All accounting professionals know that a proper trial balance is essential to good business management and tax preparation. But despite the obvious need to be accurate, it’s also not as exact a science as non-professionals may think, and it is seemingly always a time-consuming chore. The most challenging aspects are generally overcome by the experience of a seasoned accountant, who can reconcile differences between adjusted net and tax net, identify the most appropriate accounting basis, and deftly manipulate potential journal entries.
Trial balance also has multiple goals, depending upon the audience. First and foremost, for the auditor or accountant the process is intended to balance an entity’s books in conjunction with closing a period, whether quarterly or annual. The product of this process provides the necessary materials for preparation of the entity’s income reporting, but also results in the deliverable most desired by the client: their financial statements.
Managing this last part of the equation, client reporting, is often the most time-consuming and is frequently assigned to junior staff because of the laborious customization of statements, cover letters and other documents. While many firms still rely on manually built spreadsheets to perform trial balance, many more are moving toward programs specifically designed for these tasks. With data import capabilities, sorting functions, on-screen instant calculations, the ability to quickly see the effects of journal entries, and extensive customization options for statement and document preparation, trial balance systems save time and help ensure the integrity of the process.
The programs reviewed in this section are all available as stand-alone systems, providing varying features and options for preparing trial balances, with some also offering direct integration with external professional tax preparation packages.
But for those professionals in need of a trial balance system, especially smaller practices with less complex clients, you may also want to check out the vendor of your tax software system. Many of these tax software companies also offer trial balance modules or add-ons that can greatly streamline the processes, while also offering the advantage of being built-into the tax software, which results in zero repeat data entry or transfer.
Manual spreadsheet systems are inefficient and prone to error, so see what options are available for your tax preparation system. They can help streamline your practice, freeing up more billable hours, and they will also help you provide your clients with more professional, comprehensive and reliable financials.