Category Archives: Software

February 9th Budget Bill Includes 2017 Retroactive Extenders

Thank goodness for the National Association of Tax Professionals! Today I received a cryptic message from the IRS that gave no details and made little sense:

IRS Statement on Retroactive Extender Provisions

Following is an IRS statement issued today, Feb. 9:

“The IRS is reviewing the legislation signed Feb. 9 that retroactively extended and modified numerous tax provisions covering 2017. We are assessing these significant changes in the tax law and beginning to determine next steps. The IRS will provide additional information as quickly as possible for affected taxpayers and the tax community.”

I immediately freaked out and thought, “What significant changes? For 2017? I’m already working on 2017 returns! Tell me more!”

Thankfully, I’m a member of NATP, which had sent out an email at exactly the same time, answering many of the questions I’d just asked. And unfortunately, it’s all true. Our government has decided to pass a 2017 tax extenders bill AFTER tax season has already started. AFTER the IRS has already released all their updated forms. AFTER the tax software companies have already programmed their systems. AFTER tax preparers have already completed their 2017 tax update educational coursework.

From NATP‘s Special Alert e-mail to members:

Newly-Passed Budget Bill Includes Retroactive Extenders
These could impact your clients’ 2017 tax return

This morning President Trump signed a budget bill averting yet another government shutdown. Tucked in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 are several extender provisions that expired but are now available retroactively through Dec. 31, 2017.

The most notable extenders include:

Exclusion for discharge of indebtedness on a principal residence
The provision extends the exclusion from gross income of a discharge of qualified principal residence indebtedness through 2017. The provision also modifies the exclusion to apply to qualified principal residence indebtedness that is discharged pursuant to a binding written agreement entered into in 2017.

Premiums for mortgage insurance (PMI) deductible as mortgage interest
The provision extends the treatment of qualified mortgage insurance premiums as interest for purposes of the mortgage interest deduction through 2017. This deduction phases out ratably for taxpayers with adjusted gross income of $100,000 to $110,000.

Above-the-line deduction for qualified tuition and related expenses
The provision extends the above-the-line deduction for qualified tuition and related expenses for higher education through 2017. The deduction is capped at $4,000 for an individual whose adjusted gross income (AGI) does not exceed $65,000 ($130,000 for joint filers) or $2,000 for an individual whose AGI does not exceed $80,000 ($160,000 for joint filers).

Three-year depreciation for race horses 2-years-old or younger
The provision extends the 3-year recovery period for race horses to property placed in service during 2017.

Also incorporated into the bill is a series of additional provisions that will go into effect for the 2018 tax year. The following are noteworthy:

Requirement for new Form 1040SR for seniors
The provision requires that the IRS publish a simplified income tax return form, designated a Form 1040SR, for use by persons who are age 65 or older by the close of the taxable year. The form is to be as similar as possible to the Form 1040EZ. The use of Form 1040SR is not to be restricted based on the amount of taxable income to be shown on the return, or the fact that the income to be reported for the taxable year includes social security benefits, distributions from qualified retirement plans, annuities or other such deferred payment arrangements, interest and dividends, or capital gains and losses taken into account in determining adjusted net capital gain. This provision is effective for taxable years beginning after the date of enactment.

Prohibition of modifying user fee requirements for installment agreements
The provision prohibits increases in the amount of user fees charged by the IRS for installment agreements. In addition, the IRS is required to waive the fees imposed for installment agreements for taxpayers whose income falls below 250 percent of the poverty line and have agreed to make the payments by electronic means through a debit account. Further, for those taxpayers whose income falls below 250 percent of the poverty line, are unbanked, and successfully complete an installment agreement, the fee would be reimbursed at the end of the installment agreement period.

Individuals held harmless on improper levy on retirement plans
The provision allows amounts, including interest, returned to an individual from the IRS pursuant to a levy to be contributed to the IRA, or employer-sponsored plan, without regard to normal contribution limits. In addition, the IRS is required to pay interest on an amount returned. The provision is effective for levied amounts, and interest thereon, returned to individuals in taxable years beginning after December 31, 2017.

The Joint Committee on Taxation released the estimated budget effects of the revenue provisions contained in the Bipartisan Act. With more than 40 tax provisions affected, we recommend that you find time during this busy season to review the tax summary of the bill.

And I couldn’t agree with them more.
Step 1: Join NATP if you’re a tax preparer.
Step 2: Review the extenders package. ASAP.

I’ve never seen an extenders bill passed after tax season has already started. This is irresponsible on the part of our government, and that’s not a political statement.

In the words of the Tax Foundation:

Retroactive changes like this are poor public policy and should not be expected to contribute to long run economic growth. Further, this is not a productive way to build on a tax reform bill designed to improve the tax code. Businesses and individuals have already made their decisions for 2017 and cannot go back and choose to invest differently in light of the new tax breaks—and counting on regular tax break extensions when planning ahead is no longer a sure bet. The uncertainty surrounding tax extenders is one of the most persistent features of tax policy discussions, and that should change.

However, it’s our job as tax preparers to make sure we’re looking out for our clients. So, even though the organizers we sent them don’t mention PMI or tuition deductions, let’s make sure to ask these additional questions to clients as their return prep work makes it into the office. And let’s hope the IRS and software preparers can get those lines and others back on the forms before too many more returns are filed.

Troubleshooting: Is QuickBooks Online Down?

A common thread pops up on a few of the QB ProAdvisor groups when QBO is having issues and none of us can log in. Sometimes it happens to everyone, sometimes just to some of us, sometimes it’s an isolated incident. Knowing whether or not it’s happening to others can be handy in troubleshooting, so I wanted to share some default “what to do” advice —

  1. clear your cache and cookies — do this for each browser user you have (it’s common especially in Chrome to have multiple “users”);
  2. make sure not to use a bookmarked link to sign in, but rather type in the URL line;
  3. if it still doesn’t work, check out this link to see if others are reporting the same issues: Quickbooks Online down? Current problems and outages

Yesterday the system pretty much went down for everyone for the whole day, but clearing the cache and cookies and typing out the address got most folks back in… by 3 pm the engineers had resolved whatever was wrong and it looks like everyone’s going strong today.

2017 Professional Tax Software Survey Results

Yet again, Journal of Accountancy has issued results of its annual tax software survey, doing an always-stellar job of breaking down the results into easily-digestible charts and summaries, and going beyond the numbers into what they might mean. No matter what professional tax software package you use, it’s worth a read, and if you’re just starting out as a tax preparer, it’s required material.

They also published a related article on individual product survey responses… you can access the detailed survey responses on each product by clicking that product’s blue-highlighted heading in the article. This is especially helpful to see certain questions that only had a few respondents, so you can take the percentages with a grain of salt.

Source: 2017 tax software survey – Journal of Accountancy

2017 Scaling New Heights Conference

A year ago, I attended my first Woodard Scaling New Heights conference. This is one of the three conferences that accounting technology geeks like me get really excited about — the other two being Accountex (formerly Sleeter Technology) and QB Connect (which I’ll be attending later this year for my first time). I absolutely loved it. I’d been to Sleeter for two years in a row, and as much as I enjoyed attending, one of their successes was helping me realize that I really want to be a QuickBooks-centric practice… I’m not interested in branching out into non-QB accounting options such as Xero, Wave, Zoho, etc. I only know this because of excellent presentations such as Greg Lam and Michelle Long‘s overviews — so I’m indebted to them — but colleagues there suggested that maybe SNH was a better choice for me, since it’s more QB-centric. (They were right.)

One problem remains. I’m not one for motivational speeches. I run my own CPA firm, so if I’m going to take time off work and pay for conference fees, travel & lodging, I’d better be spending that time and money learning something that will help me when I get back to the office — measurable results, real-life advice, tips & tricks that I can put into action to improve my clients’ lives and make me more efficient. Motivational speeches and entertainment just aren’t “worth” my time — I sit through them wishing I’d spent the time doing almost anything else. While we’re at it: I also can’t stand sales pitches. Nor information that is so general, I feel I’ve heard it all before. Finding the right conferences can be a bit of a challenge.

I was a little disappointed in the last Sleeter Technology Conference (now Accountex) I attended. In my opinion, there are too many “keynote” sessions… ones that are meant to “fire up” the audience and get us excited, or big names that we can brag about having seen in-person. These sessions are the only ones that are not concurrent with other learning sessions, meaning that 1) there’s nothing else to do during these sessions, and yet 2) there are so many concurrent sessions that I can’t attend because — well, they’re simultaneous. I wish they’d offer some of those during the keynotes so that I don’t miss the chance to go to more of them.

Yes, I know I can play “hooky” during these sessions — as my colleagues regularly remind me — but honestly, come on: I’m paying to be there. Ideally, the entire conference would be so amazing that I never want to skip out on it (though it is challenging, since they’re always held in interesting places). It might be different if my boss paid my way, but I am the boss! I can’t do billable work while I’m in sessions, so I’m effectively giving up my salary for the entire trip; plus, all of the costs are coming out of my own pocket. I’m not inclined to cheat myself out of much-valued education.

Furthermore, the breakout sessions offered by vendor-partners (presenters that are also at the conference expo, hawking their wares to us) are too often — as mentioned above — 1) either a sales pitch, which is no fun at all and just fosters resentment, or 2) more likely, the vendor has been threatened so hard NOT to make it a sales pitch, that they only offer extremely general “insights” into the industry that motivated them to create a solution. Except… see, we’re already aware of these “insights” — that’s why we attended the session in the first place: to find solutions to the problems we’re already aware exist. What we want when we attend these vendor-presented sessions is in-between these angles: a brief description of the industry issues, and then a specific explanation of how they attempted to solve these issues, and a demo of how it works. That’s not sales — that’s education on a particular piece of software, which allows us to evaluate programs based on how they work, not based on a marketing team’s list of bullet points. (I especially love vendor sessions that are on one particular topic and invite more than one vendor to illustrate their solution to it. That way we get a side-by-side, and can ask questions candidly.)

But the best sessions of all are offered by independent practitioners showing us how they use these various products to solve real-life problems that they’ve come across in their own practices. And that is what I got at last year’s Woodard “Scaling New Heights” conference.

Yes, as with their big competing conference, there were too many keynote “general sessions”. In fact, Joe Woodard’s initial presentation about how Poseidon was going to flood the room (but it’s okay… because he had a “magical force field around us” ???) — was so bad that I was terrified I’d made a serious mistake in attending. (To reiterate: I desperately wish they’d offer an alternative to the general sessions for those of us who prefer to focus on specific learning.)

But — WOW — did they make up for these with some of the best breakout sessions I’ve ever attended. Hector Garcia’s Quickbooks sessions were all incredible, with real-life tips and best practices. I passed the QBO certification with flying colors, no doubt in part to his training. Will English, who I initially met at Sleeter (and who writes for Intuitive Accountant), gave an insightful session on POS solutions — specifically ones that work for retail inventory maanagement. Norman Axelman did a couple great sessions on Excel tricks — he was very generous with his time and eager to solve everyone’s issues. Stacy Kildal was one of my favorite presenters, as she nailed the two-prong approach that most appeals to me: 1) new technologies 2) applied in real-life situations. Her session on QBO apps was insightful and inspiring, and I wish there were a three-hour-long session where I could just watch her work. David Leary from Intuit was one of the most sincere “big-deal” presenters I’ve ever seen; to some extent he restored some of my trust in QB. His eagerness to answer questions and explain the “why” behind big-company decisions was refreshing.

One recommendation to organizers (and DIY attendees) — I always go through the directory of exhibitors and sort them by type of solution: financial analysis, business management/workflow, inventory, publications, POS systems, payroll, 1099/W-2 prep, etc. So it certainly would be helpful if the exhibitors were color-coded by industry, to help us decide who to visit in our limited time away from sessions.

I’m headed back there this week, eager to soak up as much information as I can, and to avoid as many references to the “Yeti” of our practice challenges that we all have to face. (I’m not kidding; that’s the theme.) And if that turns you off as much as it does me, please reconsider, because there are 98 pages of training session information — and I’m just talking about the summaries of the sessions, not the handouts. Plenty of non-Yeti material for us all.

Stacey Byrne will be offering Restaurant Industry Tips & Tricks; MB Raimondi will be teaching the QB Desktop Advanced ProAdvisor Certification Exam Prep; Michelle Long is teaching Apps 101; and Stacy Kildal and Ingrid Edstrom are teaching the session that most interests me: a People’s Choice Peer-Led Apps Training that compares Fathom and LivePlan.

I hope to see you at Scaling New Heights!

Source: 2017 Scaling New Heights Schedule – Woodard

2/28/17 CCH Webinar on S-Corp Reasonable Compensation for Shareholder-Employees

I’ve been meaning to write a blog post on S-Corp “reasonable compensation” — a hot audit topic at the IRS these days — for quite some time… in fact, ever since discovering my favorite app of the year, RCReports, which has been a real game-changer for my practice and my S-Corp clients.

(Note: RCReports has its own series of webinars, which I can personally recommend.)

However, being in the bowels of tax season, for now I’m just going to encourage you to attend this CCH webinar on the topic, coming up on Feb 28, 2017 at noon Central-time:

Learn how the IRS determines “reasonable” compensation for S corp shareholder-employees: in this two-hour CPE webinar, business taxation expert Eric Wallace, CPA, will look at the latest developments in this hot area of dispute between taxpayers and the IRS.Mr. Wallace will review the latest legal and regulatory developments and provide practical guidance.

Spread the word to your S-Corp clients and colleagues who work with them.

Source: CCH® Webinars: February 28, 2017 – S Corp Reasonable Compensation for Shareholder-Employees

QuickBooks Online Interface Overhaul

Our good friend Charlie Russell over at Accountex Report (formerly Sleeter) has helped us out once again by 1) warning us that QuickBooks Online is once again changing its interface and 2) letting us know what the changes are and how we’re likely to be affected and react.

His summary?  Meh, it’s fine — it’s not as major as the last time they did this, and it’s mostly being done to create consistency across all their online product platforms (which is a good thing).  His (and I couldn’t agree more) main complaint is that they need to keep these “redesigns” around for longer, allowing us to get used to them and become more efficient with our navigation and data entry.

The full article has lots of great screen shots and step-by-step info; I encourage a quick read (it’s only 2-pages long), as these changes are rolling out throughout the course of the month, and you’ll want to be on top of your game when doing financial reviews in January in anticipation of tax-time.

QuickBooks Online Interface Overhaul – Accountex Report

Access “QuickBooks Self-Employed” (QBSE) Clients from QBOA

Big news for accountants using the QuickBooks Online Accountant program, from my favorite QB blogger, Charlie Russell:

Now you can access QuickBooks Self-Employed from QuickBooks Online Accountant. All your clients will be located in one centralized list.

However, an important warning — although you may have clients who signed up on their own for QuickBooks Self-Employed (in which case it’s obviously super-helpful to have them show up in your list of QBOA clients), QBSE is NOT a full-featured accounting program.  Furthermore, unlike the rest of the world of QuickBooks products (desktop and online), QBSE cannot be converted into a QuickBooks full-featured version of any of their accounting software.

This means that as accountants, we have a duty to warn clients and potential clients against this program.  The costs, time and trouble to “start over” with only summary info for prior years, or even higher costs, time and trouble to re-import transactional data into a version of QuickBooks that will work properly from an accounting perspective is not worth the cost-savings of starting with QBSE.

That said: for those clients who somehow already got themselves into this situation, at least now, we as accountants will be able to access their files with all of our other QBO client files.

More here, at the original article:

Access QuickBooks Self-Employed from QuickBooks Online Accountant – Accountex Report

New QuickBooks Online Reporting – A Guide

Okay, so Intuit says, “we improved reports to make them more professional looking and easier to customize.”  I am not a fan.  Any time I have to click more times to get to the data or the reports I need than I had to click previously, it’s NOT an improvement.

Nevertheless, onward.  The change is coming, and I’ve had a sneak preview for a while… I got the notice today that these reports are rolling out to my clients this week.  (You may already have them or it may be a while longer, as they tend to roll out changes in batches.)

I do, however, think that Intuit did a nice job with their guide to the new (and “improved”) reports — Improved QuickBooks reports • QuickBooks Online — complete with screen shots and step-by-step instructions (for things that should take you fewer steps; grrr).

But don’t blame me if you don’t like the new reports.  Blame Apple.  ;)

QuickBooks 2017 Has Arrived!

It’s time once again for me to share what an amazing human being Charlie Russell is.  One of my favorite bloggers anywhere and on any topic, he’s just released a new article called “QuickBooks 2017 Has Arrived! Here Is What to Expect“.  I encourage you to read all of it, as he does the most wonderful job of presenting illustrations, describing his testing, and offering real-life interpretations of everything, including the value he sees in various features.

To summarize, however, I’ll quote a few of Charlie’s responses from the comments section (run together with ellipses):

“Intuit is continuing with their recent policy of making fewer changes in the annual release of QuickBooks than in the past… Back in Fall 2014 Intuit stated that there would only be incremental improvements to the desktop product, few if any big significant changes. They want to keep the desktop people happy long enough for them to get comfortable with the idea of an online product, and then get them to move over there… I’m still waiting for the online products to match their hype.”

That said, there are some really nice changes to this year’s version of the QuickBooks Desktop software.  My personal favorites are (1) Search Improvements and (2) Report Customization Improvements, though some folks are pretty excited about (3) Scheduled Reports, and (4) Security Updates.

In addition, there are some miscellaneous improvements that are a total relief… as in FINALLY!

  • The Record Deposits icon shows the number of deposits that are available.
  • A Cleared flag shows on cleared credit card charges.
  • If a User is deleted, the deleted user’s name will still show on the audit trail.
  • Your Company name will print on the deposit summary.
  • You can copy/paste detail lines on weekly timesheets.

Now, as Charlie points out:

“Accounting professionals will have to get the new version, of course, because you will have clients who have the new version. You need this version to work with their files… but from the end-user’s standpoint, there isn’t a lot that compels you to upgrade unless your version of QuickBooks is retiring.”

Still and all, I’m pretty happy about these changes.  I don’t need a lot of bells and whistles — I just want a stable product to continue to be stable, with improvements that shave a few minutes off my workday here and there.

There are also some updates in the most recent QuickBooks Online version — but as you’re probably aware, these come up constantly (usually monthly), so they are usually less significant than the annual updates we see in the Desktop version.  (Personally, it makes me insane how cloud software just changes overnight without warning.  I like to have time to play with new features and improvements before interrupting my workflow with them.)

And if you’re not already subscribed to Charlie’s blog posts in Accountex (formerly the Sleeter Group), do yourself a favor and take care of that right now.


2016 Tax Software Survey

Great article, as it is every year, from The Tax Adviser on the pros and cons of the top professional tax software packages.  Definitely worth a read if you are in the industry!  Check it out here.

Personally, I use ATX (the “MAX” package) and would have to say that the survey results are yet again spot-on.  It wins points for price and ease-of-use, but loses them for accuracy and support.

Let me know your thoughts about your own software package in the comments.

CPAs rated the tax preparation software they used in 2016 and how it handled common tasks.

Source: 2016 Tax Software Survey