[IMGCAP(1)]For me, summer is a long time coming and a short time leaving. By the time July 4 rolls around, it’s only a few short weeks until back-to-school sales, football practice (I live next door to a field where the local high school team practices), shorter days and longer nights.

Although it’s not a mandate, it’s nice to feel that the summer hasn’t passed without accomplishing something, either from a personal or professional standpoint.

Chuck McCabe, president of Peoples Income Tax and The Income Tax School, has some suggestions for independent preparers to stay on the “cutting edge” during the summer. Although they are good ideas at any time of year, they seem especially appropriate for the off season.

Tax preparation is a constantly changing industry, McCabe noted. While many of the principles and processes stay the same, there are laws, deductions, exemptions and policies that change each season. This is one of the main reasons why tax preparers are expected to take continuing education courses.

“In addition, there are many other ways to stay sharp, up-to-date and on point,” he said.

Among them, seminars and workshops are great refreshers and a way to learn new tricks and tips and gain in-depth knowledge of the laws, according to McCabe.

He urged the independent preparer to keep up with the industry.

“You should always know what’s going on and what’s changing in your industry—no matter what industry you’re in,” he said. “For tax preparers this means paying attention to IRS news releases, reading industry publications, following tax-related news sources, and listening to what’s being said by influencers in the industry.”

“if you are not an EA or a credentialed preparer and have not yet taken the IRS Annual Filing Season Program in order to gain your record of completion, you should make that a priority,” he said. “All tax preparers who have completed this program are listed in a national database where taxpayers can search for tax preparers who have credentials or have completed the program. If you are not on this list, you are not on the cutting edge. In fact, not being on this list could be detrimental.”

In order to compete and earn more money, you should also be taking continuing education, McCabe indicated. “The more complicated returns you learn to prepare, the more money you will make. Continuing education courses are also important to stay on top of any changes to the law. In addition, you should attend seminars. Seminars keep you up-to-date with changes in the industry, and they also allow you to gain the perspective of, and learn from, veterans in the industry.”

McCabe recommends Accounting Today Web Seminars, and those given by NATP (the National Society of Tax Professionals) and NSA (the National Society of Accountants).

“Pay attention to your competition,” McCabe said. “They may be filling an unmet need that you could also fill. They may be attacking your brand, or they may be able to provide you with some insight or inspiration.”

Ways to pay attention to your competitors include:

•    Follow them on social media
•    Read their blogs
•    Sign up for their newsletters
•    Visit their websites
•    Create Google Alerts for them

McCabe also recommends engaging in forums like LinkedIn Groups or other places where tax professionals chat.

“Being on the cutting edge means you’re trying new things, breaking the mold, and stepping out of the normal tactics that have been used for years,” he said.

For newer preparers, McCabe suggests that summer is the time they can learn to prepare more complicated tax returns.

“As a tax preparer, your clients and potential clients depend on you to know the tax laws,” he said. “Getting the basic knowledge down is just the first step towards becoming a well-seasoned tax professional. Once you have the basic knowledge, you must build on that base and begin learning to do more complicated tax returns.”

McCabe sums up the advantages of gaining the ability to prepare more complicated returns: “This ability will help broaden your client base, give you and your clients more confidence in your abilities, help build stronger relationships and thus more loyalty with clients, and help you earn more money.”

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