On Your Marks: Preparing for the Coming Season

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In a short time, we’ll have the holidays. In a few more days we’ll have 2017. And shortly after that, it’ll be Tax Day. Are you ready?

“My family practice started in a farm community, so we have a saying: ‘Off season is for sharpening the tools’,” said Kerry Freeman, an Enrolled Agent at Freeman Income Tax Service in Anthem, Ariz. “That is my goal, to first sharpen my knowledge, followed by sharpening my marketing. Knowledge in growing areas that are emerging like the cannabis industry that have its own unique issues. Marketing in both traditional products like publications and mailers to using social media tools such as FaceBook, Twitter and Yelp.”

“I am taking some time to relax, taking several CPE courses, cleaning my office [and] planning ways to be more efficient,” said John Stancil, a CPA in Lakeland, Fla.

Stocking up

Education and supplies seem to head the list of items when preparers get ready for tax season.

Morris Armstrong, an EA and registered investment advisor at Armstrong Financial Strategies, Danbury, Conn., is doing “what I imagine most preparers are doing: Making sure I understand any new changes coming into effect and seeing how they may impact my clients.”

“We’re going through our supplies and making sure we have on hand what we need. We’re also having all the computers and copiers cleaned and serviced,” said Lawrence Walkden, an EA at Snohomish And Monroe Accounting & Tax in Monroe, Wash.

“I’m finishing off my continuing education, upgrading my software, reviewing the highlights and low points of last season, and deciding which clients are no longer worth my limited time on this planet,” said EA John Dundon, of Taxpayer Advocacy Services in Englewood, Colo.

“I’m thinking about the staff I’ll need to cover the days and times we’re open, hoping the seasonal employees I hired last year would like to come back since they did a great job,” said Debra James, an EA at Genesis Accounting & Management Services, in Lorain, Ohio.

Her list continues: “I’ve scheduled seminars and training for employees before the end of the year. I’m ordering office supplies now so we don’t have to deal with running out of anything during tax season. I’m upgrading outdated equipment and having my IT professional install new software and perform a thorough checkup of all computers.”

Jeffrey Schneider, an EA in Port St. Lucie, Fla., is making sure engagement letters are up to date and his client contact sheets are ready to go. “I’m also taking additional education classes and signing up for a tax update course. Most importantly,” he added, “I’m catching my breath after Sept. 15 and Oct. 17.”

Size does matter

Amber Gray-Fenner, an EA and president of The Gray Agency, I Albuquerque, N.M., has a tiny practice “and I’m hiring my first staff person, admin help. I’m working on security procedures for both the computer systems and general process controls to ensure client confidentiality, and working on incorporating those into a larger training program.”

Gray-Fenner is also changing her billing from the one in her tax prep software to billing through her accounting program. “I’m refining forms, including my client interview (organizer) and engagement letters,” she said.

Jeff Gentner, an EA in Amherst, N.Y., is preparing to send postcard reminders to clients during the first few weeks of January. “I pre-appoint my tax clients a year in advance, so 95 percent of them already have appointments scheduled,” he said. “The postcard reminds them of this appointment.”

The more things change

Shifts in client circumstances and the overall tax landscape also figure in preparers’ plans – maybe more this year than ever.

“This will be a late start, as no refunds will be received until late February or March due to Congress and fraud control,” said San Antonio EA James Berardi. “I believe this will not be good for any entity, the economy, tax clients or tax practitioners.”

“I’m doing some projections for my clients, both those who are employed (checking all their income) to avoid penalties and also looking at income levels for my retired clients to see if we can stay within the appropriate Medicare bracket,” Armstrong said. “We’re making sure all RMDs are taken and, for those over 70-1/2, reminding them of the advantages of the qualified charitable rollover provisions.”

“I find it’s valuable to get the up-to-the-minute news from the IRS and my state agencies, since, hopefully, everything is now set for the coming season,” Gentner said. “It usually gives me a chance to see the IRS forms and schedules that we’ll be using.”

Kimberely Bates, an EA in Minneola, Fla., and Money Coach founder has completed her CPE and renewed her PTIN. “I’m waiting for the open enrollment for the new e-services program,” she added. “I’ve been an approved e-services provider for about 10 years. I’m happy they’ve taken these steps to protect the taxpayers. I hope this will reduce the amount of tax identity thefts in the years to come.”

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