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Be A Master of Finance
These business accounting software tips will help keep your books in order and make April 15th a lot less taxing.

-- by Joel Patz

With more than 44 million small businesses in the United States, it's no surprise that accounting software has finally shed its green-eyeshade-and-sleeve-garter image to emerge as one of the most closely watched program categories. And as more and more businesses spring up, the number of entrepreneurs getting their feet wet in the mysterious waters of Accounting 101 will grow just as rapidly.

But keeping the books isn't all there is to running a business-there's also the yearly headache known as tax time. On the following pages, we give you a leg up on your competition with tips for using two of the most popular small-business accounting programs-Intuit's QuickBooks Pro 4.0 and Peachtree Software's Peachtree Complete Accounting-along with Intuit's stress-relieving TurboTax for Business.

Running a small business is tough enough, so you don't want to struggle with arcane terminology when it comes to balancing the books. Sure, you'll still have to know a debit from a credit, but today, accounting programs use the familiar terminology you use in running your business.

For example, you can select menu items to "Convert estimate to order," "Maintain inventory items" or "Apply discount." If you take advantage of the sample industry-specific charts that these programs provide, chores like setting up a Chart of Accounts aren't nearly as complicated or time consuming as they used to be.

Accounting programs have gotten so easy to use that they bear a striking resemblance to their personal-finance cousins. This latest generation of accounting programs will help reconcile your bank accounts, project cash flow and transfer funds between accounts. Some have even integrated customer-management tasks in their products, with contact manager-like features to add reminders and keep track of historical information such as phone calls and correspondence with customers. Peachtree is also branching out to the Internet. Its latest product, Business Internet Suite, can turn information about your business and your inventory list into a Web site complete with electronic order processing.

Peachtree Complete Accounting

Font Flair -- To change the font of every object on a form, drag the mouse down all row descriptors (the buttons on the left side of the form) to turn all buttons dark gray, then click the mouse on an area of the form where there are no objects. From the pop-up menu select Font and make your selection from the list.

Logo Logic -- Add a logo to your invoices and checks. In Forms Design, click on the Pic button on the toolbar. Move your cursor over the area where you want the art object (logo) placed. Type the filename of the picture in the dialog box. Peachtree allows bitmap objects, so select the appropriate BMP file and click on OK.

Keeping Count -- To quickly determine how many inventory items or customers are in your database, select Help/File Statistics. The information is displayed in the Number of Records column.

Inventory Clones -- To use one inventory item as a template for a new item, display the inventory item you want to copy using the Maintain Inventory Items window. Replace the existing item ID with a new item ID. When you click on the Save button, the new ID is saved with the old information, including the Bill of Materials (but not Quantity on Hand)

Accounting for Disk Space -- Once you've set up your company, you can reclaim up to 8MB of disk space. Look for the IMAGE directory under the \PEACHW directory (the default installation directory). The BMP images there are used only during New Company Setup and may be deleted. Warning: If you delete these files, you'll have to reinstall the program to create a new company.

A Remote Possibility -- If your company enters data at multiple locations, use import/export to consolidate the data. Designate one location as the "host" and all others as "remote" sites. Remote locations can export daily information and transfer the files via modem or ftp to the host location. From there you can use the File/Import command to consolidate the information.

Unbalanced Balance Sheet -- To add page breaks to balance sheets (or other financial statements) and keep key information on the same page, go into the Design mode of Financial Statements and position the mouse on the Text/Body box where you want the page break. Right-click, select Properties from the pop-up menu and place a check in the box that appears next to "Page break after printing text."

In the Beginning ... -- You can enter beginning balances for customers, employees, vendors, inventory items and accounts at any time. But what you enter is for historical purposes only-it doesn't affect your general ledger.

Turn on a Time -- On the pop-up calendar that's available at most Date fields, use the Page Up key to move back a month and Page Down to move forward a month. If you also hold down the Ctrl key, you'll move in yearly increments.

Don't Fill in the Blanks -- To print checks and invoices correctly, leave the check or invoice number fields blank. Peachtree will take care of the sequential numbers. Otherwise, the program will think the check or invoice was already issued and will print Duplicate on it.

To Tab or to Enter -- Peachtree Complete Accounting lets you use either the Tab key or the Enter key to move to the next field. To back up, use either Shift+Enter or Shift+Tab.

Take Note of This -- You can add notes to every invoice, but typing them each time you print invoices can be tedious. Instead, create a "description only" inventory item called Note and enter your text in the Description field. When entering an invoice, add "Note" from the inventory item list to the list of items purchased. Your note will then print on the invoice.

Say When --When records meet certain conditions, such as when a customer exceeds a credit limit or a vendor payment is overdue, Peachtree can display an alarm clock in the status bar. Select Action Items in the Tasks menu, click on the Alerts tab and then click on the Set Alert button on the toolbar.

QuickBooks Pro 4.0

Get to the Bottom of Things -- Press Ctrl+End when viewing a register to quickly jump to the bottom of it. From there you can enter a new transaction.

Put Your Accounts in Order -- Rearrange the accounts in your Chart of Accounts quickly by opening the Chart of Accounts and clicking on the diamond next to the account you would like to move. The cursor then turns into a four-headed arrow that you can use to drag an account to another location.

Keep a Close Eye on Cash -- Track all cash you spend by creating an Other Current Asset account called Cash. When you spend cash, enter the expense in your Cash account register.

Micromanage Money -- Create subaccounts to give you more detail about your business' accounts. For example, create an Electricity subaccount for your Utility Expense account so you can specifically track how much money you're spending on electricity.

Cash Register -- QuickBooks keeps a register of all changes to every asset and liability account you have. To see this register, highlight the account within the Chart of Accounts and click on Use Register at the bottom of the Chart of Accounts window.

Sorting Out Accounts -- When you create account numbers less than 1000, be sure to use a leading zero in the number so it will sort in the proper order. For instance, account number 300 should be created as 0300 so that it sorts properly and appears before account number 1000.

Read the Unclassifieds -- If you use classes and want to find all unclassified income or expenses, run a Profit and Loss report by class for all dates. The second-to-last column lists all "unclassified" income and expenses. When you double-click on each non-zero amount, you'll see the detail of the original transaction.

Discounts Count -- You should take early-payment discounts whenever they're offered. If you pay within 10 days and take the 2-percent discount, the savings on your money can add up over a year's time. Check out the Business Library to find out more ways to add to your bottom line.

Reality Checks -- When you don't want QuickBooks to fill in all the information on a check automatically, select Preferences/Data Entry and turn off the "Automatically recall last transaction for this name" option.

The Dates They Are A-Changin' -- Change the date of any transaction without retyping it. Highlight the date and use the + or - keys to scroll through later or earlier dates.

Copycat Companies -- If you want to use the same customized Chart of Accounts (or other lists) to set up several companies, just export the lists after you've customized them. Then you can import them into the new companies.

Trash the Splash -- You can hide QuickBooks' initial splash screen by adding a line to your QBW.INI file. Under the [MISC] section, add the line, DisableSplash=Y.

Money Spent Is Money Earned -- Tracking reimbursable expenses as income (instead of as a reduction to your expense) is easy. Select Preferences/Sales/Invoicing and click on "Track reimbursed expenses as income."

Out with Invoice -- If you want to use a word other than Invoice on your custom invoices, select Preferences/Sales/Invoicing. Choose Custom Invoice, then click on the Customize button and enter the replacement phrase in the Title column for the Default Title value.

Know Your Customer -- You can quickly view all the activity for a single customer by selecting the customer on the Customer List and clicking on the Use Register button.

TurboTax for Business

Use the Right Mouse -- You can access most of TurboTax's program functions simply by clicking on the right mouse button.

Step by Step -- Use the EasyStep feature to streamline the interview process and save time completing your return. The program uses your answers to determine which tax forms and sections of those forms must be completed. EasyStep also offers information about tax regulations and provides definitions of key tax terms along the way.

Links to the Ledger -- TurboTax's TaxLink feature lets you import your Quicken or QuickBooks data into your tax return. Use this feature to review the accuracy of your data before importing it into your return.

State of the Union -- You can purchase, then download, your state tax forms from the TurboTax Web site (http://www.intuit.com/turbotax/ttaxforbusiness.html) and quickly transfer data from your federal return to the state return.

Same Time, Next Year -- If you used TurboTax last year, save time by transferring data from last year's return to this year's using the new Transfer Report. After transferring the information, you can review it and delete what no longer applies to the current tax year.

So Far, So Good? -- At any point in the program, you can see a summary of your tax return. The pop-up window displays key figures (such as total income, Section 179 deductions and how much you've overpaid or still owe Uncle Sam). Select Tools/Tax Summary or press Ctrl+T to see this information.

Inside Info from the Pros -- For money-saving pointers, tap into TurboTax for Business' online resources-such as J.K. Lasser's Tax Deductions for Small Business and Tax Savvy for Small Business, IRS publications and video tax advice from experts.

Personal Business -- You can use TurboTax for Business to prepare both your business (Schedule C) and personal taxes. When you're installing the program and it asks what forms you want to fill out, select "1040 federal tax return." This version is nearly identical to the personal version except that it offers additional help for the sole proprietor.

Four Quarters Make -- It Whole For help filing quarterly taxes, use the Interview or Forms mode to determine your estimated taxes for the coming year. TurboTax for Business will print the 1040ES forms that you must include with your quarterly payments.

If It's Not April 14 ...-- You don't have to complete your return in one sitting. Stop at any time, and the next time you start up the program, TurboTax will open where you left off.

Form Follows Function To print a new form, select Forms/Open a Form, scroll to the form you want (such as W4), open it and print it.

Play It Again, Sam -- If you want to view one of TurboTax's helpful videos but don't remember where it was in the program, go to Video Library in the online help for a list of all the video topics. Click on the one you want and the program will automatically play it.

End of the Affair -- To uninstall TurboTax programs, use the icon in the program group or, within the program itself, click on the Planning tab, scroll to the end and select Uninstall TurboTax.

Appreciate Depreciation -- Use the Depreciation Expert to maximize your allowable deductions. The Expert makes it easy to compute the proper depreciation amount for the type of assets you have. If you import this year's return next year, it will automatically calculate depreciation to date and determine the appropriate deduction for the current year.

Dare to Compare -- TurboTax's new Two-Year Comparison shows how the current year's tax bill compares to last year's. You'll be able to see the year-to-year changes and make sure you haven't missed anything in this year's return. The Ratio Analysis feature will show you how your company's profitability and performance measure up to your competitors'

Copyright (c) 1997 CMP Media Inc.

Windows Magazine, March 1997, page 218.

[ Go to March 1997 Table of Contents ]