Product review:: Intuit ProSeries

Those of us dinosaurs who've been knocking around the tax field for decades have probably worked with ProSeries off and on since the DOS days when it was still called TurboTax. They were one of the first affordable, in-house products available, while many tax offices were still sending out their batched files to Computax, Unitax and Dynatax. If you recognize those names, shhhh, don't let on. It will give away your age.

Like you, I've had a love-hate relationship with ProSeries/TurboTax. Each successive year brought amazing innovations and conveniences, along with irritating errors and varying levels of customer service.

I'm glad to say that, in this century, Intuit's ProSeries customer service is the best it's ever been. The wait, during rushes, still tends towards many minutes. But, for installation and download problems, routine calls and such, the service is quite good. My associate, also an Enrolled Agent, handles all the installations, updates, trouble-shooting, etc. I've taught her to expect high levels of service. She tells me she's very happy with the service.

For specific, unique service issues, you can't count on ProSeries. In April of 2007, one of my students, a new ProSeries customer on my recommendation, noted that the software didn't handle some specific testing she needed done for Ohio city and state taxes. Dunphy Systems, which handled the computation beautifully, was bought out (just for the customer list) and shut down. ProSeries courted the Dunphy clients – but didn't provide the Ohio service they need. So she and I worked our way through a variety of contacts at ProSeries to build the computation into the system. She got promises from ProSeries. But no one ever took care of it. We can all understand something not getting added to the vast agenda of modifications and upgrades…but it would have been really nice to have someone come back and say – nope, we won't be doing this.

Especially since, at the IRS Tax Forums, I had spoken to the chief programmer at Drake and he was eager to help her out. (See the Drake review.) Unfortunately she trusted ProSeries to come through for her and never called Drake. It's clear, don't count on ProSeries for any changes or improvements.

Over the years, we leave ProSeries in frustration and keep coming back to them. Why? The whole set of diagnostics the program runs. They're terrific! Many a time it has identified missing information, overrides, estimates (you can mark them as estimates) made to generate the potential tax liability for the extension, elections that needed to be made and more. Remember to run the state diagnostics separately.

I particularly like being able to attach detailed notes or sub-schedules to any field – without having them print. That's a good way to enter data clients provide from a variety of unconsolidated reports (cash expenses, credit card expenses, paid by check, etc.) – and to be able to identify the source, as an audit trail.

In addition, you have a tool to let you make a list of all the missing data you want the client to provide. It will pop-up when you enter the return, as a reminder. When your client calls and asks for a copy of that list, for the third time, you can easily print it out for your clients or e-mail it to them.

Overrides are particularly important. Sometimes, you know exactly what the number should be on a given line, but can't get the software to put it there because you haven't learned to find the particular input field. You don't have time to figure that out, or the cross-reference help tool doesn't provide a useful source for that field. I can override and file the return that way – or leave that there to do planning or generate extension calculations – and figure it out later. Generally, right-click on a field and the cross-reference information you get is excellent. In fact, when the data comes from another input form or form, clicking on the field will take you straight there.

This year, from within ProSeries, you have access to their new 60,000-memeber "ProSeries Live Community," the TaxAlmanac.org site, government instructions – and a "Where Do I Enter" Tool answers the basic questions for beginners and the tough questions for the more advanced.

When you enter data into the system, ProSeries generates all the related forms and schedules to go with the data. We used ATX for a few years. It didn't do that. We had to ensure that we located and added all the forms and schedules needed with any transaction. That was hard to remember, because ProSeries raised our expectations when it comes to software.

Another thing we love is being able to import K-1 data into the individual returns from the client's 1065 or 1120S. That saves time and ensures accuracy. You can also import data from QuickBooks into the business returns in a snap – if you set it up properly in QuickBooks, first.

We do a lot of work with clients who need multiple state returns. If we don't have a state on our system yet, we can instantly download additional states and/or updates to our current software. No waiting for discs to arrive. ProSeries does a terrific job picking up the other state's taxes and credits. You still need to check each state to make sure you enter the income or losses specific to that state. But once you've made the entries, you'll be delighted how well the related computations work.

Printing is another convenience. So many options. PDF or paper. Print or e-mail. You can print just one form or schedule, a selection of them, or the entire return. You can set the system to print back-up schedules or not. ProSeries produces about half the paper that Lacerte does. We generally keep a PDF of each return; e-file the federal and state returns; and provide the client with either a PDF copy or hard copy, whichever they prefer.

E-filing works smoothly and easily. See if you can negotiate a package that includes e-filing, or buy an add-on for unlimited e-filing. Life is much easier with electronic records of the filed returns.

Intuit is adding a new feature called "Critical Alerts" to provide updates and important news during tax season. It will appear as a bar above the forms, instead of as an e-mail. That sounds like a helpful feature, unless they use it to push sales of additional products or services. That would be annoying and cause tax pros to ignore messages that might be important.

You have a variety of ways to input data quickly – whether you are entering data in front of the client, or having someone key in the data in a back room, or overseas. The EIN database will populate in your W-2 and 1099 entries.

Enhancements this year:

  • Client Checklist - highly customizable tool that helps preparers collect data from clients sooner. Using prior year data, Checklist creates a personalized list of tax documents and information required for their 1040 return, and provides fast output for either e-mail or mail communication.
  • Client Presentation and Client Advisor - Alternate version: Client Presentation and Client Advisor -- new solutions that combine to create an extremely valuable and auto-generated report of charts and graphs illustrating the client's tax situation, year-over-year comparison and recommendations for reducing future tax liability.
  • WebListings - helps professionals acquire new clients through various online search engines, no matter if they have a Web site or not. Through partnerships with Google Maps, Yahoo! Local, Superpages.com and yellowpages.com, ProSeries enables customers the ability to manage a practice profile within ProSeries which will be provided to these online directories.
  • Microsoft Vista – yes, the 2008 version will run on Microsoft Vista.

There are tools to let you create pretty client reports, graphs and charts – to help your clients relate to their tax data visually.

The interesting thing about using an Intuit product is that the company keeps working on convenient add-ons to make data flow and document tracking and storing easier. They will be beta-testing a few new products this year, including a secure online filing cabinet where your clients will be able to upload documents or log in to see documents you upload for them. This will be a major relief for security-conscious firms. (We'll be giving you more information on a couple of the services soon.)

Some things we find annoying?

When working with pass-through entities – 1041, 1065, 1120S, I don't understand why we have to keep re-entering the beneficiaries, partners, members, or shareholders addresses over and over again when their address is the same as the entity's. It should be simple to put a check-box to select – use the entity's address. They used to have this at one time. It's gone now.

Depreciation was a big problem several years ago. It was fixed. But the laws keep changing. So beware. This past year, when I manually converted a client from an 1120S to an 1120, entering exactly the same deprecation data for each asset, I got different accumulated depreciation numbers in the 1120. So, I'd suggest you still verify your depreciation computations – whatever software you're using!

Also, there is no way to convert an entity. I understand the tax problems with the Schedule L's and so forth. But it certainly would be nice to be able to convert at least the pro-forma data – name, ID number, business start date, etc.

What version should you get?

We prepare returns for all entities – 1040, 1041, 1065, 1120, 1120S, 706, 709, and the rare 990. Firms who prepare forms for all entities, and several states, it's worth your while to sign up for the Power Tax Lite or the Power Tax Library, with all the research tools and resources. If your practice is small, or just starting to grown, consider starting with the Professional Edition and use the pay per return option for the few business returns you prepare.

Naturally, ProSeries, like all smart marketers, offers to covert your client data from your present software for free. This won't apply to all software, but to most. Even so, be sure to check the data to make sure everything is there. There are always errors in all conversions.

Even if you are just starting out with a handful of clients, you can afford a prime software tool like ProSeries. Just start out with their pay as you go option. It's only $200.00.

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