Be aware; the attributes discussed in this article are relating to tax software used to preparer individual tax returns for profit, NOT personal use tax software (AKA TurboTax).
Online Tax Preparation Software
Positives: Online software applications allow your office freedom and mobility in both return preparation and management reporting. Many startup tax business owners choose this option for its ability to empower their employees to be able to prepare returns outside of the office. Mobile tax preparation allows for a variety of marketing programs aimed at growing your customer base by bringing tax services directly to the client. Several positive examples of mobile tax preparation programs are preparers setting up for a given time period at their church or organization and preparing members taxes a discounted rates. Many elderly clients value the service of a tax preparer coming to their home to prepare their taxes. Churches, Organizations, Nursing Homes, and Schools provide a target market where multiple clients can be taken care of in one visit. With an online software program, multiple preparers can operate under 1 IRS license given that there is 1 managing party referred to as the "Responsible Official". Many tax offices choose online software programs due to the sheer cost savings of not having to purchase multiple software packages to allow their preparers the same freedom, and the Online programs also allow for return and productivity tracking without having to manage multiple EFINs. Where ever you have an internet connection and a printer to produce any signature documents, you can prepare, file and check status of a tax return. With the prices for mobile broadband cards and smartphones with WiFi connectivity becoming more and more affordable it is becoming very common for mobile tax preparers to bring their own internet connection with them. For management one of the biggest advantages of the online programs is the ability to do reporting from home without having to use a third party software application to access your office network. As busy as a typical tax office manager is during tax season, the more time they are able to be away from the office, the better!
Negatives: While online software allows for mobility and preparer freedom, it also produces limiting factors to that every tax business owner should consider. Informational Security of all online software platforms have to be approved by the IRS before the transmitter will be approved for using the IRS e-file system, but many tax office managers are not comfortable with allowing their preparers the access to their office system and returns from any outside the office PC with a simple username and password. One of the biggest complaints I see is preparers submitting returns for pay off the clock and not reimbursing the tax office. Don't forget the office owner (responsible official) is on the line for all activity preformed under that tax office EFIN. Online tax software also handcuffs your tax business to the uptime of your software provider. Every online provider will concede state that their will be downtime during the season. The question is, how does downtime affect your tax preparation business? Almost all preparers who have used online products in past seasons can recall awkward moments when sitting with a client and having to explain that your software was down and they would have to come back into the office at a later time. If the software providers servers are down, or if your internet connection goes out, you are out of business! There is no preparation, no document printing, no submitting of return, no reporting...Your tax business is dead in the water!
Traditional Installed Desktop Tax Preparation Software
Positives: Desktop installed software is as reliable as your computer or tax office network. This allows you to control your backup procedures, and puts the power in your hands to control outages. Desktop tax software also allows the tax office to maintain a more controlled environment for return preparation. A preparer cannot access return information or preparer returns from any PC other than a PC that has the software hard installed on it. Desktop tax software allows for mobile tax preparation service, but would require that the preparer bring their own laptop with the program installed on it. In a mobile tax preparation setting, with hard installed software, you are not reliant upon having an internet connection to be able to prepare tax returns or print signature pages. You or your mobile preparer can simply prepare the return and wait to get back to the office to transmit any returns to be electronically filed. Desktop installed software platforms are also the oldest versions of tax software programs available and have been through many more years of testing and revising than their online alternative options.
Negatives: To utilize more than one preparer or more than one PC for tax preparation in an office setting you must network your office PCs and designate one as the "server". If a PC leaves the office network, such as taking a laptop home, you lose access to your tax program unless additional home to office networking is setup. Software that is installed on your office network or personal computer is only as safe as the safety parameters you physically have in place. Hard installed programs should always have a backup program running to an off-site storage option in the case of a complete system crash or office disaster such as a fire or theft.
Both Online and Hard Installed tax software have their respective positives and negatives, but after 7 years in the tax preparation business I can tell you that being out of commission due to an internet outage, or a server crash somewhere on the other side of the country is absolutely unacceptable. Online software takes the control out of your hands and puts it in the software company's home. Many tax businesses can attest to the frustration of not being unable to prepare returns the first 2 weeks of last tax season due to online software issues from one of the largest tax software providers in the industry! If I am making the choice for my start-up tax preparation office, I want to be in control, and if something goes wrong, I have the ability to fix it! Hard installed software is my choice when starting a tax preparation business.