Friday, January 13, 2012

QuickBooks Direct Deposit: Another price hike???!

I just got the following email:

We are writing to inform you of a pricing change for the Intuit QuickBooks Payroll direct deposit service.
Beginning on March 1, 2012, the fee for direct deposit will increase to $1.45 per paycheck. As always, you will be charged for direct deposit only when you use it.

And all I can say is, Seriously?  Another price hike.  And a full 20 cents per Direct Deposit?  What's that, 16%?  Are they trying to make the service not be cost-effective?  Because at that price, I don't see how it can be.  If I had twenty employees, I might seriously tell my employees that I can't offer Direct Deposit because this cost is too high.  Printing and mailing a check is probably half that in terms of supplies and postage.

Perhaps Intuit has heard of a little thing called iTunes, where songs are 99 cents.  Take a note, Intuit, if you want to have Direct Deposit make you millions and millions, then cut the price to 99 cents.  You'll be overwhelmed by adopters.  You will more than make up in volume what you lose in that price cut.



So I've been working on the year-end filing.  This is a long process where I either actually file or scan everything that's been piling up.  Then I take the 2011 files and put them in a box for six or seven years and hope I never need to look at them again, and I create 2012 files and start all over.  This is just for business stuff like the phone bill, etc.  But some of the filing needs to go in author files, so I was doing that also.

I occassionally chat about Express Review™, a service I created, essentially, for really impatient and frustrated authors.  Or just the smart and eager ones.  If you've ever been to one of the Disney parks, you are aware of the Fastpass, which essentially lets you not wait in line.  Now, there may be another version that lets you just skip ahead entirely, and I recall such a version, but am not sure they still have it.  Anyway...that's what Express Review is about.  We request material (this is only for requested material) and ER provides a guaranteed response time.

Now, I've gotten my fair amount of grief over this service.  People say I'm charging a reading fee (I'm not; the fee is just for a guaranteed response time; we read everything) or that while I may be honest about it all, others will not be and I'm just giving them ideas on new ways to scam writers (like they need my help?).  And I've thought about doing away with it, but every now and then one of two things happens:

  1. An author gets all annoyed with me and demands to know why I'm taking so long to read his or her material.  They act like I'm being paid a giant salary just to review their material and have nothing better to do.  To these authors, I can say, "Well, we did request your material and we did offer you Express Review.  Did you order it?"  The answer, of course, is no.  And none of them then order it, but they also stop bugging me.
  2. I sell an author's book and I have to refund the Express Review fee.  Yes, I refund the fee.  If I request your material and you pay the Express Review fee and I take your book on for representation and I sell it, then I refund the ER fee.
And the reason I'm writing about all this today is that as I was doing my filing, I came across the file for an author whose book I sold last year.  I had completely forgotten that in December 2004, when he first submitted to me, he ordered Express Review, first of the sample chapter, and then of the manuscript when I requested it.  And in 2011, I sold that book.  Yes, it took far, far too many years, but at least you now know I never give up, and now he's going to be getting a refund check for his Express Review.

Now, this isn't the normal case, of course.  Most of what I read, whether or not it was an Express Review, I reject.  That's a fact of life.  But twice now I have had clients who ordered Express Review of their manuscripts, I took them on, and I sold their books.  And their fee was refunded.  And for those who got rejection letters, well at least they didn't wait forever to find out their work wasn't for me, and hopefully they found my comments helpful (part of the ER service is that there are no form rejects; I provide feedback explaining my decision with every ER).

So to me, as I sign off on a check refunding this client's ER fee from many years ago, this says that I did something different and for this client, at least, it really worked.  He got an agent and he got his book sold.  And I find that inspiring.


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

How Those Queries Coming Along?

Well, it's been an exciting Wednesday evening.  I have just read all of the eQueries™ from October 2011.  So I'm just a couple of months behind now.  Here's what I'm about to do:

Decline 44 queries
Request sample chapters or proposals on 12 projects

If you queried me after October, then I still have to read your query.

Thank you for your patience!


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

QuickBooks 1099 eFile: Don't Bother

I've been blogging about my experiences with QuickBooks 2012 and the myriad bugs and problems I've had.  Today I had a fruitful call with Betsy from Intuit's Outbound Team, which interfaces with the Office of the President.  Betsey was able to solve one major problem and get me to a place where I could actually sign up for and technically print and eFile my 1099s.  My advice to the average user is, unless you have the 250 or more so that the IRS requires you to eFile, don't bother.  Why?  Because the service simply isn't that well thought-out or practical.

Weeks ago, I tried to find an example of what a 1099 printed via this service would look like.  I couldn't find one, but I was told by someone in the Office of the President that it would look like the preview looks when you print your 1099s, i.e., two to a page.  This worked for me, since I have a good supply of perforated, two-to-a-page blank paper on hand (I use it with Customs forms).  However, the information I was given was incorrect.  It prints one to a page, as you can see below.

Additionally, the PDF QuickBooks produces for you to print the 1099s includes instructions that would appear on the back of Copy B (For Recipient), but none on the back of Copy 2 (To Be Filed...).  Thus, you will print three pages for each recipient, which you will then have to fold and insert in an envelope which will then have to be addressed.  Or you could use a 9 x 12 envelope and not fold them, but you will still have to use address labels and you will pay extra postage to mail them.  You cannot use the windowed 1099 envelopes you have probably been using for years.  You could just fold them once and use a smaller 6 x 9 envelope and still pay regular postage, but you're still folding, stuffing, and labeling, rather than just dropping them into a 1099 envelope.

I did consider printing half of them, then flipping the paper around and printing the other half, so as not to waste half a sheet of paper on each.  I considered trying to print them thus and double-sided, so as to eliminate a sheet of paper.  But this doesn't quite work since the layout is three pages per recipient and no blank in between, so if you tried double-sided printing your Copy B for recipient #2 would end up on the back of the Copy 2 for recipient #1 (I bet this would be an easy fix for Intuit, but did they really need me to tell them about it?).  And I realized, in the end, what a horrible waste of time this would all be.  To me, this is another Intuit failure.  And they charge you $25 for the privilege of using it.  (Betsy was kind enough to inform me she was refunding me the $25 fee, which seems fair since I am not going to use the service after all.)

If I had 250 recipients, I would probably use the service to eFile, since the IRS requires it, but I would not use the service to print my own 1099s.  I'd still buy the forms and print them on the forms.  Why?  Because (1) the forms use less paper in the long run and (2) they fit into the 1099 envelopes and mail quite nicely.  When I did a test print using the PDF produced by QuickBooks, I found the 1099 does fit fine into a 1099 envelope (not purchased from Intuit), but sits low, so that the city, state and Zip Code are not completely visible.  Not a good way to ensure that your 1099s get to their recipients.

I have also considered—since I have the right Adobe software—that I could break up the seventy-five page Adobe output and simply email the 1099s to the recipients as attachments.  But, again, that seems like a lot of work to avoid buying the forms, envelopes and about $11 in postage.  If you value your time even modestly, it's simply not worth it to use this service unless IRS regs force you to.  And even then, you're probably better off buying the 1099 forms and envelopes through Costco and mailing them.

Now, if Intuit really wanted to knock their users' socks off, they could simply have created a system to email the 1099s to recipients.  After all, the program already emails invoices, sales receipts, statements, and the like.  Would it be that hard to email 1099 forms?  No.  But it would cut into the lucrative business of selling people 1099 forms and envelopes.  I'm sure a lot of agonizing went into the decision to offer the eFile service and the print-your-own 1099 forms.  And the pricing at $25 (before 1/15) or $39 (after 1/15) was probably designed to make up for that.

So unless you have to eFile your 1099s with the IRS, don't waste your money on Intuit QuickBooks 1099 eFile service.  It's simply going to be more work than it is worth.


Friday, January 06, 2012

QuickBooks 2012: The 1099 Process from Hell

So yesterday I blogged about finding a bug in the online banking module for QuickBooks 2012.  This sucked up about five hours of my life, minimum, over the course of several days (four just yesterday and the day before).  Then I lost another two hours yesterday trying to figure out why the new 1099 "Wizard" returns entirely incorrect data compared to a 1099 Detail Report.  But let's take a step back first.

As a small business owner, I don't have to issue a lot of people 1099s.  Two to three dozen a year.  It's not complicated, really, though it has often been annoying, since the forms are expensive, not always easy to find in stock, and you have to mess around with the alignment to get them to print right.  So I was pretty excited by the idea of eFiling the 1099s and then being able to print them on plain paper.  At $39, it seemed reasonable.  At the "early bird" pricing of $25.00, it seemed very reasonable.  Though, to be honest, you do still have to mail them.  So you have to buy envelopes especially for 1099 forms.  The motivator for me is that this year I have to mail exactly 25 of them and the forms are sold in batches of 25.  If I mess one up or have to reprint at all, I'm going to need another batch.  But if I pay for this eFile service, I can print them as needed on plain paper.  So that's a bit of insurance for me, I guess.

In 2012, QuickBooks introduces a 1099 "Wizard."  Alas, this is more like those stories where the wizard is a bumbling idiot than all-powerful.  The wizard, according to Parvinder Makkar, the tech support rep I spent four hours on the phone with over two days, is still "a work in progress."  I'd call it a kludge.

As mentioned in a prior post, the IRS will, apparently, now receive data from credit card companies and PayPal.  So if you, the small business owner, pay a contractor (say a plumber) with a credit card, the IRS will be able to track that payment from you to the plumber.  So you need not issue a 1099 to the plumber.  Or let's say you hire a graphic artist and pay that graphic artist via PayPal.  Again, no 1099 need be issued by you.  Or least, this is how I understand it from QuickBooks.  So QuickBooks needed a way to let you include or exclude which payments you made to contractors should be included in 1099s.  Let's say you paid that graphic designer by check one job for $800 and by PayPal another job for $900.  The 1099, as I understand it, should only reflect the $800 payment.  But if you use PayPal and allow direct debit from your checking account, then you could, conceivably, use the Check form and your existing checking account to show that payment.  This could screw up your 1099s.  I, for one, have a separate account for PayPal in QuickBooks and I generally only make PayPal payments with my credit card.  On the rare instance where I have a balance in my PayPal account, that gets used, but that's happened, literally, once.  So if you put transactions via PayPal directly into your check register, you now need to use a "code" that QuickBooks will pick up so that it knows not to include that transaction in the 1099.  Confused yet?  Well, it gets better.

The wizard requires you to step through and ultimately review "included" and "excluded" transactions, after which you finally get the point where you can either print the 1099s or use the eFile service.

But the Wizard was returning completely erroneous data.  It said I maybe owed two people 1099s, not 27 (and it did seem uncertain about those two) as per the 1099 Detail Report.  And after two hours of letting "Vic" from Intuit review my transactions with his supervisor via connected support (meaning they took control of my computer and left me twiddling my thumbs), they decided that I had found bug #2 for the day.  Yay!  I'm not a lunatic.  I didn't have a corrupt file.  And I wasn't using a totally worthless piece-of crap software program.  Oh, wait.  Well, two of three ain't bad.

So, here's what they told me.  I use a lot of "expense items" as shortcuts to include information on client checks, i.e., I created items for things and entered descriptions, so that the descriptions appear on the checks.  An example might be "Bank Charge" as an item and the description might be "Bank Service Charge."  Well, apparently the QuickBooks wizard doesn't see "through" those items to the underlying accounts.  Had I used the account for Bank Charges under the Expenses tab, rather than an item on the Items tab, it would have worked fine.  But it does not.  However, I was reassured that my 1099s would print correctly because the 1099 Detail Report was correct.  And I was assured they would send this whole mess off to the developers to address in a future release.

Alas, I am unable to find out, because when I tried to use the service, it insisted I sign in and then choose my company.  Two "The Zack Company, Inc." files appeared to exist in their "App Center."  One had a number next to it (presumably the one that was already syncing) and one did not.  I tried to choose the one with the number.  It insisted I had to be logged in as an Administrator to use it.  Of course I was logged in as an Admin, so what was the issue?  I have no idea.  On a whim, I tried the other version next.  This kicked me to a help screen that instructed me to "enable" the Sync Manager.  Only problem?  It was already running.

So I decided to try it all again, from scratch, but I had an email from Intuit thanking me for signing up.  This had a link.  I tried the link and it is stuck on directions to enable syncing, which is already enabled.  Trying to go through the process from within QuickBooks just ends here:

If you can't read it, that's an error message saying "The page you have requested does not exist."  This results from using a button from within QuickBooks and using its internal browser.  I didn't input a URL; I just pushed the button.

So it appears, really, that I am three-for-three and have found yet another bug in QuickBooks.

I did try to call technical support. On the error page that resulted from the link I got in the email ( there's a phone number.  Now, let me be specific.  The top of the page says, "You're almost ready to use Intuit 1099 E-File Service...".  The bottom of the page says, "Got a question? Call our Intuit Customer Care (800) 450-8475."  However, that phone number is not for 1099 support!

So I called my good friend Sonya at the Office of the President of Intuit.  I say my good friend because I'm fairly certain she knows me by the sound of my voice by now.  I emailed her the above picture.  I could hear her frustration.  She promised to have someone call me back.  And while tech support would be nice, I honestly wish the actual president of Intuit would call me back, just to acknowledge that his software has wasted hours and hours and hours of my life since 1994 and maybe to throw a consulting job at me for a couple of hundred grand a year.  'Cause you know people there are making a pile of money, but it's literally all at our expense.  And maybe if those jobs were in the US, I'd feel bitter, but since I know they are in the Philippines and India, I'm actually pissed off that I'm wasting hours and hours of my time because Intuit cut their costs, outsourced the jobs, and still doesn't have working software!  I may, actually, go buy one share of Intuit stock so that I can attend the annual meeting and throw a pie in the face of the president of Intuit.  Because if there is a guy who deserves to be "pie'd," it's him.  Damn, did I just lose my consulting gig?

Thursday, January 05, 2012

QuickBooks Bugger

So I've been posting here about my adventures with QuickBooks 2012 and documented an issue between QuickBooks and my bank, Chase, and the bizarre dates that were coming back when I tried to send transfers from QB to Chase.

Well, I've been working for what must be six hours over two days with Parvinder, a tech support guy from Intuit's Office of the President, and we were able to reproduce the error using a test file and using different accounts.  It wasn't "just me," which is always reassuring!

So, today I heard what I knew was the case:  I've found a bug.  Yes, little old small-business owner me found a big, bad bug in QuickBooks 2012.  So I'm actually on my second computer while the rep is doing his long-distance thing and grabbing log files off my computer.  If I suddenly find all my money is gone and my credit cards are maxed out, I think I'll know who to blame. . . .

So, on the one hand, it's great that I was able to get action.  It's great that they want to fix this problem.  But should I have been the one to find this bug?  And is anyone going to pay me for all my time in finding and trouble-shooting this?  I mean, I certainly never volunteered to be a beta tester.  I'm, at best, a reviewer and an unpaid one at that.

And where does a bug like this come from?  The part of the program appears completely unchanged to me.  Why would something that worked fine in the prior version and is apparently unchanged suddenly have a bug?  A million to one shot based on my configuration?  I guess I'll never know.  But if Intuit suddenly decides to send me a fat check for my time, I certainly won't complain. (Hint, hint.)


Tuesday, January 03, 2012

If it ain't broke, why did Intuit break it?

Ah, the joys of working with QuickBooks 2012 continue!  Call me overeager, but each year I try and knock out my client 1099s as early in the New Year as possible.  So today I decided to take a crack at using Intuit's eFiling service for 1099s and printing to plain paper.

Problem #1 is that the interface to review your 1099 recipients has changed and I think it's terrible.  Again, they seem to have employed Java or some other software to try and make the interface a bit more modern.  But it's not flexible or accurate.  For example on the first screen I see multiple vendors checked who will not be due 1099s.  Why?  Because I didn't pay them last year.  Heck, one is deceased, so I'm not sure how he would have earned a payment from me.

So I hit "Continue" and find that in the Address field all that's listed is the full name of the recipient.  This might make sense if there was anything after that, like a street address, but there is not.

On the next screen, I was warned that my filing thresholds are not in line with IRS regulations.  This turned out to be true.  But since I'm not paying out in any of the categories QuickBooks insisted on changing, it was irrelevant and a waste of my time to review and "fix."

On the next screen is the latest pain in the rear:  "Review payments for exclusions".  To quote from the help screen, Beginning with the 2011 tax year, the IRS requires you to exclude from Form 1099-MISC any payments you made by credit card, debit card, gift card, or third-party payment network such as PayPal. (These payments are being reported by the card issuers and third-party payment networks on Form 1099-K.)

When you use check payments (in either Pay Bills or Write Checks) to record a vendor payment made with a credit card, debit card, or gift card, or using a third-party payment network such as PayPal, you should note the payment method in the check number field. QuickBooks recognizes, and automatically excludes from Form 1099-MISC, any check payment containing one of the following notations in the check number field (limited to 8 characters).

Oy.  Really?  That's almost enough to make me want to pay everyone by check that I might ever have to send a 1099 to, just so I don't have to deal with this B.S.  I understand the IRS is working hard to track every dollar made in the US, but having the credit-card companies report on us?  Geez.

Okay, let's get back to QuickBooks and it's giant FAIL!  On the next screen, "Confirm your 1099 entries," I get a total of TWO individuals that should get 1099s, but the total of what they were paid is zero.  But if I run a "Detail Report," I get a couple of dozen vendors due 1099s and a total of what they were paid in the six figures.  Oops!

On the next screen, I have the option of eFiling or printing the 1099s on pre-printed forms.  When I clicked on eFile, it was unclear what could happen next, so first I'm going to try and chat with a specialist.  Hum the theme from "Jeopardy" here.

I have now been waiting two minutes.  My anticipated wait time was 0 minutes and I was first in line!

I am now chatting with Jessica.  Jessica is such a cute name.  I wonder what her real name is?  I find that Customer Support personnel usually have a real name and a name they use when providing support.  Alas, Jessica cannot help me, since the program locks up once you start a chat session.  She referred me to telephone support, which I just called and found the wait for telephone payroll support is one hour!

The old 1099 printing method worked just fine.  So why did Intuit change it and, it seems, break it?  If I ever find out, I'll let you know.


Monday, January 02, 2012

The December Monthly Round-up

Happy New Year!  Here's the December monthly round-up.  I know I set the goal of reading all of the eQueries™ by the end of the year, but am sorry to say it just didn't happen.  We were lucky enough to have quite a bit of family come visit, but that does cut into work time, and no sooner did family leave than I got sick—twice!  I'm currently battling my second cold of the month!  But I did put a good dent in the number and I consider that a partial win.

Here's where December ended up:

  • 54 queries received; 89 declined
  • 1 sample chapter received; 1 declined
  • 0 proposals received; 1 declined
  • 0 manuscripts received; 2 declined

I did also review 3 full manuscripts and 1 proposal and had extensive conversations with the authors.  Ideally, we'll be chatting again down the road about representation.  I also reviewed 1 other full ms, but haven't yet reached out to the author.  It's tricky.  I'm still thinking about it.

Also in December, I requested 16 sample chapters and 3 proposals.  So that's about 105 queries read and responded to, 4 full manuscripts reviewed, 2 proposals reviewed.  Not bad, given all the family and illness, I'd say.

So, what am I waiting on?  About 20 sample chapters and 3 proposals, plus revised versions of the manuscripts or proposals mentioned above.

Thanks, as always, for your patience.