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Property Tax Software Vendors: Evaluating Your Options

Posted by James Frazier on Sep 27, 2018 12:42:53 PM

Property Tax Software Vendors: Evaluating Your Options

Managing the business personal property tax cycle is a herculean task for companies of every size. But mid- to large-size businesses, who may have hundreds of property tax assessments to deal with annually, face exceptional challenges staying on top of information tracking, due dates, filing paperwork, and more. When their workload has outgrown the standard organizational tools—like Excel spreadsheets and online project management tools—most teams know it’s time to make the leap to property tax software.

So then the question becomes: Which software do you choose?

You may already be familiar with the well-known property tax software vendors, and be tempted to go with one of their legacy solutions. But familiarity alone doesn’t mean it’s the right software for you. We recommend evaluating your options to ensure you’re getting a tool that will maximize your team’s productivity and value. (Not sure whether your current software is meeting that criteria? Here’s how to know.)

Aside from simply researching the features of the software you’re considering, knowing your goals for this investment will help as well.

  • How do you envision benefitting from the software?
  • Do you want it to help you not only manage the property tax cycle, but also improve your budgeting accuracy and save time—time that can then be redirected toward lowering your property tax bills?
  • Or are you simply looking for a basic management tool, one that serves only to centralize and communicate all statuses and tax information with the company?

If you’re shopping for property tax software for the first time or thinking about switching to a new system, use the key consideration points listed in the next section as a guide for shopping around. Then take a look at the software features we believe are most valuable for property tax professionals (we’re former property tax professionals ourselves, so we have some specific insight on that front!). Lastly, take a look at our own next-generation software, TotalPropertyTax. Compare it to the familiar legacy solutions on every front, and then decide for yourself what’s best for your organization.

When you're done reading this guide, schedule a demo of TotalPropertyTax and see how we differ from the leading legacy applications!

If you have any questions as you read through this article feel free to reach out to us for answers. We’re always available and happy to help you with your search. Good luck!

Property Tax Software Solutions: Key Consideration Points

Before you start thinking about the specific features of property tax software, there are four areas to consider about the software as a whole:

  1. Hosting
  2. Security
  3. Third-party Integrations & Maintenance
  4. Implementation, Training, & Support

Let’s take a look at each of these areas in more detail.

1. Hosting

Property tax software is deployed in one of three ways:

  • A software-as-a-service (SaaS) solution, where the software is licensed on a subscription basis and centrally hosted by the software provider;
  • An on-premise solution, where the software runs on computers in the building of your organization (rather than at a remote facility);
  • A hybrid model, which uses a combination of on-premise installation with hosted components.

TotalPropertyTax is a SaaS product. SaaS is the increasingly popular choice for software deployment for several reasons. When you deploy SaaS, you are not required to install any software on your computers, and updates to it are continually rolled out. And, in general, scaling up is easier with the SaaS model than it is with other software deployment options. You simply add users to the software as your business grows. Plus, you can use the software from anywhere you have Internet access, not just in the office.

With on-premise property tax software, client installation and configuration is required (usually done by the IT department), which may not be an option for companies under strict security/IT protocols. On-premise software upgrades must be done manually by the user.

Some of the well-known legacy applications are hybrid-model, where a desktop application is installed on your computer that communicates to the provider’s hosted servers for data management. Companies that purchase hybrid model software must install and maintain the application on every user’s computer, all of which must have the basic hardware requirements—and the right operating system—to support these software installations. Some legacy applications are only supported on Windows, and work only in specific internet browsers.

2. Security

The big questions every company is concerned with are, “Will my data always be available?” and “Will my data be secure?”

When evaluating property tax software, it’s important to understand what data will be stored and where it will be stored, not only for accessibility purposes but also to mitigate any potential data loss. For tax practitioners, the safety of the data representing your tax values is a priority; equally as important, however, are the documents that verify that data. Good property tax software should ensure that both your data and supporting documents are backed up regularly. The vendor should also routinely practice disaster recovery procedures to ensure your data is safely protected.

If your chosen software is SaaS-based, be sure to understand the provider’s hosting standards and practices to ensure they are compliant with your own internal security controls. That includes asking about everything from the physical security of the servers hosting the information to identifying who can access and change your company’s data to application uptime guarantees.

At CrowdReason, we back up all your data and documents every 15 minutes to ensure you’re never at risk of losing a whole day’s worth of work. We also have controls around how long your data is retained for audit purposes, and security protocols around who can access the data for customers who deploy SaaS.

Legacy software may also have disaster recovery protocols in place for your data, but equally important to understand is the security of the supporting documents because some software may store them on your own company’s network share (unless you purchase a separate module for document storage). If you’re processing thousands of tax bills in a network share and someone accidentally deletes them, they may be impossible to recover unless your organization has a vigilant backup process in place.

3. Third-party Integrations & Software Maintenance

Most businesses rely on multiple software applications for their day-to-day work, so it’s extremely helpful if some or all of those applications integrate for greater efficiency.

For property tax software in particular, the most helpful integrations are those that enable the import of assets (integration with your asset management system) and those that enable the export of accounting information when you pay property tax bills (integration with your accounting software). These integrations reduce the number of steps involved in completing essential tasks, and are therefore huge time-savers. TotalPropertyTax can integrate with all the major systems easily. If we don’t integrate with one of your software applications, ask us about it! There’s a good chance we’ll be able to work with you. (Check out our latest integration with Anybill—you’ll never miss paying a bill!)

To understand the vendor’s approach to maintaining and enhancing their property tax software, ask the following questions:

  1. Are you proactively making enhancements to meet market demands? At CrowdReason, we’re continually rolling out new software improvements. Ask us about the most recent enhancements and also about what’s in the works.

  2. How are necessary software changes identified? Are they the result of thorough market and industry research, an accumulation of client requests, or a mix of both? We get ideas for improvement from tax industry research, client recommendations, and through investigating the products of other forward-thinking software vendors. If we find an idea that will benefit our users, we’ll implement it. Whatever tax software you choose should do the same.

  3. How are customized software enhancements handled? If you personally request an enhancement to the software that would benefit all software users (not just those at your company), will the vendor consider adding it at no additional cost? We’ve done it before, and would be happy to do it again, with a typical turnaround time of just a few days!

  4. Was this product built using modern, flexible technology? You’ll want to avoid investing time and money in software architected with outdated technology that may not meet your needs in the future. At CrowdReason, we can quickly develop and implement features and enhancements in our product. We also use progressive technologies like crowdsourcing and machine learning automation to ensure our software will continue to capably assist your team well into the future.

4. Implementation / Training / Support

Once you decide on a tax software solution, consider the process of implementing the software and training your employees on how to use it. Some property tax software vendors charge extra for training and setup. It’s our view, however, that you’ll benefit the most from a property tax software vendor who isn’t simply peddling a product, but offering a relationship. Training and setup are included in our purchase price. Even years after you buy, you should be able to talk with your vendor about needs as they arise—anything from additional training to requests for software customization.

As you’re shopping around, be sure to ask the vendor these questions:

  • How long will it take to implement your solution, and what’s involved in the process? The right vendor should help set up your property tax software system and help load historical tax values into it, so when you start utilizing the software you can run year-to-year comparisons. If the software is designed well, implementation should be straightforward and require minimal time allocation from you. We can do get you going in a matter of days or weeks depending on your company’s size.
  • How will you help train my employees? Your vendor may offer training sessions, training videos, and/or training guides that will help get your team up and running on the software quickly. Also, the vendor should be available for ad-hoc training for any new employees, anytime, or in case you need a refresh on any aspect of the software your team may be stuck on. At CrowdReason, we offer as much training as you need. Because our software is so intuitive and easy to use, most organizations are up and running fast.
  • What kind of support can we expect once we begin using it? Given the hard-and-fast deadlines in the property tax cycle, software support should be readily and consistently available. Support is typically given during normal business hours; however, some vendors may handle urgent requests outside those windows. At CrowdReason, we respond within hours of a question.

Now that you’re well-versed on the bigger picture of buying property tax software, let’s take a look at the software’s functionality in more detail.

Property Tax Software: Important Features

Property tax software must have certain features if it’s going to be of any use to you. But just because the software you’re considering has the functionality you require doesn’t necessarily mean it’s easy to use; or, for that matter, that it will help you get the job done faster.

To evaluate exactly how the software will benefit you, you’ll need to dig deep. One way to do this is to demo various software options and talk to each software vendor you’re considering. You’ll quickly get a real sense of how the software will impact your everyday workflow, and whether you’ll be committing to just a product—or to a long-term, fruitful partnership with a vendor.

Sign up for a free demo of TotalPropertyTax to see how it can address your unique property tax software needs.

Below are the features that are necessary for managing the property tax cycle with ease:

Tax Preparation

For companies with thousands or even hundreds of thousands of fixed assets (or a high number of physical locations), your property tax software must have data import/export features to help streamline the management of these assets. Below are the common features to look for in a property tax solution with regard to managing data imports/exports:

  • Does it have the ability to bulk import assets, properties, accounts, assessment values, and tax bill values?
  • Does it have the ability to bulk dispose, transfer, split, and update assets?
  • Can it integrate with your ERP system to gain access to fixed assets, general ledger accounts, cost centers, and other data?
  • Can it export existing data to allow you to review/update and upload the new data back into the system?

Filing Tax Returns

Preparing and filing returns is typically the most cumbersome part of the property tax cycle. It is therefore critical to evaluate property tax software to ensure you won’t be left doing some tasks manually. The software you choose should have the ability to:

  • Categorize assets.
  • Allocate assets via general ledger accounts and allocation metrics to jurisdictions.
  • Automatically calculate taxability & reportability of each asset based on jurisdiction rules.
  • Automatically calculate an asset’s age, given its acquisition date, and the jurisdiction’s assessment date and reporting procedures.
  • Track roll-forwards, additions, disposals, and transfer activity for reporting.
  • Access current jurisdiction depreciation tables.
  • Manage asset category mappings to depreciation tables.
  • Depreciate assets given their category, age, and depreciation table mappings.
  • Create rendition packages with cover letters, return forms, and attachments (including blank returns and custom attachments such as authorization letters).
  • Print asset data on current jurisdiction forms.
  • Easily generate and file thousands of rendition packages in minutes.
  • Access current jurisdiction addresses.
  • Print labels and track mailing activity.
  • Create extension request packages to request and track return extension requests.

Assessments & Appeals

Most companies struggle to meet the demands of filing returns and paying bills, leaving them with little time to properly track and manage tax assessments or even consider protesting valuations. But all that can change with an investment in good property tax software. To help you manage your assessments and appeals, your software should be able to:

  • Track missing assessment notices according to protest deadlines.
  • Capture market, assessed, and taxable value across multiple notice revisions.
  • Easily compare notice values to prior year values, rendered values, and revisions for the same year for analysis.
  • Create appeal packages including appeal forms/letters and custom attachments.
  • Create and track hearing dates, locations, and notes for appeal.

Tax Bills & Payments

For companies with multiple locations across the U.S., making payments on time can be a bit of a juggling act. Every jurisdiction has its own set of deadlines and payment options, and every organization has its own cash flow requirements that may dictate which payment option to choose. Your software vendor should be able to help with that choice by correctly identifying and implementing the ideal payment scenario for you (without charging extra!). When it comes to managing tax bills and payments, the ideal software solution should be able to:

  • Track tax bills by collector deadlines.
  • Manage multiple bills per account (i.e. Michigan summer/winter).
  • Process supplemental bills and tax bill refunds.
  • Manage payment scenarios via cost of capital requirements.
  • Display tax bill images side by side with the data to verify and approve.
  • Integrate with your accounts payable system to help manage the payment process.

Bonus Features

The best property tax software has features beyond the necessary ones; it should also have functionality that can help your team work more efficiently. Below are some of the features you should look for to maximize your investment:

  • How much faster will it help you get the job done? The leading legacy software solution may help you file hundreds of returns in a matter of hours, but you can do better—TotalPropertyTax users can file 2,000 returns in a matter of minutes.
  • Is it capable of multitasking? TotalPropertyTax works while you work. It’s capable of continuously processing potentially long-running tasks like reports while you’re working in other areas of the software—without crashing.
  • Does it give you the ability to view analytics for returns, assessments, and tax bills? Being able to quickly see a full picture of your properties’ tax activity, including upcoming returns due, valuations, and bills, helps you ensure nothing falls through the cracks—and helps you identify more assessment reduction opportunities.
  • Is it easy to view key tax dates associated with various properties? Meeting deadlines is a snap if you have access to a calendar view showing upcoming tax deadlines linked to further information.
  • Does it give you the ability to create and assign tasks to users? Task management is essential for managing all the moving parts effectively; you should be able to assign tasks to team members right within the software.

Interested in learning more about TotalPropertyTax?

If you’re looking for software that can empower your team to do more every day—and a vendor who supports that mission—talk to us at CrowdReason. We believe that transforming the way you manage property tax will also transform the effectiveness and value of your team. That’s why we’re continually improving our next-generation software solutions with one goal in mind: to make property tax management easier, faster, and better.

If you’d like to see how TotalPropertyTax works, schedule a free demo. We’ll use your own tax documentation to show you exactly how our software streamlines every step of the property tax cycle. You’ll also learn how you can use our software to gain valuable insights that can help reduce your tax liabilities.

Contact us today about your team’s unique needs for property tax software, and ask how we can help. We’d love to start saving you time right away!

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Topics: Property tax software