The current version of 990 Online walks the preparer through the Form and schedules in a sequential way, in contrast to the questionnaire-type interface typical of consumer tax preparation software such as Turbo TaxÂ®.Â As a past tax professional, I found the 2007 program very easy to navigate in a test evaluation.
But the redesigned 990 is anything but a sequential, â€˜top to bottom’ form. The preparer needs to carefully sequence input according to the circuitous steps in the new instructions.
The Urban Institute is developing an improved interface for the 2008 version of 990 Online, scheduled for initial release on July 20. This interface will help users deal with the non-sequential aspects of the form by being able to pass over input fields that depend on subsequent entries, and then auto-populating these Form areas as later sections of the Form are completed. This enhancement should not be underestimated; it should help nonprofits cope with the Form redesign and add to the user-friendliness of the program.
There will also be added flexibility in the 990 Online revised version. “When we found out that the IRS was completely redesigning the forms, we took the opportunity to do a complete re-write of our system,” said Mark Greider of Strictly Software, Inc., a developer of 990 Online on behalf of the Urban Institute. “The new
system is much more flexible.Â It allows us to easily add, remove and rearrange pages.”
While I encourage organizations to try 990 Online, bear in mind that the program requires a certain level of preparer skill, accounting aptitude, and comfort with the Internet. It’s a good resource but not a TurboTaxÂ® for nonprofits.Â “990 Online requires the user to be a knowledgeable 990 preparer,” noted Bill Levis, a Senior Associate at the Urban Institute.
Access and technical support is currently free to organizations with income under $100,000 andÂ costs up to $75 for organizations above this level. You can create a user account at no cost, evaluate the 2007 program, and sign up for notification of the 2008 release, by visiting https://efile.form990.org/.