC and RIA, both of which are also Thomson companies.
The vendor offers an exceptional array of professional accounting applications
and continues to develop and improve on them, especially its online functionality
and document management systems. The tax system has seen advancements year over
year, with the company continually seeking user feedback to make additions to
its applications.

Relative Value — 5 Stars
UltraTax CS is one of the stronger systems on the market, easily capable of
handling complex corporate and individual returns while maintaining a generally
friendly user interface. The system’s greatest asset, once again, is its
total integration with other Creative Solutions products, including Write-Up
CS, Trial Balance CS, FileCabinet CS, Planner CS, Payroll CS, Practice CS, Fixed
Assets CS and Engagement CS. This integration makes the system most valuable
to a practice that is looking to implement a total firm-wide accounting and
tax application. That said, the system easily runs as a stand-alone program,
providing a very strong and capable compliance tool.

2006 Overall Rating — 5 Stars