Individual Tax Plan
The "Individual Tax Plan" program by Aardvark Software, Incorporated is a highly sophisticated piece of computer software for the Apple computer system (II or Plus) with at least 48K of RAM and two disk drives, DOS 3.3 or PASCAL. It also nicely lends itself to the computerist who, in essence, does not have a working knowledge of computers. As long as the manual is at least previewed, one will not have any trouble running this program.
It is a well-designed, easy to use system for comparing different filing alternatives in order to minimize the income tax liability for an individual taxpayer. It does an effective job of allowing a comparison of numerous different tax preparation schemes at one time. It does not, however, do all of the work and calculations necessary to complete a tax return. Perhaps a better name for the software package would have been "Individual Tax Comparison Scheme."
Up to five alternative tax preparation schemes may be entered at once. One alternative, for example, could include income averaging with schedule G while others could compare filing jointly vs. filing singly for a married couple. Side-by-side comparison of the calculated taxes for each of the alternatives is effectively done by the program. The program is only of value, however, after an individual has calculated many of the numbers that belong on the tax return. For example, tax credits is a single item to be entered. The taxpayer (or tax return preparer) must determine the tax credits for child care expenses and energy-saving expenses (each a percentage of actual expenses and each subject to dollar limitations and other limiting factors), and add them together. This sum is the value that is entered into the "Individual Tax Plan."
It should be stressed that this program is not oriented towards layman use, but towards the tax professional, who has had previous tax preparation exposure. To effectively use this powerful tool one must have a working knowledge of possible tax alternatives to pursue.
Should changes in federal tax law occur in a calendar year, Aardvark Software will make available revised programs reflecting these changes. Revisions will cost $50.00 and can be obtained from local Aardvark Software dealers. Annual updates reflecting changes in tax law and including program enhancements will be made available on or before November 1st of each calendar year.
Back-up copies of the included program and data disks are allowed using the standard Apple copy program. You should be able to save between 50 and 75 Tax Plan cases on each copy of the data diskette.
Using The Program
During operation of the program the user enters data for up to 74 categories, such as filing status, interest, charitable contributions, and "long term capital gains-post 6/8/81." Unfortunately, the documentation does not follow the program exactly in the identification of the different categories. Items 12 through 32 are misidentified, most of the numbers being off by one. Once the changes are marked on two of the four pages which identify the various categories, there is no difficulty finding the various items, but the problem should never have occurred.
For each category a value can be independently entered for each alternative, or programming options can be used to calculate values for different alternatives. For example, if $10,000 is entered for the first filing alternative, then the remaining alternatives are calculated by the program at 20% increments by simply entering "P20" for percent-20. Other options include "X" if only the next alternative is to be calculated on a percentage basis or "I" for "increment" if all subsequent alternatives are to differ from each other by a specific dollar amount.
After all of the data is entered, the program takes a few seconds to calculate the taxes for all of the alternatives. Any two alternatives (in any order) may be printed as hard copy for easy comparison of the alternatives in different columns. In a strange departure from the easy to use options, here "999" must be entered to indicate that the numbers of all of the desired options have selected. RETURN would have been far easier to use.
One of the strengths of this software package is the ease with which a user can move from one part of the program to another. From a main menu single digit numbers are used to reach further menus which identify specific activities. Several options are offered for moving from category to category for data entry. To "select" a specific category "S" can be typed followed by the number of the category. To move "forward" to the next category "F" is used and "B" is used to "back up." For many of the categories up to ten numbers can be entered — five for the taxpayer and five for the spouse. The program is smart enough to fill up all of the alternatives with the value given for the first alternative unless it is specifically given new values for subsequent alternatives. To move from one specific alternative to another "U" is used to go "up" and "D" is used to go "down." No control keys are required here — the editing is very easy to use.
ESCape can be used at nearly any time to exit from data entry and save on disk all of the values that have been entered for all of the alternative schemes. One minor irritant here is that the Pascal volume numbers are used to specify the disk drives. The documentation explains that disk drive #1 needs to be specified as volume four and so on, but the program should have been written to accept simple drive numbers. The name that is given for the file is first checked against those currently on the disk in order to prevent inadvertent over writing of a file that should be maintained. An option is also provided to see the directory of items that have been stored.
There are no charts included to indicate which of the 74 possible tax input questions are to be entered if, for example one were filing "married with a joint return." A glossary of terms would also be a welcome addition. However, execution speed is an outstanding feature of this program. All calculations are performed in under 60 seconds, regardless of complexity. The program appears to be written entirely in machine code, which would account for its exceptional speed.
While the ranges of input data appear to be sufficiently checked, disk error codes are vaguely defined. If RESET is pressed, all existing data not saved on disk is lost and the program requires rebooting for continued operation. This can be most annoying and could possibly prove fatal if done during a disk storage operation.
Documentation for the individual tax plan program consists of an attractive 3-ring binder with a 31 page illustrated instruction manual which includes a simple appendix and printouts. The documentation, although sufficient for the tax professional, is not designed to be a comprehensive overview of tax preparation for the layman.
With the exception of the misnumbered categories, the documentation is clear and complete. About ten pages are used to lead the user through two simple examples that do a good job of demonstrating how to move about in the program. Sample printed output for each of these examples is given in an Appendix (misidentified as Appendix "B"). About ten more pages are used to specifically describe the program options and to identify the various categories for data entry. Throughout the instructions, 27 photographs of screen images appear. The photographs were apparently taken with a wide angle lens and therefore appear distorted, but they are readable and provide an accurate representation of what the program displays.
Panelist #1: "Negative and detracting hindrances:
- There should be a subroutine within the program which would enable the user to enter directly into a mini-directory to review a directive or procedure.
- The ability to only do the filing status routine should be looped so that only an individual taxpayer entry is verified and utilized when there is no spouse involved.
- Provision to exercise the use of only one disk drive should be available when only one is involved or necessary.
- An ending directive within the program (other than in the manual) should be provided after all statistics have been entered.
- A 'short form' alternative option could be incorporated.
Positive and useful aspects:
- Exceedingly fast access time.
- Ease of use in the main menu parameters.
- Printer parameters and linefeed status changes.
- Aardvark's updating procedures )annually or when the tax structure/laws change)
- Comparative analysis of defined numerical statistics to take advantage of the lowest tax amount to be paid.
- The 'step' feature: accessing forward and backward through the program via a single keystroke.
- Ability to access any part of the program by entering the input of the area and return.
- User defined changes: save data (Y/N), screen or printer display, program user return (ability to re-enter your numerical statistics and make any changes necessary in any of the alternative figures prior to executing the calculations).
- Ability to handle positive and negative integers as well as figuring out its compound percent.
- User ability to make any and all necessary backup copies in the event of catastrophes."
Panelist #2: "The software is easy to use and effectively compares calculations done on the basis of different tax preparation schemes. It does not do all of the calculations that a taxpayer needs to do, nor does it identify a correspondence between specific line numbers on form 1040 and the categories within the program. The software package could be very useful for professional tax preparers, but is not likely to be worth the expense for an ordinary taxpayer. For someone with substantial capital gains to declare, it could be helpful, but that person is probably going to benefit from advice from a professional anyway. Whom should you select as that professional? Someone who has an Apple and Aardvark's Individual Tax Plan."
Panelist #3: "This program was designed by a group of CPA's with over 17 years of "Big Eight" experience to meet the needs of the professional tax practitioner.
This program is not, nor was it designed to be, everyone's answer to H & R Block. With some additional documentation, a much wider range of people could benefit from it. While not intended for the layman, the professional tax preparer should find this program an outstanding value."
|WAGES, SALARIES||28, 480|
|INTEREST AFTER EXCLUSION||350|
|DIVIDENDS AFTER EXCLUSION||0|
|ADJUSTMENTS TO INCOME||1,600|
|ADJUSTED GROSS INCOME||29,230|
|MEDICAL & DENTAL EXPENSES||170|
|STATE & LOCAL INC TAXES||1,681|
|ZERO BRACKET AMOUNT||3,400|
|EXCESS ITEM. DEDUCTIONS||2,961|
|TAX TABLE INCOME||26, 269|
|EXEMPTIONS TIMES $1, 000||** N/A|
|TAXABLE INCOME||** N/A|
|TAX - TAX TABLES/XYZ||4,359|
|TAX - QUAL. CAP. GAINS||** N/A|
|TAX - INCOME AVERAGING||*|
|TAX - MAXIMUM TAX||** N/A|
|GROSS REGULAR TAX||4,359|
|NET REGULAR TAX||4,359|
|ALTERNATIVE MINIMUM TAX||0|
|TOTAL TAX LIABILITY||4,359|
|BALANCE DUE (REFUND)||-639|
Individual Tax Plan. Aardvark Software, Inc., 783 North Water Street, Milwaukee, WI 53202. 48K Apple, two disk drives, DOS 3.3 or Pascal, $250.