When it comes to professional tax software, you have many choices. Items to consider are ease of use, data entry, desktop installed or web-based, and document management, to list a few. Another thing to consider is many tax programs have a different flow to the returns and reports. You may need to adjust your procedures to fit your new software. In many cases, tax software will give you a chance to evaluate how you process returns and the data you keep.
Web-based platforms are becoming the new standard even though you may consider security an issue or a potential hazard. Consider how much easier it is for a thief to steal information right from your office, or to steal the whole server. Consider how much time and money you spend on your network. With an online-based platform, the security is the responsibility of the company hosting the data. Your office would benefit from their secure platforms. Also, with web-based platforms, your need for specialized servers goes away, so you save time and money. Lastly, with web-based platforms you have flexibility, you can work from anywhere if you choose.
Another thing, in a long list of things, is the extent at who owns your customer data. Tax and Accounting offices feel they own their data which might be the case. You also now have tax software providers who also offer consumer tax programs. As taxes become more mainstream for individuals do themselves, there could be potential for the tax program companies to venture into selling directly to your customers. Read further to see the reviews of some popular tax programs on the market.
|Software||Price||Data Entry Style
Form | Interview
|All States Included
*No up charge
|All Federal Tax Form Included||Unlimited 1040 E-file||Unlimited E-file
*Includes all states and corporate returns
|UltimateTax 1040 Package||$588|
|UltimateTax 1040+ Corporate||$828|
The prices above do change. The prices are reflective as of the summer of 2018.
Tax preparers who file more than 11 returns in a calendar year must use tax software to e-file. Otherwise, they risk running afoul of federal law. There are some enormous benefits to this rule as using tax software is likely to improve accuracy when completing tax forms. The software will prompt preparers to revisit and correct any detail before sending an e-file.
Each brand of professional tax software can help preparers e-file accurate tax returns for their clients. Specific features for each software, as well as the way these features work, can vary.
Some software has extra features that only a small fraction of customers use, often at a premium price. Preparers can save money by reviewing which features they will use before selecting their next tax software. One of the most important factors is to ensure the software supports all the forms needed.
Below is a summary of several leading tax software’s and how they compare, as well as feedback from tax preparers nationwide on each software’s accuracy and ease of use.
The Journal of Accountancy published a tax software survey that asks for responses from over 3,500 CPAs who prepared tax returns during 2018.
This survey revealed some broad changes, such as a noted decline in the number of clients who reported identity theft. In the Journal’s 2017 survey of CPAs, two-thirds of survey respondents state that they experienced at least one rejection of an e-filed return due to fraudulent use of the filer’s Social Security Number. This rate decreased in 2018, though identity theft remains a pervasive problem for taxpayers and tax preparers.
Half of the respondents said they had difficulty obtaining client's identity protection (IP) personal identification numbers for tax returns prepared in 2016. Clients are not the only ones who run into trouble when it comes to tax fraud. Scammers have begun targeting tax preparers themselves by posing as software vendors.
One way to cut the risk of becoming involved in a tax software scam is to learn more about the most popular brands of tax preparation software. Understanding the top brands will give you the tools you need to select the software that best fits your business. It will also help you identify vendors who may not have your best interests in mind.
Another item to consider when reviewing tax software is that they should all produce the same result, a tax return. There are different ways to get the result. Look for features that you can be confident in and a support system you can count on throughout the season.
Price Range: $588 - $1788
This versatile software can appeal to a wide range of tax professionals. UltimateTax includes data entry of both form mode and interview mode. The context-sensitive help will cater to any new student and seasoned tax professional in the industry.
Tax preparers who are new to the industry find this software easy to navigate and learn. The interview mode can be especially helpful for new preparers who may need some guidance. Using the interview mode first takes much of the trouble out of preparing the first few returns.
UltimateTax is the most competitively priced software for being one of the most feature-rich tax software options. It includes unlimited e-file for all states and federal returns at no additional cost.
The desktop version of the software comes with the ability to be installed on multiple workstations within a preexisting network environment.
For those on the go, UltimateTax Online 1040 Package works on Mac or PC anywhere with a 3G or better internet connection. The online version of the software offers the ability to complete individual returns without the need to download the program. All updates and acknowledgments are automatic. The online software comes with three initial users, though more are available if needed.
Experienced professionals benefit from its ability to prepare all different areas of the corporate world. CPAs and EAs can use UltimateTax with great success. However, it may be missing some specific pieces that other Corporate focused software may offer.
All versions of UltimateTax offer a bank product option, partnering with Santa Barbara Tax Products Group (TPG) and EPS to offer customer’s various price points based on their needs. For customers in states that do not allow standard bank products, UltimateTax offers a FeeCollect option
UltimateTax has been in the tax software business since 2006. UltimateTax has partnered with TaxWise to make their tax calculations and efile, while the brand, easy to use launch pad and support are all proprietary. Used by thousands of tax preparers and accountants each season.
UltimateTax provides in-house year-round technical support for all customers at no additional cost to the product price.
Price Range: $569(pay per return Package) - $2579
TaxWise utilizes both the interview mode and form-entry mode to request tax information. Having both modes available can appeal to new tax preparers. It includes a breadth of corporate forms allows TaxWise users to handle both business and 1040 tax return preparation with ease.
Its offerings can appeal to tax preparers at all experience levels. The TaxWise price tag can price out many entry-level professional tax preparers. Many may instead opt for an inexpensive option that presents most of the same features. The program is bilingual, offering both English and Spanish versions, and an online version is available for firms that only need to prepare 1040s.
TaxWise is installed on a local computer desktop or on a network. Users can also purchase the program online and download it using the download option that is emailed to users from TaxWise.
Users can easily customize the interface to suit their needs, displaying only the links and shortcuts necessary, and can adjust the TaxWise Window size, change text size and even on-screen colors. Form replicas are used for entering tax data, with information entered shared with any corresponding schedules. TaxWise contains an ‘Easy Interview’ option, which works to guide users through the information collection process.
TaxWise contains a Tax Help menu that offers easy access to a variety of resources, including IRS publications, a Forms Library, Practice Aids and Line Explanations. The menu also offers access to the U.S. Master Tax Guide as well as the TaxWise Community Boards, various product webinars and self-study courses, and CPE credit courses. Line-by-line help is also available as well.
TaxWise offers accountants a comprehensive tax compliance solution that is available as a locally installed application as well as online (1040 only). Available in both English and Spanish, the product is available in three versions; TaxWise Pay-Per-Return; TaxWise ProFiling, which focuses on federal and state returns; and TaxWise Power, which handles both individual and business returns.
As a preparer you have choices, if you decide TaxWise will fit your business, you can take a look at UltimateTax to see if their pricing and service better fit your needs.
Price Range: $330 (PPR) - $1695
Drake Tax is a professional tax management suite designed for small to medium-sized accounting firms.
Drake Tax speeds up the process of preparing returns through the aid of its shortcut keys and macros, reducing keystrokes and simplifying data entry. The software can also automatically calculate returns as users enter data. Drake Tax can export K-1 tax information to Form 1040, as well as, export 8615 parent’s tax information to a child’s Form 8615. Users can prepare multiple-state returns and print taxpayer forms in Spanish.
The software also allows users to analyze multiple tax years, comparing taxes from year to year. If there are errors in the calculation of returns, users can quickly identify and correct them.
After calculating a return, the software displays the results of the calculation. Thus, preparers will be able to determine if the return is eligible for e-filing. Also, the software shows the fees and the refund amount in the calculation results.
Also, Drake Tax provides users with the capability to import tax forms to the software. These forms include Forms W-2, K-1, and 1040. They can import Forms W-2 and K-1 using a 2D barcode scanner, hardware that they have the option to integrate with the software. Aside from importing tax forms, the software enables them to export tax information to tax forms. As an example, users can export K-1 tax information from 1041, 1120S, and 1065 returns to Form 1040.
Drake Tax also has an e-filing feature that allows users to submit tax returns online. In e-filing returns, they can attach PDF documents to returns. To eliminate paper versions of returns, Drake Tax provides them with the option to use a signature pad that enables their customers to electronically sign returns. Additionally, the software uses PIN and consent screens that are built so customers can easily approve the returns. This e-filing feature also enables users to e-file state and federal returns separately or combine them.
Drake Tax software is available from Drake Tax directly and can also be purchased through UltimateTax under the UltimateDR package. Contact an UltimateTax Software Specialist for more information.
Price Range: varies
CrossLink is very similar to other forms-based software in this industry. Seasoned tax preparers will be comfortable with the direct data entry format of the software.
A form-based, rather than interview-based, software. CrossLink appeals to the tech-savvy. It includes features like a signature pad and 2D barcode scanner. CrossLink presents a nice interface.
CrossLink tends to attract multi-office professionals, due to the management software they utilize for their customers.
CrossLink features a selective printing process which gives preparers the ability to customize which sections of each return they would like to print for their customers. Along with printing customization, the software allows users to edit every facet of their customer billing with pricing management tools.
All e-files are sent through a central site, adding an additional layer of protection and support for returns submitted through the software. CrossLink includes a built-in back-up/restore program that allows returns to be encrypted with a secure password within a file either in the program or on an external source.
Crosslink Tax software is available from Crosslink Tax directly and available for purchase through UltimateTax under the UltimateCL package. Contact an UltimateTax Software Specialist for more information.
Price Range: $270 (PPR) - $1929
ProSeries’ integration with the Intuit suite can appeal to those who have Intuit-savvy clients. Even for those who don't have much Intuit experience, this software is accessible to everyone from the novice preparer to the seasoned pro.
However, nearly a third (29 percent) of ProSeries users indicated this software did not contain all the forms they need. For tax preparers who handle a diverse group of clients, this deficiency may have an impact. Only 207 of the 2017 Journal survey respondents indicated they switched their tax software from the previous year. Most former ProSeries users turned to UltraTax or Drake.
ProSeries is well-suited for small to mid-sized firms focusing on 1040 returns. Intuit ProSeries Tax is available in two version, Basic and Professional. The Professional version integrates with QuickBooks, with is desirable for firm utilizing QuickBooks products.
ProSeries is available as desktop software, though not available online, via remote access, or mobile apps.
ProSeries supports more than 3,500 tax forms and schedules including 1040, 1041, 1065, 1120, 1120S, 706,709, and 990, along with any related state forms as required.
ProSeries also offers e-file capability, with firms able to file returns electronically for the current tax year, as well as for two prior years. Users can also attach PDF documents to any state or federal tax return, and the EF Center provides complete management for all e-filed returns, including the ability to view all e-filed returns, track the status of each return, and receive electronic notifications when an e-filed return is accepted.
ProSeries Tax offers solid help functionality. This includes offering users a variety of help and support options including a live community of users to ask questions and share solutions. Which also comes along with the Ask ProSeries option, a new feature, both field and form specific help options, form instructions, FAQ’s, a user’s guide that can be accessed online or downloaded, and the ProSeries Help Center, which offers videos as well as links to other resources. Users also have access to various product training options from the ProSeries website as well. Telephone, email, and chat support options are available in ProSeries, with the support cost included in the product pricing.
Price Range: $1095 - $1395
TaxSlayer software is another version that works well for tax preparers who are beginning in the industry. The interview-style interface can make the preparation process take longer for those who are more familiar with preparation but can prove beneficial to preparers who are not as skilled in collecting information from their clients.
Preparers not wishing to utilize the interview process can change to the form-based entry within the software. Utilizing this entry format may reduce the amount of time spent on each return, which may, in turn, make it easier to build their client base.
TaxSlayer has a support team that provides technical advice specific to the tax program. Since it is cloud-based software, people can use the service as long as their device is connected to the Internet.
TaxSlayer Classic boasts of ease of use while still providing a wide range of tax preparation tools. The program supports all the required tax forms, calculations and communication links to that users can prepare, and e-file returns electronically with the IRS.
One does not need to be in an office to file their tax returns, as TaxSlayer Classic’s web-based deployment allows users to access the software from anywhere, as long as their device is connected to the internet. Users can even begin a tax filing, save and return to it on a later date.
TaxSlayer Classic reduces the possibility of incorrect filings with its state-of-the-art error checker. This feature helps inspect errors or incomplete fields so that tax returns can be processed without delays.
Preparers who are not familiar with the software may find the need for TaxSlayer’s complimentary email and live phone support. The team provides technical advice within a tax program, allowing users to make the most out of the service.
Price Range: $585 - $1449
TaxAct attracts new customers due to its low-price all-inclusive packages. TaxAct’s software interface is easy to master though may be a bit frustrating for those who have been in the industry for a while such as seasoned preparers who like to go at their own pace rather than follow through a series of questions to make a form entry.
TaxAct Professional Edition, formerly known as TaxAct Preparers Edition, is well suited for small firms and sole proprietors that mainly handle high volumes of 1040 returns for individuals. Though their primary market is individuals looking to prepare taxes, TaxAct has been expanding into the professional market as well.
TaxAct users choose between a product that is locally installed on a desktop or a network or an online version that can be accessed via cloud storage.
All versions of TaxAct provide unlimited 1040 e-filing capability, with unlimited e-filing of additional forms available in select bundles.
TaxAct offers a Client Xchange Portal that provides accountants and preparers with the ability to share documents with clients. The portal supports unlimited preparers and unlimited clients while offering unlimited data storage. Any file type can be uploaded to the portal for sharing, and the recipient is notified via email when a file has been uploaded.
TaxAct Professional contains Document Manager functionality, so users can easily save everything from completed tax forms, support documents, receipts, notes, and correspondence in the document manager.
TaxAct offers user help, both in the application, as well as through the online support option. Here, users can access popular support topics, access a Getting Started list of resources, instructions on importing prior year taxes, a Setup and Troubleshooting Guide, a variety of videos, and access to all help topics. Users can also access support via telephone or email, with support including in the product pricing.
Price Range: $349 - $749
Olt Pro has expanded from a cloud tax software program to include both an online and a desktop version, appealing to a broader audience in the process. A competitive pricing structure for low-volume customers makes Olt a good option for those whose services don’t fit into one category. Olt is affordable when compared to other options. Even without leveraging the low-volume pricing structure.
Olt Pro is also popular among 1040 users with its interview-based entry mode although its business forms are somewhat limited and tend to draw less of a corporate crowd than other software options.
OLTpro.com requires that that information is completed in a specific order (personal information, income, and earnings, deductions and credits, health coverage, etc.). Before advancing to the next section, preparers must enter a screen confirming the current section has been completed. Preparers can move backward throughout the program but will encounter the completion verifications in order to advance again.
The OLTpro.com interface may tend to use overly technical language for some newer preparers. The program does not provide guided navigation, leaving users to determine which sections apply to their returns on their own. This design may cause an issue for newer preparers, while experienced users may not have an issue.
Preparer’s who have come to rely on additional support items such as relevant knowledge base articles, and search functions, will not find them. OLTpro.com provides links to the IRS website and has added Helper Images through the software. The Helper Images show users the exact box that contains the information needed.
Price Range: $549 - $3949
The 2017 Journal of Accountancy survey rated ATX as the most likely software to include all necessary forms. This helps tax preparers avoid the scramble to find a little-used form needed by a client. These forms come at a good value, as well; 26% of ATX users indicated they liked its price.
ATX includes most business forms. As a result, ATX is popular with tax preparers who focus on corporate and business returns. This popular software uses the form entry mode rather than asking interview questions. This gives users the flexibility to skip back and forth between sections as needed.
ATX is another program designed by Wolters Kluwer’s CCH Small Firm Services. The program provides a desktop solution that includes a library of tax compliance forms. The solution includes more than 7,000 forms in the library, allowing users to complete documentation with ease.
The platform is easy to navigate, allowing users to go through fields and between up to three forms with ease.
ATX features an interview tool that takes users through every stage of the filing compliance forms. Utilizing the interview process helps to ensure that all necessary fields are completed. In addition, the interview tool automatically checks the inputted data for error and potential omissions.
The ATX interface allows up to three open returns forms, utilizing dedicated page, worksheet, and form tabs to allow the user to switch between form quickly.
Along with the software, ATX users have access to an online-based knowledge library, regular newsletters, and practice aids.
Price Range: $295 - $795
MyTaxPrepOffice is an online software. The ability to store and send information to the cloud can be a boon to professional tax preparers who are always on the go. Tax preparers can input data and make changes from anywhere with an internet connection.
While seasoned tax professionals may tend to stick with software that installed on a desktop, the increasing online presence may begin driving more and more users toward online options. With a price tag of under $1,000, this software is affordable even for those who have only a handful of regular clients.
My TAXPrep Office from Advanced Tax Solutions may be a good fit for tax preparation sites that handle fairly straightforward individual and business tax returns. The software works well for firms with multiple locations. My TAXPrep Office offers unlimited federal and state e-filing.
The product offers a customizable dashboard that features performance indicators, real-time status of both Federal and State returns, the status of bank applications, an appointment/calendar feature, and a list of to-do items. Similar to other software, the product offers both a data entry format and an interview mode feature.
Program administrators may view the status of preparer’s returns, even those at other locations, along with the ability to establish permission for individual offices as needed.
My TAXPrep Office does not offer a client portal, nor is there any real option for a paperless workflow. The Print Packets option allows users to set a default printing option, with the application automatically printing file and client copies of returns which can be emailed to clients.
My TAXPrep Office is a fully integrated application, with all features working together. All editions offer integration with at least one banking product (Individual), with Essential and Unlimited offering integration with multiple banking products. The Signature Pad app is also included in all editions of My TAXPrep Office, and Multi-Office Management capability is available in the Unlimited version of the application.
Price Range: Starts at $2760
UltraTax CS seeks to reduce repetitive data entry and other time-consuming tasks.
UltraTax CS opens to a convenient homepage design. Through this page, users have direct access to real-time information on electronic filing status and all program updates and news. A dedicated link provides direct access to the IRS “Where’s My Refund?” page.
Navigation throughout the program is simple with a list of forms and input sheets on a left sidebar and the actual forms and input sheets on the remainder of the screen. Users can control the scope of what the display by selecting all forms/input sheets or only those with active data displayed.
Many input sheets feature drop down menus that contain commonly used items. UltraTax CS generates these lists automatically as users input data, but users also can create their lists. Examples of using this list might be bank routing and account information and a listing of names and addresses of regional charitable organizations.
In addition to other CS Professional Suite solutions, UltraTax CS also integrates within itself. Returns that generate K-1 data import directly to other return types. EIN/SSN matching acts as the control point on the K-1 and destination return types. Most K-1 data and appropriate notes integrate smoothly within UltraTax CS.
UltraTax CS allows a user to scan barcodes on K-1’s and W-2’s and all information is directly imported into the return as appropriate. For this to work, however, users will need to have a barcode scanner, and the K-1’s and W-2’s will need to have readable barcodes printed on them.
Comprehensive diagnostic tools are available to ensure that users capture all necessary data and do not miss any potential deductions. Included in the diagnostics are a full set of electronic filing safeguards to ensure users enter all appropriate data before submitting the returns.
UltraTax CS provides a full line of federal, state, and local tax compliance options and timesaving tools to ease every step of the tax preparation process. UltraTax CS integrates tightly with other CS Professional Suite products and has several built-in modules to help ensure users can handle any return and meet the needs of any client with ease. Pricing for UltraTax CS starts at $2,760 for one-user processing unlimited federal 1040s. Unlimited state, business, and electronic filing options, as well as per-return-pricing are also available.
Price Range: varies
CCH’s ProSystem fx, also from Wolters Kluwer Tax and Accounting, focuses on automation. It appeals to busy tax preparers who are managing inflows and outflows of cash subject to various tax treatment.
Eight (of 41) write-in complaints in the 2016 Journal of Accountancy survey addressed ProSystem fx’s automatic software updates. Bringing up that these updates occurred at inconvenient times and required users to log out of all systems until the updates were complete. These comments may serve as a reminder to not to put off completing tax documents (or filing an extension request) until the last minute. Interruptions can create needless frustration.
CCH ProSystem fx is well-suited for all office sizes and offers optimum value when integrated with other CCH ProSystem fx Suite. The software can be installed on desktop and network systems.
Like other Wolter’s Kluwer software, CCH ProSystem fx utilizes an interview format to assist preparers in entering data. The interview format allows for easy data entry and comes with a zoom feature allowing forms to be enlarged as needed. Available forms are placed in a drop-down menu, allowing preparers easy access.
CCH ProSystem fx features a complete diagnostic system, which helps to eliminate inconsistencies and find points of missing data. Pop-up menus and navigations panels are available within the program to guide users through each return.
CCH ProSystem fx users can enter search terms within the software to access FAQs and solutions and more within their resources center. Support is available via email and telephone support.
The CPA Journal conducted an annual survey of practitioners in New York State. The survey asks for their opinions and concerns on the tax products they used during 2016.
This survey sought some different responses than the Journal of Accountancy survey. A more significant focus was on more subjective measures. For example; the effect of state and federal delays in the release of necessary tax forms, the impact of frequent software updates, and the cost-to-value balance for each of the seven highest-rated tax software. This includes ATX, Drake, ProSeries, TaxAct, TaxSlayer, TaxWise, and UltraTax.
Most respondents indicated customer support was a deciding factor of why they switched from one brand of professional tax software to another. At least half of all respondents claimed they used email to contact customer support at least once. Another 47% of respondents indicating they used online support with the same frequency. Yet, the telephone remains the preferred method for tax preparers to pursue answers. A staggering 94% of respondents who sought customer support in 2016 doing so by phone.
There's no one perfect software for every situation. Each tax preparer will need to weigh the value of the software to find the right fit.