Mortgages are underwater. Debt is piling up. Unemployment remains high. These are more than just headlines - they are life situations that require adjustments to education plans, retirement plans and even current spending patterns. All of which will require tax planning.
It's been one of those neglected pockets of accounting software that has been thrust into the limelight. And from that perspective, most of the software products accountants need fall short of what they need to be. In particular, they suffer from three general flaws:
• The tax planners are proprietary. If your tax package has a decent planner, you will do fine. But if it does not, most accountants will be left to use either a generic planner or a substandard one. Not a great choice, but fortunately some of the generics do quite well at an economical price point.
• Reporting software is generally inadequate. All too many packages simply produce a PDF copy of a spreadsheet, lacking the rich reporting capabilities of other accounting software.
• Where's the Cloud? If ever there were an accounting application that begs for the cloud, this is it. We could really use a stand-alone SaaS application that imports from all of the most common tax programs, generates lively scenarios and exceptional reports . Then shares them across a client portal so they can be discussed and used easily.
All that said, the tax planners presented here in the 2011 roundup are all robust, and if they lack some features they gain in their relatively low cost and ease of use.
Bureau of National Affairs
(800) 424-1615 fax)
Price: BNA Income Tax Planner: $605; BNA Income Tax Planner With Fifty States: $970.
The BNA Income Tax Planner enables the quick calculation of federal income taxes, including alternative minimum tax (AMT), capital gains, estimated tax payments, stock options, and more. BNA does not offer its own tax preparation software, but its tax planner includes data bridges to allow integration with ProSystem fx Tax, Lacerte Tax, UltraTax CS and GoSystem Tax.
The system is offered in two versions, a federal-only edition or a federal plus 50-states edition. It allows up to 20 side-by-side columns of federal and state tax data for multiple years and/or scenarios, with modes of analysis (years within cases, cases within years, adjustment, difference, taxpayer-spouse, annualization, and minor child). The current versions handle all tax years after 1986, and allows the tax practitioner to sunset the 2001 Act provisions.
Offering a simple worksheet format, the BNA Tax Planner also offers a Security Transaction Analyzer , which automatically determines the type and amount of gain or loss for each capital transaction; and a Watch Window to permit the viewing of any 10 rows to automatically see the impact of data changes. Also included are a Notes feature to create and optionally print notes for any input row on any worksheet; a client letter generator with amounts linked into the letter from the worksheets; and a Graph feature to prepare customizable graphs of client data.
With a wide library of reports and features, BNA Tax Planner is an extensive planning tool that handles not only current tax projections but the filing of back taxes, estate taxes, retirement planning, investment planning and other features not included in other tax planning software solutions.
Drake Tax Planner
(828) 369-9928 fax
Price: $1,395. Pay-per-return option for g fewer than 50 returns
Drake Tax Planner
The Drake Tax Planner is part of the popular suite of tax preparation software and services from Drake, which encompasses tax preparation and planning for all entities and states, as well as document management features, write-up with ATF payroll, a multi-office manager sync system, and a free basic website for accounting firms.
The tax planning utility provides multi-year scenario testing with built-in rules for AMT, taxation limitations and other factors. Using a worksheet format, it enables the comparison of up to seven years or seven scenarios per client, including the impact of changes in marital status, dependents, education, retirement savings and income. It allows for the consideration of tax impacts on taxable social security benefits, disposition of capital assets, limitation phase-outs, self-employment tax, Alternative Minimum Tax and retirement savings, with reporting options for the plan when completed.
The Drake Tax Suite includes rudimentary tax research support, including data from several financial institutions. In 2009, Drake Software began offering an online version of its tax suite, hosted on its owns secure servers.
Intuit Lacerte Tax Planner
Price: $849 per year.
Intuit Lacerte Tax Planner
The Intuit Lacerte Tax Planner is designed to enable firms to prepare multiple year tax scenarios based on both current and inflation-adjusted future income levels. It can be used either as a stand-along planner or installed with the Lacerte Tax preparation suite, and uses the same general interface with a summary screen and tabbed access to client data entry screens
The planner presents client data scenarios based on actual current and future state and federal tax rates built into Tax Planner. It is capable of generating four types of tax plans: a year/case analysis, difference analysis, Married Filing Jointly/Married Filing Separately comparison, and adjustment analysis. And for each client, up to 10 scenarios may be created for up to 10 years each, calculating changes in AMT, alternative capital gains, phase-outs, farm income averaging, self-employment and lump-sum taxes, and contribution limits.
A report generator produces a variety of standard and custom reports, with graphs and other features. The reports can be exported in a variety of formats, including PDF and text. Lacerte Tax is also offering a software bundle that includes the tax planner, the Lacerte Tax Analyzer and the Lacerte Document Management Systems for $249.
Price: $655 for the federal module and $175 for one state module. All-state option, $300.
Planner CS is a tool to analyze almost any tax projection and years forward, then present the effects of the differing tax alternatives on an annual or other basis. Designed to integrate with the Thomson Reuters UltraTax CS or GoSystem Tax RS lines, it also functions as a stand-alone planner, though it does not import from or export to third-party system except for the CheckPoint tax research platform.
Designed for advanced client tax and retirement planning, Planner CS allows the creation of tax projections for federal tax and for any of the 45 states that have an individual income tax. It also handles clients with income from multiple states, allowing attachment of one resident and unlimited non-resident states. Included are a 1040-ES estimated tax payments calculator and Form W-4 calculator for employee withholding.
Evaluation of the tax consequences of the Roth conversion have been expanded to include high-income taxpayers beginning in 2010, and Planner CS presents an election to spread the conversion income from a Roth over the 2011-2012 tax years.
Planner CS is a powerful and economical platform for users of the Thomson Reuters tax preparation applications, supporting unlimited plans and scenarios for presentation to the client.
CCH ProSystem fx Planning
Price: $585 (single-user license).
CCH ProSystem fx Planning
The CCH ProSystem fx Planning module is designed to work with ProSystem fx Tax, but is equally facile as a stand-alone solution. It features a spreadsheet-style interface, the ability to craft up to 30 scenarios per plan for up to four years, and presentation of the plans through standard reports or export to the ProSystem fx Engagement folder.
ProSystem fx Planning manages complete federal tax calculations, including income tax, Alternative Minimum Tax, capital gains taxes, underpayment of estimated tax penalties, tax on lump-sum distributions, tax on premature distributions from IRAs or other retirement plans, and farm income averaging tax. The system calculated the deductibility of IRA, SIMPLE, SEP and KEOGH contributions, phase-out calculations for itemized deductions, personal exemptions, and AMT exemption for high-income taxpayers.
It offers integrated state tax computations, including calculation of CA, NY and generic AGI state tax based on pre-configured or user-defined data. Pre-configured states for taxes, deductions, exemptions and credits are included for AL, AZ, CO. CT, GA, ID, IL, IN, KS, LA, MD, ME, MI, MN, MS, MO, NE, NJ, NM, NC, OH, OR, SC, UT and WV.
ProSystem fx Planning imports data from ProSystem fx Tax and Engagement, as well as from Gainskeeper Pro. Additional import options are not offered. Export is to those programs as well as to PDF format and to the CCH document management system.
TaxWorks Tax Planner
Price: Tax Planner, $395. With tax software with all states, the primary entities (1040, 1041, 1065, 1120, 1120S), the tax planner and unlimited e-filing is $2,995. A per-return model is also available.
TaxWorks Tax Planner
TheTaxWorks Tax Planner is designed for users of TaxWorks tax products, providing up to five years of scenarios with automatic adjustment of multiple year inflation calculations. It is a basic planning system that focuses on ease of use and a simplified spreadsheet format.
While best suited for users of TaxWorks tax systems, it can be used as a stand-alone product from the desktop, using text input of client data or selection from pull-down lists. Each year, data such as income, deductions and filing status will import, or copy and paste. The program will automatically provide tax projections, calculations and other data. The system also provides adjusted future standard deductions, exemptions and other information, adjusted for inflation.
The reporting capabilities are somewhat limited. The data can be copied and pasted into Word documents, or saved in a PDF format. There is no way to export the data to other formats, or to present it in custom reports directly from the program. Export via the clipboard, however, provides for excellent presentations via Excel or Word.