Liberty Tax has been in business since 1997, and currently has 4,000+ locations throughout the U.S. and Canada. Like H&R Block and Jackson Hewitt, it offers DIY online tax preparation with the option to obtain additional support and guidance from its financial professionals. We reviewed Liberty Tax Online Basic, which is designed for individuals with W-2 and interest/ordinary income who want to itemize deductions. You can also enter your health savings account information on the site. Liberty’s midrange offering performed well for us, though its user experience and help tools could be improved. Consider using Editors’ Choice TurboTax Deluxe instead for all your tax filing needs.
Pricing and Versions
There are four versions of Liberty Tax Online. EZ ($14.95 federal, $29.99 state) supports the 1040EZ and the Schedule B (interest and ordinary income). Basic ($24.95 federal, $35.95 state), the version we reviewed, adds the Schedule A (itemized deductions) and Form 8853 (health savings accounts). Deluxe ($44.95 federal, $35.95 state) also supports the Schedule C (self-employment income) and depreciation. And Premium ($69.95 federal, $35.95 state) covers everything, including rental, real estate, and farm income, as well as capital gains/losses.
Personal tax preparation websites work much like their desktop predecessors, in that they break down the complicated IRS forms and schedules into much smaller chunks. You don’t see those official documents until you finish and print them out, though some sites provide you with sneak previews. Rather, these sites take on the digital persona of an in-office tax preparer and ask you a lengthy series of questions about your tax-related situations.
They do this in one—or both—of two ways. They all display lists of the income, deduction, and credit items that the IRS wants to know about, like your W-2, mortgage interest deduction, and child care credit. You select the topics that apply to you one at a time and work your way through multi-step wizards.
Some sites offer you another option; they provide one giant wizard that visits every possible topic. You provide answers in a variety of ways, such as by entering data in fields, choosing options from drop-down lists, or clicking buttons. The sites do all the necessary calculations and deposit your answers on the correct lines on the correct, official forms. Relevant data is moved over to any state returns you must file.
Along the way, you can access a variety of
There are tremendous differences among these sites in terms of the user experience they offer, the tax situations they support, and the quality, quantity, and accessibility of help they provide.
A Straightforward Approach
From start to finish, Liberty Tax Online Basic makes it clear what information it requires. It takes care of housekeeping tasks first, helping you create a username and password, setting up security questions, and importing your 2016 return from Liberty or a competitor.
Then, it’s on to personal contact details, standard pre-prep questions, and information about your 2017 income and residences. The final step is to provide your filing status and information about any dependents. In contrast to sites like TurboTax Deluxe that go out of their way to add a little friendliness, Liberty Tax takes a straightforward, facts-only approach.
Once you edit and/or approve your personal information summary, it’s on to the meat of the site: entering your tax-related information. Liberty Tax Online Basic does not offer a comprehensive, all-inclusive wizard like TurboTax Deluxe does; instead, you select the topics that apply to you from lists of options. It displays all possible tax topics no matter what version you use, but it does notify you if you stray into areas that require more premium versions.
In the Income section, for example, it presents you with a variety of income types, divided into categories: Employment, Investments, Retirement, Business and Rental, and Other Income. A column to the right displays the total of any data you entered for that item. To the right, you either see an Add or Edit button, depending on if you entered anything in the section. If you click the Add button next to Wages, salaries, and tips, for example, the next screen provides a list of options for your W-2. You can provide the data manually on a digital W-2, import it from ADP or Equifax, or indicate that you haven’t yet received the form.
When you finish the income section, you move on to deductions and credits, health insurance, and some miscellaneous (but important) tax-related topics. Liberty Tax Online Basic moves relevant information into any state return you must file and completes its review of your return before you pay your fees and get ready to file.
Liberty Tax offers an excellent review process that works better than most competitors. It found four errors on our return. When we clicked to see the first one, it took us directly to the offending page. After we fixed that first omission, we could either return to the full list of errors or proceed to the next one. We chose the latter and it neatly walked us through the rest. The site then displayed a pie chart illustrating our audit risk, with an explanation of the score. Bravo.
A Smart Feature
Liberty Tax Online Basic’s Credits section offers a unique feature that we’ve never seen on a personal tax preparation website. The home page for this section lists all IRS credits that are covered by the site and notably uses the data you already entered to tailor the experience. For example, the column to the right of Earned Income Credit on our return didn’t contain a dollar amount (or, $0), as usual. Instead, it said “Not Qualified,” with a hyperlinked “Why?”
When we clicked on the link, it explained that our investment income was too high to qualify for the EIC. And because we had indicated on an earlier screen that we had college-related expenses, the middle column read “Information Required” next to the Form 1098-T entry. Instead of saying “Add” or “Review,” the column to the right read, “Investigate,” with a big red hand pointing toward it.
There’s nothing difficult about following Liberty Tax Online Basic’s navigation structure. A tabbed toolbar at the top of the screen divides the site into four sections: Personal Information, Federal, State, and Finish. When you click on one, a menu opens below it with the relevant subsections. You can access these areas at will, but it’s safer to just follow the site’s sequential order. As you go through each section, you use the Back and Next buttons to advance or move to the previous screen. Unfortunately, there’s no comprehensive topic-and-form outline like TaxAct Online Plus offers, so you can’t see the site’s topics in their entirety.
TurboTax Deluxe sets the bar high for online tax preparation when it comes to the user experience. Liberty Tax Online Basic’s interface might have been leading edge several years ago, but now it looks a little dated. The site uses the entire screen and then some, yet there’s often a lot of white space, and the text and buttons on the screen are on the small side. There are very few graphics as well and the layout isn’t compelling.
A persistent pane on the right-hand side breaks up the monotony. It’s filled with colorful rectangular buttons that are used for both navigation and support resources. The top right has a Save & Quit button and one that alternates between Home and
Basic Help Options
Liberty Tax could take a page from when it comes to the on-site help it offers. You can chat with or send email questions to support specialists. The Common Questions button on the right often displays context-sensitive questions and answers (especially on section home pages), but sometimes it’s blank. Click on it, though, and you can enter a search word or phrase to get clearly-written explanations. In fact, it displays a list of possible matches as soon as you start typing.
But the interview pages themselves don’t contain any hyperlinked terms that open guidance windows. There are no deeper explanations within them that might keep someone from needing to visit the help
Middle of the Road
Liberty Tax Online Basic falls about in the middle of the sites we reviewed. It would rank higher with better-integrated help and a more aesthetically-pleasing user experience. If you’ve used it before and liked it, there’s no reason to change—unless your tax return is going to suddenly get more complex this year. Then, TurboTax Deluxe, with its more engaging user interface and skillfully-employed guidance system, is a better option. You pay more, but it can be risky to pinch pennies when dealing with forms that require the utmost accuracy.
Choosing to use Microsoft Project as your team’s dedicated project management app makes sense only when a number of stars align. First, you really must have a certified project manager on board to drive the software. Second,
If you’ve read this far and realized that Microsoft Project isn’t right for your team, I recommend three other options. For small businesses, Zoho Projects and Teamwork Projects are the PCMag Editors’ Choices. Both are reasonably priced and very easy to learn to use, even if you’re not a project management master yet. The other tool that earns the Editors’ Choice is LiquidPlanner, a high-end tool that’s ideal for larger teams managing not just projects but also people and other resources.
A Few Caveats
Microsoft Project takes a long time to learn to use and even longer to master. I am writing this review from the point of view of someone who has not mastered it (not even close) but who
Because Microsoft Project is something of a bear, I would recommend complementing my article with user reviews by people who have worked with the tool extensively and can provide different insights into how it holds up in the long term.
Pricing and Plans
There are two ways to buy Microsoft Project. You can add it to an Office 365 subscription or you can buy a standalone version for on-premises deployment. The options get confusing, so let me go through them piece by piece.
Office add-on. When you add Microsoft Project to an Office subscription, you get the cloud-based version of the app. There are three pricing levels for this type of purchase: Project Online Professional, Premium, and Essentials.
Project Online Professional costs $30 per person per month. With this level of service, each person gets to use the Microsoft Project desktop app on up to five computers for project management only, not portfolio management. Even though it’s a desktop app, it still runs in the cloud (i.e., it requires an internet connection to use). Access via web browsers is also included.
Project Online Premium costs $55 per person per month. It offers everything in the Professional account, plus portfolio management tools. It comes with advanced analytics and resource management features that you don’t get in the Professional account.
The third level, Essentials, is not a tier of service so much as a role type you can choose for team members who have fairly limited responsibilities in the app. It costs $7 per person per month. You have to have a Professional or Premium membership first to utilize the Essential option. Essential users can only access Microsoft Project via a web browser or mobile device. They can only update task statuses, work with timesheets, share documents, and communicate with colleagues. They don’t get desktop apps or other functionality.
Standalone on-premises deployment. If you don’t want to use the cloud-hosted version of Microsoft Project, you can host it locally, and there are three options for how to do it.
One is Project Standard, which costs $589.99 charged
The next option is Project Professional for $1,159.99. Each license is good for only one computer. It has everything in Project Standard, plus the ability to collaborate via Skype for Business, resource-management tools, timesheets, and the option to sync with Project Online and Project Server.
Project Server, the last option, is a version of Microsoft Project that enterprises can get with SharePoint 2016. I could go into detail about how to get SharePoint 2016 and the three tiers of enterprise service for Office involved, but I’ll assume that if this option is of interest to you, you already have a support person at Microsoft you can ask for more information.
If we use the $30 or $55 per person per month price for Project Online Professional as our base for comparison, which are the tiers of service I imagine are in your wheelhouse if you’re reading this article, then Microsoft’s prices are on the high end for small to medium businesses.
TeamGantt is a good place to start for comparison. It offers service ranging from a Free account to an Advanced membership that costs $14.95 per person per month. It’s a web-based tool that includes collaboration and is much easier to learn to use than Project.
A comparable plan with Zoho Projects costs a flat rate of $50 per month, regardless of how many people use it. Teamwork Projects offers a similar flat monthly rate ($69 per month for as many team members as you need), as does Proofhub ($150 per month).
If we turn to more high-end tools, LiquidPlanner starts at $599.40 per year for a small business account of up to five people. That price is based on a rate of $9.99 per person per month, but this particular plan is only sold in a five-seat pack. LiquidPlanner’s most popular plan, Professional, is better for medium to large businesses. It works out to be $45 per person per month, with a ten person minimum. Like Microsoft Project, LiquidPlanner takes time to master in part because it offers so many tools for both project management and resources management.
Other project management platforms that are suitable for larger organizations include Clarizen (from $45 per person per month), Celoxis ($25 per person per month; five-person minimum), and Workfront (about $30, depending on setup).
I can’t stress enough the fact that Microsoft Project is meant to be used by experienced, or more precisely trained, project managers. It’s not designed for learning on the fly. It doesn’t come with clear tutorials for getting started. It assumes familiarity with both big concepts and fine details of project management. If you’re thinking you might use this software but you (or the lead person who will be using the app) don’t know what a burndown report is, I would seriously advise you to consider a different tool.
The app itself looks a lot like Excel. It has the same familiar tabbed ribbon interface seen in other Microsoft Office apps. The spreadsheet portion of the app holds all the data related to tasks or resources. To the right of the cells is a Gantt chart reflecting the schedule as you build it.
Microsoft Project supports all the typical things you’d want to do in a project management app. For every task, you can enter a lot of detail, such as a description, notes, start date, task duration, and so forth. Recurring events are supported, as are dependencies, custom fields, and baselines for tracking actual progress versus planned progress.
The bars in the Gantt chart are interactive, so as you adjust them, the information in the cells updates as well. When a task is in progress, you can indicate the percent that it’s done by sliding a smaller line inside its associated spanner bar toward the right.
In addition to having a Gantt chart view, Microsoft Project offers calendar and diagram views as well. The calendar view is self-explanatory, while the diagram view is similar to the Gantt view, only it contains additional details about the task. If you follow a timeline better when there’s some sense of a narrative behind it, the diagram view could be useful.
As mentioned, the first time you use the app, there isn’t much coaching on how to get started. Some apps provide interactive on-screen tutorials. Others start you out in a sample project.
“To be clear, Project Online is NOT a web-based version of Project Professional. Project Online is an entirely separate service that offers full portfolio and project management tools on the web. It includes Project Web App, and can, depending on your subscription, also include Project Online Desktop Client, which is a subscription version of Project Professional.”
Even after having gone through all the pricing and plan options in detail, those words still make my head spin.
Features and Details
Microsoft Project is powerful when it comes to the more detailed aspects of project management, such as resource management, reports, and timesheets. Powerful doesn’t mean easy or simple, of course.
In Microsoft Project, with the tiers of service that include resource management, you can manage work (which includes both generic people and specific people, as well as other “work” related resources), materials, and costs. You can do a lot with these elements if you have the time and the inclination.
For example, you can add detail to materials resources, such as a unit of measure, and if you want to get really detailed, you can enter costs for materials. What if the costs of a material
With work resources, I mentioned you can track specific people or
Reports are highly customizable, although, like the rest of the app, it takes time to learn how to use them. Some of the more rudimentary features are neat and surprisingly simple to use, however. You can generate a report by navigating to the report section and selecting what data you want to appear in different modules on the page. Using a field selection box on the right, you can make the topmost element the project, and below
All the elements you add to the report are stylized, and they don’t automatically adjust to accommodate one another. For example, if text from one element runs long, it can crash into another. Other minor visual elements often need finessing, too. You can end up wasting a lot of time resizing boxes and nudging elements left and right to make it look decent, which probably isn’t what you’re getting paid to do. That’s a designer’s job, really.
That said, styling the reports in this way has a purpose. Once you finish with all the adjustments, the final product looks ready to export to a presentation directly (in PowerPoint, no doubt), so you can go from generating reports to sharing them without
Within the timesheets section, for those versions of the app that include it, you can have team members fill out weekly time sheets for whatever duration you need, such as weekly or monthly. Team members can report not only time spent on tasks related to projects, but they can also indicate what time of work it was, such as research and development or fulfillment. Another option lets people add time to their time sheets for tasks aren’t specifically related to a project. For example, if Julia drives to meet with a client, the team might want to record that time and bill for it, even though the travel doesn’t appear as a task on a project.
Room for Improvement
I’ve already alluded to the fact that Microsoft Project could offer more assistance in helping people get started with it and learn to use it.
Additionally, Project is weak when it comes to in-app communication. The problem is that Microsoft is a kingdom, and within its
Indeed, traveling around the kingdom annoyed me to no end while I was testing Microsoft Project. A desire to share information might result in the app whisking me away to Outlook. A need to update something about a meeting scheduled
While Microsoft has plenty of its own apps that work with Project, many organizations rely on tools that come from somewhere else, Salesforce being a prime example.
A Powerful Tool Within Its Realm
While powerful and thorough in many respects, Microsoft Project fits only very specific companies. More and more, this is the case with many Microsoft apps. Your team needs to already be invested in Microsoft products for Project to make sense. It also works best for medium to large organizations, but not small ones. Plus, you need a qualified and experienced project manager on the team to be the person driving the app.
If Microsoft Project isn’t an ideal candidate for your project management needs, I suggest small outfits look into Zoho Projects and Teamwork Projects, whereas larger organizations managing many more projects and resources take a dive into LiquidPlanner. All three earned the PCMag Editors’ Choice.
The Baramundi Management Suite (which begins at $25.90 per device) is a relative newcomer to our mobile device management (MDM) review roundup. It’s also notable for the fact that the software comes in the form of a virtual machine (VM) intended for either local installation on a server in your data center or for use in the cloud as a server instance in either Amazon Web Services (AWS) or Microsoft Azure. While it might be a solid enough MDM competitor for many small to midsize businesses (SMBs), the Baramundi Management Suite suffers from some unneeded complexity as well as a dependence on Microsoft back-office platforms for full functionality. It’s these issues that keep it behind our Editors’ Choice winner VMware AirWatch for now.
On the plus side, the MDM function is just one part of the bigger picture in the Baramundi Management Suite. Similar to Microsoft Intune, the Baramundi Management Suite also handles some desktop management chores for Microsoft Windows and Apple OS X-based desktops, up to the installation of a new operating system (OS). The downside here is that full functionality requires integration with an external Microsoft Active Directory (AD) domain and a Microsoft Exchange Server for sending email notifications. The first is something we encounter often, but the second has become something of a limitation now that many SMBs are going with hosted email services such as Google G Suite instead of an in-house email server. Our trial system didn’t have access to either of these platforms so we were unable to test all of the features, including the sending of email messages for device enrollment. Additionally, on the MDM side, Windows-based devices also required AD support, which means that shops without AD and Microsoft Exchange will only be able to manage Android and Apple devices with the Baramundi Management Suite.
Installation and Device Enrollment
Installing the Baramundi Management Suite consists of provisioning a VM, which was accomplished by the company for our test instance in the Microsoft Azure public cloud. The same could be accomplished in AWS should you choose to go that route. Connecting to the system uses a remote desktop session to connect you into a Windows Server environment. The one advantage to a VM approach is the consistency of deployment for the management infrastructure across multiple cloud services and on-premises, which means you’ve got easy access to redundancy and scalability should you need it.
To enroll either an Android or iOS device, you simply download the Baramundi Mobile Agent application from the appropriate store and follow the in-app instructions. Baramundi provides a Quick Response Code (QR code) that contains the server and account information so you don’t have to type this in. The agent includes a QR scanning capability, which removes the need for any additional apps. On iOS, the app installs the appropriate certificates to get you securely connected to the server.
We were able to register an iOS phone, a Samsung Galaxy S8+ smartphone, and a Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 device. The Baramundi Management Suite does support the Samsung Knox platform and the ability to block (black list) or allow (white list) specific apps. Only those apps which have been white-listed will be allowed should a user choose to install them. We did find some limitations to this capability depending on the version of Knox you’re using but it shouldn’t be an issue with updated phones.
Opening the Baramundi Management Suite console presents a dashboard that shows the status of Windows devices. The dashboard for mobile devices shows compliance status and rules violations. The Compliance Overview block includes clickable links to take you to another section of the management interface with more detailed information. The graphics displayed are static, meaning you can’t click an image and drill down for further details like you can in other products like VMware AirWatch and SOTI MobiControl. You also can’t modify the dashboard screens.
Like most of the other products in this roundup, the Baramundi Management Suite uses the concept of device profiles to configure specific settings. One difference from products such as and SOTI MobiControl is that the Baramundi Management Suite uses the concept of a universal profile to apply the same basic settings to all platforms. Creating a profile consists of settings collected into groupings they call “building blocks.” For example, one building block addresses restrictions on hardware such as the camera. Other building blocks include settings for Wi-Fi access points and virtual private network (VPN) credentials.
Once a profile has been created, it must be deployed by using a job. Jobs perform a number of different actions, including installing or uninstalling an app or profile; locking, unlocking, or wiping a device; and compiling a hardware or software inventory. Performing an action such as a device lock or wipe requires several steps, including creating a job to accomplish the task and then deploying it to a specific device. This seems more cumbersome for mobile devices than simply right-clicking and choosing “Lock Device” as in other systems such as SOTI MobiControl.
Viewing individual devices lets you see pertinent information about the device and perform specific tasks such as assign a job or edit the owner details. A Device Actions menu item on the page only let you deactivate the device. To do anything else requires creating a job. Creating a new job happens under the Jobs section. The Baramundi Management Suite includes a number of standard jobs to do things such as take a hardware and software inventory or distribute an app. Initiating a device wipe requires a number of steps to first create the job and then assign it to a specific device. This amount of effort would become quite tedious for most administrators after the first few device wipe requests.
Reporting was one strong area for the Baramundi Management Suite. A long list of pre-defined reports gives you access to most of the pertinent information. Creating new reports requires a full version of Crystal Reports which is an additional cost but does offer a robust report building tool. On the downside, the Baramundi Management Suite interface was not as intuitive as other products, like and SOTI MobiControl. It’s also missing features such as geofencing, geolocation, or mobile expense management (MEM). The geolocation feature is a significant one when an employee loses his or her device.
The base price for a single Baramundi Management Suite device is $25.90 plus a yearly maintenance cost between $3.50 and $5.50 depending on contract length. While that sounds like a lot, it actually puts the Baramundi Management Suite among the cheapest of all the products we tested, along with AppTec360 Enterprise Mobility Management.
Overall, we liked the Baramundi Management Suite, though we did find that it offers only the basic functionality that we’d expect out of an MDM product. However, it does manage that at a very low cost. Still, it doesn’t fully compare with the capabilities found in the other products in this roundup, notably our Editors’ Choice winner VMware AirWatch. Simple administrative functions, such as wiping a device, require far too many steps when compared to all of the other products in our roundup. Plus, its reliance on Microsoft for full functionality makes life hard on companies that have opted for different cloud-based back-office platforms.