Set and go: Preparers ready themselves for next season
Even as the IRS tries to squash rumors of the exact date of next tax season, tax preparers have begun readying themselves for the green light to start filing.
What happens in Washington will alter not only taxpayers’ actions but tax preparers’ as well. “I did a calculation to see what would happen if the tax reform bill passed as written,” said Stephen Mead, an Enrolled Agent in Bradenton, Fla. “Astoundingly, out of more than 250 clients, only 10 would still itemize ... and it’s the 10 wealthiest clients. Removing the personal exemption and doubling the standard deduction would likely necessitate a revamp of my billing strategy.”
“There’s very little tax practitioners can do to prepare for next season until our beloved federally elected officials get off their … behinds and actually pass any form of tax legislation,” said John Dundon, an EA and president of Taxpayer Advocacy Services in Englewood, Colo. “I’m teaching other practitioners about aspects of the Tax Code that I speculate will go unchanged under the Trump administration.”
The IRS is continuing to update processing systems for 2018 and continues to monitor potential legislation that could affect the season, including a number of “extender” tax provisions that expired at the end of 2016 that could potentially be renewed for tax year 2017 by Congress, the agency said in a statement.
What hasn’t changed
Some patterns of prep are familiar. “I’m preparing for this upcoming season by attempting to streamline my process,” said Morris Armstrong, an EA and registered investment advisor with Armstrong Financial Strategies in Cheshire, Conn. “Obviously I’m maintaining current on the tax laws, or at least attempting to, but I want my entire process to flow more smoothly. I only have maybe 25 percent of my client base that’s computer-savvy and cannot go completely paperless, but I am trying to achieve that goal.”
“We’re reviewing our customer lists to see if there are clients who we don’t wish to, or can’t, serve, cleaning up files and taking a little time off,” said Terry Bakker, an EA at O’Leary Tax Service, Vancouver, Wash.
“We send out an electronic newsletter every quarter. The one that went out on Nov. 15 [included] links to scheduling, fee schedules, what they need to know and any developments relating to taxes,” said Laurie Ziegler, an EA at Sass Accounting, in Saukville, Wis. “At the same time, we update our Web site, since that’s how a lot of people find us.”
Tax prep plans can be across the board or targeted. Wilkin & Guttenplan, for example, is preparing for the upcoming season in many ways, according to Gail Rosen, a shareholder in the CPA firm’s Martinsville, N.J., office: weeding the client list; working with clients on year-end planning with an eye on the political climate and reform; reviewing changes to a client’s business; using more automated tax input technology; and batch processing extensions for returns “that we know will be going on extension,” among other moves, Rosen said.
“Marketing, marketing, marketing,” said Kerry Freeman, an EA at Freeman Income Tax Service, in Anthem, Ariz. “While marketing and branding never stop, the planning reaches a fever pitch with only 90 days before the season starts again. I’m also watching Congress and trying to determine how to use national press releases as a tie-in to my local publishing. I review last year’s CRM and tracking tools on what worked and did not work, and I’m drafting post cards and ads and planning the schedule to hit when peak interest starts.
“When tax season starts, my marketing has to go to auto-pilot,” Freeman added. “I and my staff won’t have time for quick course changes. We also have to plan to reach different taxpayers with different approaches. Competing with other offices for early filers often requires discounts. With mid-season taxpayers you promote knowledge, availability and tax planning, as these are your bread-and-butter clients.” Close the season marketing to the procrastinators, Freeman added, who will often pay more with last-minute filings and extensions.
Eric Hansen at Hansen Accounting, Omaha, Neb., asked his “geek” to hack him to make sure “my security and firewall were up to snuff,” he said. “His biggest concern was passwords used – same ones a lot – or not in place … on accessing my various software programs.
“The cost was $200,” Hansen added. “Cheap when I considered that if I was hacked, I could at least prove to my clients that I was proactive.”