Product analysis: Lacerte
What is new this year for Lacerte? The list is long.
- Lacerte Live Community, which was enormously successful last year, can now be accessed on every input screen. LLC provides a mechanism for accountants to ask and answer questions among themselves. Last year during the worst crunch time for accountants, the LLC saw more than 30,000 questions. Also new this year, is that people who are working on the same topic can see related questions asked by other users.
- E-file enhancements. Lacerte is always working to improve its e-file capabilities and guarantees that if an e-file deadline is missed because of an Intuit system failure, Intuit will return the e-file fees and reimburse the taxpayer for any interest and penalties incurred by the late filing.
- Alerts. This year Lacerte has added an alert mechanism that warns accountants of critical information within the program. For example, a new patch that may not work well with Lacerte. Alerts are limited to information that is truly critical so as not to disrupt workflow for lower priority information.
- Prior year amounts. For 2007 returns, Lacerte added a popular feature that allows preparers to see the prior year amounts for certain fields. This year they have expanded the capability to include rental properties, business use of home, and employee business and vehicle expenses on Form 2106.
- Simultaneous preparers. As of this year, the number of preparers who can use Lacerte simultaneously is increased from 90 to 500.
- My Corporation.com. Within Lacerte, accountants can offer services to their clients, such as the ability to do incorporation paperwork.
- Bank products. Applications for bank products such as Refund Anticipation Loans are now available within the product, updated for regulatory changes, and can be submitted to the bank from within the program.
- K-1 transfer. Prior versions had the ability to transfer information from business returns to individual returns. By customer request, this has been expanded to include additional states (New York, New Jersey, Illinois and Pennsylvania).
- Price. The cost for Lacerte continues to be comparatively low for professional software at $2,550 for the first year. The cost to renew varies depending on the discount available at the time of renewal. For example, renewing in June may deliver a deeper discount than waiting until year-end.
The per return fee is bundled for the federal and state, at $34 per return, and for additional states, $15 each. Lacerte is able to handle an unlimited number of states within a return.
The overall cost depends on what the client wants. The program is customizable, for example, a preparer who has a practice limited to individual returns and mostly in one state can order a different product than a preparer who does business returns. Preparers who are mostly limited to single-state returns but occasionally need an additional state can take advantage of a mechanism called the "paper return" designed for that purpose.
- Add-ons. Lacerte has an extensive list of add-ons, including document management systems, a tax planner, a tax analyzer which uses data in the tax return to provide tax tips (such as “you could have saved X amount if you had invested Y amount in an IRA"). Lacerte also has a research library and a forms library for obscure forms.
- Technical support. Lacerte offers the traditional methods of phone support, answers on the Web site, and e-mail availability. In addition the program offers a chat feature wherein accountants can talk to support agents. And, the Lacerte Live Community provides a very popular mechanism for accountants to ask and answer questions among themselves.
- Program speed. Rigorous internal testing and beta testing of Lacerte shows the program to be easy to use and fast.
- Network capabilities. Network use is very similar to standalone use in terms of quality. Updating done by one partner updates the program for all users in the firm. And, the status of a return can be traced as it moves through the office.
- Refund Anticipation Loans. Lacerte offers RALs through Republic Bank. Also available are electronic refund checks and electronic refund deposits.
- Client tax organizers. Three types of client tax organizers are available: traditional, condensed, and electronic. The electronic version allows the accountant to send the organizer to clients over the Internet, and also allows accountants to download some of the information for the client.
- Client letters and invoices. Lacerte offers a comprehensive set of documents and invoices that are customizable and that are updated in real time. For example, the system will automatically bill for Schedule A when clients itemize. Lacerte also provides federal and state filing instructions to be provided to clients.
- Spanish. While Lacerte does not currently produce a Spanish language version, it will create a letter in Spanish for Spanish-speaking clients.
Two new products that are not part of the tax software, but are closely related:
1.Doc E-Sort. Allows clients to bring in source documents (the ever-popular shoebox full of unorganized receipts), and get back a bookmarked pdf of organized receipts that follow the natural flow of the tax return. This feature is scheduled for release by tax time.
2.Client portals. A single, secure online location for exchange of documents between accountants and clients. Accountants and their clients both expressed a need for client portals and Lacerte responded. This feature will be released in early 2009.
Lacerte also has features which, though not new this year, make the product easy to use. Here are a few:
Training. From late October through the end of November, Lacerte users can attend the 2008 Lacerte Annual Update Live Seminars, designed to provide all the information tax preparers need for 2008 returns. Recorded webinars are also available for topics such as data entry, program management and e-file solutions.
Lacerte Learn Center 
Population. Lacerte makes it possible to draw information from corporate returns directly into individual returns for easier preparation, though it’s still advisable to double-check to ensure that all of the information has carried over and into the right spot within the return.
Family links. For taxpayers that have children with investments, there is a family link that sends information to the appropriate child’s return.
E-filing. Lacerte allows e-filing of 1040, 1120, 1120S, 1065, and 5500 returns.
Workflow. Lacerte has designed its product to match the natural workflow that an accountant uses when preparing a return. The screens are set up to follow a logical work sequence. In addition, the program incorporates great flexibility so that users can make adjustments such as column widths, to suit their preferences.
Error checking, or diagnostics are set up to alert the user of tax issues or e-file issues, but do not bombard the user with constant reminders that disrupt the workflow.
Easy data entry. Data entry is done in grid style, rather than putting the figures into traditional forms. That way users can enter all of one type of information on the same screen, rather than clicking multiple screens. For example, all depreciation details are entered on one page and then correctly distributed.
Easy to learn, easy to convert. For newcomers to Lacerte, the learning curve is not steep. The transition from other products is easy. In fact, newcomers who have been using other products will appreciate the no-charge data conversion service offered, that packages data from other software programs and converts it to Lacerte for the easiest possible transition.
Comprehensive. Lacerte is robust enough to handle whatever scenarios are presented. All critical forms are included in the program. The tax software integrates easily with other Intuit applications, such as Quickbooks, for direct download of information.
Here's a look at Lacerte in terms of:
Contact: Call 1-800-933-9999 or log onto the Web site: Lacerte Software