Debrief encounter: Busy season do-overs

Published
  • May 21 2018, 9:30am EDT
The middle of a blizzard is no time to ponder changing your snow tires – but when the filing season ends almost every preparer can think of something they would have done differently. Analyzing what could have gone better in the busy time is part of any well-run practice.

After doing their post-mortems, tax preparers from across the country share their last season’s do-overs, which range from forcing clients to think more about the future, to shopping more carefully for software, to changing professions altogether – all of which will help them get ready for 2019.

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The middle of a blizzard is no time to ponder changing your snow tires – but when the filing season ends almost every preparer can think of something they would have done differently. Analyzing what could have gone better in the busy time is part of any well-run practice.

After doing their post-mortems, tax preparers from across the country shared their last season’s do-overs, which range from forcing clients to think more about the future, to shopping more carefully for software, to changing professions altogether – all of which will help them get ready for 2019.

Withhold me closer!

Thanks to tax reform, some clients may be in for sticker shock – with the accompanying tongue-lashing for innocent preparers – if they don’t take care to pay in enough this year.

“I would have insisted that all of my clients receiving W-2 wages or other income subject to withholding review their withholdings for 2018,” said Enrolled Agent Laurie Ziegler at Sass Accounting in Saukville, Wis. “I offered this to everyone, but only had less than 10 percent of my clients actually follow through. Of those I reviewed, more often than not their withholding was going down by more than they were going to benefit from the tax law changes.”

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Q&A – and Q, and Q, and Q ….

If preparers’ impression was that the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act raised more questions than it answered, many got an in-the-grill view of the public’s even greater confusion.

“I would have made more allowances for all the questions I received during appointments on the changes,” said CPA Brian Stoner, in Burbank, Calif. “Meetings ended up lasting an additional half hour and started running together, not giving me expected time to finish other tasks, so my work day was much longer this year. I would have brought on more help earlier.”

Ready Player One

“I would have never trusted the sales reps pedaling [a particular line] of ‘fully integrated’ tax prep software,” said EA John Dundon, president of Taxpayer Advocacy Services, in Englewood, Colorado “It turned out to be the world’s worst video game ever. Much work needed.”

Field of dream

If Daniel Morris, CPA and senior partner at Morris + D’Angelo in San Jose, Calif., had last season to do over again, what would he do differently?

“Besides resign and begin my true calling as a car salesman?” he asked. “I’d likely force some earlier overtime to ease the last-minute stretch. That, however, is a problem that continues to become worse.”

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Getting on the phone

While getting completely ready for the season can be like chasing the horizon, some preparers keep vowing to do better – and use different tools.

“While I did more preparation then last year, I still see areas of improvement,” said Becky Neilson of Neilson Bookkeeping & Tax Services, in Sheridan, Calif. “[I would make] more phone calls to get information from clients. While e-mails are nice, [they’re] not working well for all clients.”

Early warnings

San Jose’s Morris added that he’d want to give clients more advice as soon as possible in the season, especially clients with complex business and financial situations.

“Taxpayers … despise actually learning enough to protect their own interests,” he said, “leaving the CPA holding too many responsibilities while lacking authority to drive decisions.”