In the rear-view mirror: Tax pros discuss lessons from this season

Tax pros debrief themselves every year after April 15 on what went wrong and what went right — and given the impact of tax reform on this year’s tax season, some were pleasantly surprised that there was so much of the latter.

“I was happy with the tax season, relatively speaking,” said G. Scott Haislet, a CPA and attorney in Lafayette, California. “Not sure I could’ve done anything differently, except maybe sleep less, work a few more hours and have fewer extensions. Actually, this was the best tax season in years, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act notwithstanding.”

“Our season went smoothly despite all of the changes,” said Debra James, an Enrolled Agent at Genesis Accounting & Management Services in Lorain, Ohio. “I attribute that to the planning and training we did all of last year, and the time we took with every client during the 2017 appointments to discuss the changes. … The only tense moments arose from those who were forewarned about impending impact and failed to heed the warning.”

Chris Hardy, an EA and managing director with Paramount Tax in Georgia, would have “increased fees more [and] scheduled more time with each client.”

New impacts

Recent years’ do-overs, in the halcyon days before the TCJA, included making sure that clients adjusted withholdings, grilling software providers harder, pre-season staff training and using phones rather than e-mail for answers from some clients.

“We would have spent more time educating clients on how the tax changes could impact our preparation process as well as our fees,” said EA Twila Midwood of Advanced Tax Centre in Rockledge, Florida. “We tried to provide this information with an e-newsletter as well as a paper newsletter. But based on clients’ reactions, it was not enough. We also seemed to spend more time discussing and reviewing the returns and fees with clients.”

“The TCJA added time to each return and having additional trained staff will be imperative,” said Scott Kadrlik, a CPA and managing partner at Meuwissen, Flygare, Kadrlik & Associates in Eden Prairie, Minnesota. “The software companies were slow in finalizing the changes and updates to the preparation programs, pushing the completion of returns back weeks.”

“I would’ve allowed more time between meetings and projects,” said Brian Stoner, a CPA in Burbank, California. “Even knowing the new tax changes didn’t prepare for the huge amount of additional time that everything took between doing and explaining to clients.”

“We reached out to as many clients as possible who were affected by the changes,” said Larry Pon, a CPA/EA at Pon & Associates in Redwood City, California. “I computed their cuts and many of them were quite surprised about how much they got in tax cuts.”

2019 tax season stats - efiling

Complexities

Other headline moves and hiccups from seasons past have included going paperless, health care verifications and the IRS’s tiered EITC Compliance Program. This past season added to the list, preparers said.

“I definitely will no longer trust that either the federal or state legislature’s will get their work done early enough to ensure that the preparation software is correctly updated,” Kadrlik said, “and that we have regulations issued to explain the complex bills that they passed.”

“Here in Minnesota, we had the added complexity of state tax laws that did not conform to the new federal tax law changes. Our preparation software seemed to have a difficult time dealing with this, and there were many software updates during the filing season,” said Mike Crabtree, a CPA, JD and partner at Boulay in Eden Prairie, Minnesota.

“This led to a lot of additional hours on the part of our staff," Crabtree added. "If I knew then how much additional work these issues would cause, I would’ve been more proactive in discussing with clients the benefits of extending returns. We try to get as many returns completed as possible during tax season, but this year would have gone better if we had extended more returns.

Withholding issues hit Pon’s clients in California. “Many ended up owing when they normally got refunds every year,” he said. “I tried to readjust as many clients’ withholdings as possible, but didn’t get through to everyone.”

Of course, some wrinkles remain the same from season to season. “Most people,” Pon added, “didn’t want to do anything until they saw their returns.”

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