Voices

10 tips for success in the 2019 tax season

No matter how long you have been or will be in the industry, tax season will never be described as “easy.” Packing the bulk of the year’s work into a few short months defies all possibility of normalcy in the workplace. The combination of long days, lack of sleep and piles of work takes a toll on even the most put-together accountant.

tax planning-1040-IRS
U.S. Department of the Treasury Internal Revenue Service (IRS) 1040 Individual Income Tax forms for the 2016 tax year are arranged for a photograph in Tiskilwa, Illinois, U.S., on Monday, Dec. 18, 2017. This week marks the last leg of Republicans' push to revamp the U.S. tax code, with both the House and Senate planning to vote by Wednesday on final legislation before sending it to President Donald Trump. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

Luckily, you can take measures now to make the rest of the 2019 tax season a more manageable, fulfilling experience. To give you some ideas, 10 of Canopy’s in-house tax professionals shared their tips for tax season success. So, whether you are interested in improving teamwork at your firm, taking better care of your health, or learning about specific tax regulations, keep reading for tips you can implement right away.

1. Set team expectations early and often: "As I've worked with various teams through busy seasons, one of the most valuable things we’ve done was set clear expectations. We meet early in the season to discuss as a group how each member of the team will be allowed enough flexibility to take personal time. For example, the team may decide that on certain days the whole team gets to work from home, or we may choose one night each week for a particular team member to leave the office early. Allowing each team member to retain some personal time is crucial for surviving busy season. Having these conversations often, and holding everybody accountable to the team's decisions, will create a much more productive environment." -- James Sullivan, CPA

2. Work smarter, not harder: "It is important as an accountant to take care of your mental health during tax season. Work smarter and more efficiently so that you can be home at least twice a week for dinner with family, or make it a point to treat yourself to a movie. In order to work more efficiently, scrub your calendar. Remove all unnecessary meetings. For the meetings you can’t eliminate, keep them quick, to the point, and focused on a realizable, short-term goal." -- Jordan Mumford

3. Don't forget the new pass-through deduction for business income: "Are any of your clients a sole proprietor, partner, member of an LLC or shareholder of an S corporation? If so, remember to apply pass-through income and they may be able to deduct up to 20 percent of their business income when filing their taxes. Based on the title of the deduction, many people are surprised that sole proprietors filing a Schedule C may be qualified for this tax break. As a tax professional, take extra time to understand the specific rules for this new deduction, so you know exactly how to help clients who are in these situations. A 20 percent deduction is a game changer for anyone who qualifies." -- Richard W. Dewey, CPA

4. Keep your house in order: "During tax season, things can get crazy and seem to spiral out of control at the office. Though, even in a seemingly chaotic time, there are things outside of the office that you can control and use to restore order. Some things that can be controlled are laundry, stocking the shelves and maintaining your car. Keeping up on these tasks may take some time away from work but will keep your house in order during the crazy times at the office." -- Brian Walker, CPA

5. Serve your clients beyond tax season: "This season I am creating an area in each client’s portal for their personal documents. I had clients affected in the California wildfires and others affected by Hurricane Florence. I am offering this cloud storage for my clients to upload important documents like insurance policies, trust agreements, wills and even recommend storing some pictures to help in future recovery after disasters." -- Michael Law, CPA

6. Charge full price: "Are you good at your job? Do you work hard to keep your skills sharp? Do you empower your clients to make next tax year better than the previous? If you are doing all you can do to provide value, do not cut your price. For example, if a client asks how much I am charging over the phone, I reference all I have done for them, questions I have answered, and value I have provided. Once the value is clear, I confidently state the amount they owe and all the ways I accept payment. In your practice, after you provide value to your clients, and illustrate how much you care about their interests, they need to pay you what you are worth. As you remind clients how helpful you are to them, they will start to appreciate your services more. This will help them be more willing to pay the fees associated with your services. Charging what you are worth helps you and accountants everywhere receive the level of compensation they deserve." -- Dave Haupt, EA

7. Know your technology: "As an IT tax professional, I saw many practitioners struggle with unexpected technological issues, such as server breakdowns, unexpected systems upgrades and sudden software changes. When these emergencies occurred, they would become frustrated and not know how to deal with them. As technology begins to play an even bigger role in accounting, it is crucial as a practitioner to understand how to work your technology, as well as what to do in the case of technological emergencies. Before jumping into the grind of tax season, set aside some time to learn not only the tax updates applicable to 2018, but also know the changes in your software. By taking the time to familiarize yourself with tax and technological changes, you are better equipped to handle system hiccups. This preparation will help you achieve a smoother tax season. -- Jacqueline Lim, CPA, MBA

8. Complete the required due diligence to avoid penalties, fines and investigations: "As a paid preparer, when it comes to due diligence and taking every necessary step to protect your own interests, it is imperative that you follow the guidance and expectations set forth in the Internal Revenue Code (IRC § 6695). During my time as a revenue officer, I was assigned several cases in which local tax preparers had been assessed multiple penalties related to due diligence and other procedural steps. Typically, in these cases, these preparers were facing fines in the six-figure range. While many of these individuals were able to avoid criminal investigations, I did take the necessary steps to close their businesses." -- Jeffrey McNeal, EA, MBA

9. Watch your state income tax more closely: "Many states didn't adjust their tax codes to align with the federal law changes. Some code changes on the federal level were not adopted by the states, and that could mean adjustments that were eliminated at the federal level were not eliminated at the individual state level. Tax professionals need to thoroughly educate themselves on the new Section 199A deduction. The old DPAD is gone, and in its place is the 199a business deduction. Taxpayers, and especially you as a tax professional, need to understand the thresholds, limitations, and applicability of the new rule." -- Robbie Crook, EA, CPA, MBA

10. Focus on your client’s future needs: "It can be easy to get caught up in tax season and just try to slog through all the returns you prepare. However, if you take a few minutes with each client and discuss their needs for the future, you can plan for future events and help bind that client to your practice. Every client is different, but they all have the same desire: lower taxes! After you have prepared the client’s return for the year, take a quick moment and think about some tax-saving strategies that you might be able to offer them. Sometimes this could be something as simple as meeting a few times a year and discussing their business or life events that could have taken place that could change their tax position (birth, death, divorce, etc.). If you meet with your client throughout the year, they are less likely to view your service as a commodity. That means your clients will be less likely to leave your practice if someone were to tempt them with a lower price." -- Joe Durant