From the April/May 2007 Review
of Professional Tax Preparation Systems
Outside of the “Big 3” makers of tax preparation software, Drake is the largest,
with almost 10 percent of tax professionals using the system. And this user
base is very loyal, which resulted in Drake receiving The CPA Technology Advisor’s
2006 Readers’ Choice Award for federal/state tax compliance. Drake is an all-in-one
system, with support for virtually all entities with year-end compliance requirements,
including 1040, 1120, 1120S, 1065, 1041, 990, 706 and 709, with corresponding
support for all states. The full tax suite costs $1,395, which includes the
previously mentioned tax compliance, unlimited e-filing, a client write-up system,
document management, a tax planner, organizers, a firm website, banking options
and access to RIA’s Checkpoint online tax research platform. The system is network-ready
and can be used by any number of preparers within the same office. For firms
renewing their Drake software, pricing drops to as low as $995 with early season
discounts. The system is also available on a pay-per-return basis.
Learning Curve — 4 Stars
Drake’s interface opens to a well-designed screen that resembles a web page,
with a personalized section on the left that displays links to returns recently
worked on by the preparer, as well as upcoming appointments and a Message Center.
The appointments section links from and to Drake’s built-in scheduler feature.
The window also provides useful program hints in the work area, while pull-down
menus and icons are available across the top for accessing the main functions
of the program such as opening or starting new returns, calculating, printing,
support and research. Fortunately, this does not clutter up the screen by showing
links to all minor functions.
The system’s client list is easily accessible and allows searching and filtering
by SSN, last name or return type, but if the user wants summary client return
or demographic information, the best place to look is the Client Status Manager
(CSM), which provides an excellent spreadsheet list that also includes refund/due
info along with basic AR data like billing, deposits, payments and balance due.
The CSM can also be used to drilldown into client returns, making it possibly
the preferred method of accessing them instead of the client selection list.
Drake uses the taxpayer’s SSN or EIN for naming of the account, and this number
must be entered to begin entering basic client data prior to preparing a return.
The system uses general data-entry screens for information entry, and these
entry forms are clean and easy-to-use, with pull-down menus and automatic ZIP
Code recognition of city and state, which is a useful function. Within a client
return, Drake’s data-entry window comes to the front, providing tabbed access
to entry areas, as well as icons for system functions. Actual data entry is
performed on interview-style screens that do not resemble the form but follow
the same data-entry order and use the same line numbering system, so that Form
1040 line 11 is also labeled as number 11 on the datasheet. An actual replica
of the form can be viewed or printed with one click, provides access to all
forms, as well as access to billing, a return summary, client letters, e-file
status, error messages and other client deliverables. Data cannot be entered
from within the form/document view function.
The data fields provide line-by-line access to instructions and Help either
by right-clicking while in a field or using the F1 key. Many other hotkey shortcuts
are built into the system. Unfortunately, most of the data-entry screens do
not include a “save” or “continue” function. Instead, the user must use the
X to close out the window, or simply press the Escape key to save the data.
Also, if the SSN is edited on the client demographic screen, it does not change
in the client directory, so be careful of errors during initial client setup.
That being said, the program does include an SSN validation function that should
reduce the risk of errors.
Use/Workflow & Productivity Tools — 4 Stars
The Drake system is network ready and doesn’t cost anything more for several
preparers in the same office to use. The system’s Multi-Office Manager also
helps multi-location firms manage their clients and returns. Drake includes
a strong selection of standard and custom report options, including reports
based on client, e-filing, preparer statistics, return status and other information.
The customizable report options allow total creation and saving of reports,
which can be formatted for export into Excel, Access or saved as a PDF. Drake’s
diagnostic capabilities are also respectable, providing users with a comparison
tool that can identify potential IRS flags, as well as a messages document that
highlights problems, IRS rejections or other issues and appears when viewing
or printing a client return. The system does not support OCR/form recognition
The Drake tax system includes practice management features such as client
data and billing, client correspondence, return tracking and appointment scheduling.
Drake’s Client Write-Up system, included with the tax package, offers live and
after-the-fact payroll, as well as basic bookkeeping capabilities. A document
management system and an asset depreciation function are also included. Free
websites are available for firms using Drake, and the company also provides
its clients with marketing kits that include posters, banners and pre-produced
radio and newspaper ads. RIA’s Checkpoint is available to Drake users at no
Integration/Import & Export — 3.5 Stars
Client data flows between forms, schedules and worksheets as needed, and calculations
are made either when selecting the Calculate icon or when viewing or printing
a return. The Drake system also supports K-1 pass-throughs between related 1040s,
1065s and 1120s. The tax system offers integration with Drake’s write-up program
and can import from QuickBooks, while the document management system enables
paperless storage of client returns and documents and can print directly to
PDF. The system also integrates with Outlook for e-mailing clients from within
the tax program. Free data conversions are available.
Support/Training & Help System — 5 Stars
Drake offers outstanding phone-based support and comes with a full print version
of its user manual, in addition to offering in-program assistance features such
as line-specific Help, tutorials, links to support, and various Help tools.
The online support center includes a knowledgebase and assistance for users
in setting up a free website, as well as access to additional training aides,
business strategies, tax news and marketing tools. An online user forum also
enables users to get advice from each other.
Relative Value — 5 Stars
The Drake tax system includes virtually everything a tax-focused office or general
accounting firm could need for compliance purposes, with support for all filing
entities and an exceptional price point that includes multi-preparer networked
use. With abundant marketing assistance, banking functions and unlimited e-filing,
firms looking for an all-in-one system to support high volumes of primarily
less-complex individual and business/partnership returns will get the most value
from the Drake system, although the program is also good enough to manage the
tax needs of most smaller year-round full-service accounting practices.
2007 Overall Rating — 4.5 Stars