For most tax practitioners, the light at the end of the tunnel is some kind of relaxation or excitement planned for the end of the filing season. It keeps them going through 16-hour work days, cranky clients, software glitches and cold pizza.
“Since tax season is so consuming — and long — most folks use the week or two after April 17 to do errands, and attend to family matters such as catching up on attending their kids’ school and sports events,” said Jack Kirkland, tax lead managing director at the Tampa Bay office of Top 100 Firm CBIZ MHM. “On the work front, many non-tax return projects get deferred during the last two to three weeks before the deadline. Clients are usually very eager to get these done shortly after the filing day. It’s often a fine line between responding to client needs and getting some well-deserved down time.”
While it’s important to recover from the stresses and strains of tax season, there are some useful things that accountants and tax professionals can do in the weeks after April 17. Chuck McCabe, president of Peoples Income Tax and The Income Tax School, suggested that immediately after tax season is the best time to assess: “Evaluating your season and planning for next season is an important task to tackle right now, while everything is fresh.”
In addition to evaluating staffing levels, marketing efforts, software and workflow, McCabe recommended that preparers stay in touch with clients by sending out customer surveys and newsletters.
“Do you want to make sure that everyone’s customer experience was top-notch? Ask them — customer surveys are very important,” he said. “They help identify pain points, opportunities to improve, and possibly help save a poor customer experience you didn’t know about.”
In some circumstances, of course, the customer actually is the pain point.
“Wait 30 days, and fire at least 20 percent of your clients,” advised Beanna Whitlock, a San Antonio-based practitioner and former director of IRS National Public Liaison. “Those would be the ones that were a pain to work with, the ones that are slow to pay, and the ones that disrespect you.”
“Also, consider firing the ones that wait until the last minute to come in,” she continued. “Tell them you’re sorry, but last minute-tax preparation leads to mistakes. The client can’t afford this, and you, as a practitioner, can’t afford it either.”
“Tax professionals are taking on the role of ‘We handle everything,’ and clients feel as though they’re no longer responsible. We have to lay down the ground rules at the outset. I tell my new clients that they can lie to their momma but they had better never lie to me — the minute they come up with a funny money story, they’re out,” Whitlock said. “We have to realize that we don’t do our best work for everyone — that’s not a character flaw. If we don’t enjoy working with them, we’re not going to be doing our best work. When we fire them, it’s the best decision not only for us but for the client as well.”
Whitlock also suggested that when the time comes to renew their software, practitioners should remember why they might have been unhappy with it. “Software companies react to what they hear,” she said. “If it didn’t perform during filing season and you don’t complain, they won’t fix it.”
And for those who want to merge their tax work into something else at the end of the season, Whitlock observed an emerging business plan in her locale. “I’ve seen numerous signs recently advertising ‘Tax Prep and Bait,’ she said. “I don’t know if they have their PTINs, but it sounds like a combination I could do.”
A bait shop may be alluring, but there may be opportunities a little closer to home. “There’s an obvious link between doing someone’s taxes and providing tax and financial planning,” McCabe noted. “Providing these services is a great way to stay in touch during the off-season, and build client loyalty.”
In fact, the American Institute of CPAs recommends that taxpayers — and their advisors — look to their tax returns for these financial planning opportunities:
- Make 2018 contributions as early as possible to tax-advantaged accounts such as IRAs, 529s, and workplace retirement plans to benefit from additional tax-free compounding growth.
- Consider 529 college saving plans for families with kids going to private elementary or high schools. A new provision allows them to pay $10,000 per year, per child, from a 529 plan.
- Review W-2s to make sure a taxpayer is paying enough to get a full company match.
- Consider bunching medical expenses into 2018, since under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the 7.5 percent-of-income medical deduction threshold will be in place only for the 2017 and 2018 tax years. After that, the threshold reverts back to 10 percent of income.
Finally, Linda de Marlor, president of Rockville, Md.-based Tax-Masters Inc., manages to combine post-season travel with deeper client relationships. De Marlor has been spending time in Dubai every April for a number of years.
“It helps to have clients here with whom I can stay and enjoy the wonderful weather,” she said. “I suggest that all accountants start visiting their clients abroad. Part of the trip can be deductible, and best of all, you always meet Americans who need more tax help. Developing clients in foreign countries is fun and profitable.”
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