CeePrompt! Computer Connection
Originally published Monday, January 08, 2001

Intuit needs updating on tax tables

My e-mail box has been overflowing this week with irate posts from professionals throughout the country furious with Intuit over their price gouging of the QuickBooks payroll tax updates. "Why me?" I wondered. I searched Google on the phrase "Intuit tax tables" and discovered my Record article from January 2000 "Intuit holding its tax tables hostage" was the first of over 2,000 search results. That answers that question. Apparently this also makes me a kindred spirit and outlet for the venting of frustrations.

"It's extortion", writes one accountant, who didn't mince words in expressing his anger. "Hasn't someone figured out a way to patch QB so you don't have to pay this ransom?" writes a computer company president. "How can they get away with an 80% price increase?" wails another accountant. All posts were peppered with mild expletives, not appropriate for reprint, but dramatizing the feelings of frustration and abject helplessness.

Overwhelmingly, people asked me for bookkeeping alternatives to free themselves from Intuit's tax table bondage, but alas, there really aren't any in the same category of accounting software. Microsoft Money 2000 users must subscribe to a web-based service for payroll processing rather than doing it "in house" as QB users have enjoyed. Intuit has truly created a niche market of small business users. It's a great, affordable product that rarely needs upgrading, so I surmise the only way to insure continuous revenue is to charge regularly for the current payroll tax information. The annual tax updates now cost as much as the entire software package.

A year after the new tax table policies went into effect, it seems Intuit still has its faithful users over a barrel. If you opt simply not to use the current year tax tables and continue to use the old tables, they will actually zero themselves out if not updated by February 15. In other words, they're designed to self-destruct without a paid renewal. The current annual subscription fee is $129, up from $69 last year.

Realize the subscription option to receive update disks by mail is only available to users of the older QuickBooks versions 99 or 6.0. QuickBooks 2000 and 2001 users must subscribe to one of the QuickBooks payroll services in order to automatically calculate the taxes. This service requires that each business have Internet connectivity to download updates and verify their current payroll subscription online.

QB 2000 users are required to go online every 45 days to insure the correct tables are installed. At least QB 2001 has been improved to prompt for online updates after 45 days, rather than insist. Last year, Basic Payroll cost $6 monthly for each employer identification number. This year, the fee for Basic Payroll has increased to $10.75 monthly.

At the behest of many unhappy payroll users, I've communicated at length with Intuit staff during the past year. They listen with interest and voice sympathy for any inconvenience their policies have caused, but maintain the Basic Payroll service is necessary on behalf of their customers to keep them in compliance with changing payroll regulations. They also maintain that the people I hear from are of the minority opinion.

If you step back and look at the big picture, $129 really isn't a prohibitive annual business expense to incur for accurate payroll processing. It's the lack of choice and the dictating of business practices, however, that really sticks in the craw of frustrated users.

If competition is good for the marketplace, then perhaps the opposite is true as well. Until a viable competitor to QuickBooks emerges, we'll have to pay the piper and trust these business practices are as altruistic as claimed by Intuit.

Cathi Schuler owns a computer literacy training/consulting company, Cee Prompt! She is a co-author of computer textbooks and can be reached by e-mail at cschuler@uop.edu or cschuler@ceeprompt.com or by mail c/o The Record, P.O. Box 900, Stockton, CA 95201. She is on the Internet at: http://www.ceeprompt.com. Click here for past archived columns.

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