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Thomson Tax & Accounting — UltraTax CS


From the April/May 2008 Review
of Tax Compliance Suites

UltraTax CS is the comprehensive professional tax preparation system offered
by Thomson Tax & Accounting, which also offers a full array of accounting
and firm management programs under the CS brand. All of these systems, including
write-up, trial balance, engagement, document management, tax planning, payroll,
secure online portals, client bookkeeping, engagement management and asset management,
fully integrate with each other and with the UltraTax CS system. This provides
a unified practice environment that can streamline everything from data entry
through reporting. UltraTax CS provides compliance for all entities, including
1040, 1065, 1120, 1120S, 1041, 706, 709 and 990, with support for all states
and many municipalities, many property tax returns, and e-filing of all federal
and most state returns for which such filing is accepted.

The tax program’s modules are available individually, with pricing starting
at $2,100. A fully inclusive multi-state, multi-preparer package costs around
$6,000, although most firms can reduce this cost significantly by selecting
only the entities and states necessary, and by using the company’s pay-per-return
option for infrequently used entities. Also available through Thomson’s
CS line is a virtual/remote office option and a website building tool for accountants.

General Operations/ Ease-of-Use — 4.5 Stars
The UltraTax CS system lets users get straight to compliance and management
tasks by providing an excellent primary interface that uses separate information
areas to offer links to specific functions. This customizable Home Page includes
traditional icons at the top, along with panels in the main screen that identify
frequently performed tasks and recent return activity based on the individual
user. Panels are also offered for Cumulative and At-a-Glance Status Summaries
and for Notices, providing information on product updates, e-filing transmission
status and news items.

Existing client returns can be opened using the option in the Tasks or Recent
Activity panels, or by selecting it from the new Client Profiles screen, which
provides a sortable client list that is also filterable by entity or preparer
and, when a client is selected, opens a summary information panel with tax and
basic client contact data. Professionals can also use the Open Client icon,
which provides similar sorting, filtering and search functions within a popup
window. UltraTax CS enables data entry directly onto form replicas or through
an interview mode.

When working in a client return, the interface changes to offer a form/section
navigation menu on the left. Data is automatically calculated as it is entered,
with the system using various color schemes to note an entry’s source
as manually input, transferred, calculated or override. Right-click menu options
give access to field-specific instructions and review functions such as notes.
When using the form view mode, the left-hand navigation menu and tabs above
the work area give access to primary form pages and subsidiary forms, worksheets
and schedules. In the interview mode, the left-side menu breaks return data
entry into logical sections (income, business, rental, farm, taxes, credits,
etc.), while tabs further break each of these sections down into specific areas,
such as W-2, 1099 and 2439. All data automatically flows throughout the system,
including between interrelated parent/child returns and K-1 pass-throughs.

Workflow & Productivity Tools — 5 Stars
To speed data entry, UltraTax CS provides smart selection lists for data-entry
fields that are likely to have repeated information, such as employers, EINs
and cities. These fields remember previous entries, allowing users to select
from a list on future returns, which can be especially useful when preparing
returns for individuals working for the same employer, and for interrelated
business entities. This smart entry feature, in addition to remembering previously
entered information, also lets users skip over areas unrelated to the current
return, such as spousal information for a client filing as single.

The program also allows multiple clients to be open at the same time. Among
the key features noted in every review of UltraTax CS is the benefit of total
integration with all of the other systems in the CS line. With all of the programs
sharing the same database and similar interfaces, the potential for saved data-entry
time is substantial for full-service practices. Additionally, the program offers
great review process functions that include an audit trail with line-by-line
drilldown access from forms to supporting statements, as well as the ability
to set field-specific notes and view side-by-side two-year comparisons.

UltraTax CS also includes strong built-in diagnostic capabilities to help find
discrepancies and missing information, which help guard against errors. The
error and diagnostic functions provide direct access to form data entry. Both
the review and diagnostic functions can be accessed with one click from the
application toolbar. UltraTax CS supports the use of multiple monitors for simultaneously
working within the program and viewing source documents, spreadsheets, research
websites or other items on full screens. With optional UltraTax 1040 Portals,
a tax practice can offer clients secure online access to individual returns,
as well as the ability to upload documents and other materials. Similar portals
are available through NetClient CS for non-1040 clients. As another online option,
the implementation of Virtual Office CS allows firms with remote staff to access
and work with client returns from any location. The program supports bar-coding
of all returns and forms. New for TY 2007, Thomson introduced watermark functions
for noting copy versions, the previously mentioned Client Profiles screen, proforma
of client notes and data-entry displays, and the ability to export client reports.

Integration/ Import & Export — 5 Stars
As noted, UltraTax CS integrates with the various Thomson CS accounting and
practice management programs, as well as with Microsoft Excel for report generation
and importing of client data. The program also offers excellent professional
tax research capabilities through integration with PPC’s 1040 Deskbook,
and through RIA’s Tax Reference Guides, Checkpoint system and LineFinder
feature. As well, document management functions allow saving returns, reports
and other items to PDF and Excel.

Support/Training & Help System — 5 Stars
With its smart data-entry fields, line-by-line instructions and other features,
UltraTax CS offers abundant assistive capabilities, including built-in task
wizards, tutorials and access to the online ARNE2 community of tax and accounting
professionals. Thomson offers live and web-based training options through its
CS University, as well as classes at its annual user conference.

Relative Value — 5 Stars
UltraTax CS provides exceptional integration between all of its modules and
the other programs in the CS suite of professional tax and accounting systems,
enabling practices to streamline many of their processes. This integration makes
the system ideal for any size full-service accounting and tax firms, where UltraTax
CS can achieve the sought-after balance between high-end functionality and ease
of use. And the product is offered at a moderate price-point that enables firms
to move up into additional modules as their client bases grow increasingly complex
and diverse.

2008 Overall Rating: 5 Stars