Virtual OS/2 International Consumer Education

February 1999

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ExcelTax 98 for DOS/Windows

By: Mark Dodel

This was supposed to be included in last month's Tax Software in Review - but I didn't receive the software until after the Newsletter was already posted. I've used ExcelTax DOS for the past 3-4 years. It is developed/sold by Lamson Technology, Inc, who also have a number of professional accounting and tax packages for DOS and Windows. They specifically mention OS/2 on the supported platforms web page along with those other operating systems and the same goes for the package the disks arrived in.


They sent me the windows 3.1 version instead of the DOS version, because the DOS version wasn't finalized yet. Basically the Windows version is the DOS screens encapsulated in a GUI frame. Being a DOS based product it has very slim requirements compared with other packages. ExelTax can be installed on a 386 or higher, requires only 2 MEG of RAM and the complete Federal Version requires only 6 MB of hard disk space. The windows version I recieved is a win 3.1 version and comes complete on 2 diskettes. I was told the final version will be shipped on a CD and will include both the windows and the DOS version.

As always with the few windows programs I need to run, I performed the install in a full-screen win-OS/2 session. You just run A:\setup.exe and it asks where you want to install it. When I tried to start ExcelTax in either Full Screen or in a win-OS/2 window I got a message saying that it "Cannot find BC450RTL.DLL". I sent Lamson an email asking for help, and within a couple of hours I recieved a phone call from a tech support person. He did not complain when I told him I was running it under OS/2. After I explained the problem again, he aske preferred having the required DLL uploaded to their ftp site or emailed to me. By later that day I had the missing DLL as well as sent to me as an attachment via email. I put these in the \lamson98\itax\9800\bin directory and ExcelTax started without further problem.

Preparing a return with ExcelTax:

As you can see by the screen below, ExcelTax is not full of a lot of frills. The two diskettes are accompanied by a small 8 page manual(actually this version was from 1997, as an accompanying letter stated that the 1998 manuals were still being printed). If you are not fond of the mouse, just about every function can be accessed using a Hot Key, all of which are listed on the back page of the manual.

You begin by filling in a Taxpayer Information sheet (part of which is shown above). One annoying feature is that as you fill in a field you have to either hit ENTER or TAB to get to the next field, even for fixed format fields like social security number and telephone number. However for things like Age and City/State ExcelTax will fill in the value if you enter your birthdate and zipcode. After you complete this step you then go through 9 more step to finish preparing your return. Though they call it an interview, it's really filling in worksheets. You can access the actual tax form by either selecting the form using the forms list button or F3 to bring up the forms list. I quickly scanned the available tax schedules and forms and all the ones I need are available including Schedule C, H and just about every form I know of. You can move from one point in the preparation phase to another by accessing a menu either by clicking on the Prepare button.

The audit function was not available in the preview/demo version so I can't test that as of yet. There is a tax estimator function, but it looked rather intimidating and no where near as nice as the one in Turbo Tax last year. Finally that leaves the Filing and Printing steps.

It supports the IRS EFiling process, though I have not gotten far enough yet to test that function. From what I saw of it it allows for either filing directly to Lamson or creating diskettes to send to Lamson to be electronically transmitted. It also gives instructions for directly transmitting returns to the IRS, but I think this is actually meant for professional preparers. I have never used electronic filing in the past as I don't really trust computers, but this seems to be the growing trend so I may give it a whirl this year.

You can print either a filing copy, or a copy of the worksheet you are filling in. You can select individual forms to print, or print all forms in use. There


ExcelTax only supports importing previous data from TurboTax Pro Series, Drake Software and something called TACCS, so for most folks you have to enter all your data from scratch. I only ran into a couple of problems with ExcelTax. The first was a minor automatic calculation problem involving the Social Security tax on the W2 form. It automatically used the lower Medicare wage limit for Social Security which is incorrect since the Social Security wage limit is higher. That was easy enough to over-ride though and then the calculated tax was correct.

The Second problem was at first a major concern. When I tried to print a form, the win-OS/2 session froze. I was able to kill it by using the kill feature in Warp Center, but no matter what I tried I always ended up with the session locking and no printed form. I finally broke down and called the Lamson Tecnology Support line. Their support is available via email, a toll free fax line and a regular phone line. I decided to try the phone support. A real person answered the phone and when I explained my problem they transferred me to someone who knew right away what the problem was. Turns out that because this is a DOS program in a window's wrapper, it has some problems printing to some high resolution printer drivers. This effects the program no matter what os you are running. The fix was to drop the printer resolution down to it's lowest, which in my case for the Epson Stylus 1520, that was 360 DPI, instead of the 720 DPI which caused the problem. The 1040 form I printed at 360DPI looked fine. The phone support passed with flying colors in this case. No waiting on hold or dealing with inane phone menu systems, and someone actually knew the answer to my problem and didn't care that I wasn't running windoze.

ExcelTax lacks an automatic backup function, so you have to remember to backup yourself, though it will ask you whenever you go on to something new or exit the program if you want to backup the current return. Backing up your return is as simple as hitting F10 then selecting Yes from the save menu.

I still have not received the final filing version, which the tech support person I spoke with said they were in the process of shipping out on CDROM. There is no online update function like there is in TurboTax and Tax Cut, but for immediate fixes to problems they will email them to you. As long as they continue to support a DOS/Win 3.1 version I will continue to buy ExcelTax. It does the job, but not in as fancy or helpful a way as the more commercial packages like Turbo Tax and Kiplinger's Tax Cut, but I don't need the fancy help screens and advise. Interesting that in ExcelTax there are functions for sending out client billing letters and direct IRS eFiling, so even though this is a personal version,it appears to have the same feature set as the professional versions (the personal version is limited to 5 returns).

There is a demo version available at Lamson's web site - ExcelTax Personal version is priced at $24.95 for the Federal Version and State modules are available for $24.95 also. Each eFiling costs $7.95 for the first return, and $9.95 for subsequent transmissions.

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