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Get Ready for Free Tax-Prep Software That Actually Works

Tickers in this article: INTU
NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- I will leave Intuit's fate to better minds. But considering how good free business accounting tools like Wave Accounting are becoming, it's a safe bet the company won't be bumping up prices for business ledger management software like QuickBooks.

The Web era's "everything-as-ad-supported-medium" business ethic has found an odd new niche: business accounting software. Never mind that excellent business ledger tools are cheap. Intuit and Outright, both based in Mountain View, Calif., and Vancouver's Kashoo offer powerful accounting tools for about $10 a month.

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In these Web free-to-all days, sophisticated ledger-management payment and bank reconciliation software packages -- the once-for-enterprise-only stuff of ADP, NetSuite or Peachtree by Sage -- are now ad-supported Web services that are totally free.

That is correct: When it comes to business accounting, free is the new black.

No-cost services are flourishing. Toronto-based Wave Accounting claims it has managed a combined $20 billion in expenses and income since it launched in mid-2010.

"We are currently signing up tens of thousands of small businesses every month," says Rob Maurin, vice president for community content and communications at the company.

To get a feel for how real, really free accounting tools are, I gave Wave a solid once-over this tax season. My takeaway: It is by no means perfect -- and the issue of privacy needs to be carefully considered. Still, I am seriously considering migrating my own business to Wave.

Here's why:

1. Free accounting tools work.

I was immediately impressed by Wave. Signup takes, no kidding, 12 seconds. I timed it. Just log in and get a free account. Try that with Intuit's QuickBooks. ( Use a stout password, please -- this is important information you don't want stolen.) In an instant, before you are all the graphs, ledgers and accounting tools you need to keep your business on the right side of the IRS.

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The feature set is top-notch. There was an effective customizable recent activity and financial snapshot tool. I liked the ability to automatically import transactions from a bank or credit card. There were well-laid-out income reports, including a breakout of aging payables, a good sales tax reporting tool, and even a reasonable balance sheet engine.

What else could a bean counter need?

2. The ads are annoying -- but not that annoying.

There is no getting past it. You're gonna see banner ads while you do your books. For me, it was promotions for Newegg, EasyCopy, Shopify -- stuff like that. Who knows what the Internet ad content blender will serve up to you. But you get the idea. There is also something called a "Business Savings" tab, where promotions on business services are flagged -- mostly things like discounts on Experian and HP printer cartridges. A slick online marketing service like Amazon, Wave is not. But, overall, the marketing was decidedly soft-sell. Not distracting at all. And there was no beating the price.