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Art of Accounting: My most important tax season checklists

A colleague, Evan Piccirillo, asked me what my most important checklist was. I had never thought about that before. Each checklist was developed based on a need, at that time, and at times I use almost every one — though some much more than others. So what is my most important checklist?

I have 84 checklists, and after reviewing all of them, I think it is the Accounting Firm Business Model. The second one is the Tax Research Request, and the third is the Workload Compression checklist. Let me explain.

Accounting Firm Business Model: I rarely need to be reminded that I am in a business and that it is important for me to make money, personally grow, and have the firm grow. It is also important for my staff to “push my pencil"; otherwise, I would not be able to grow, nor would they, nor would the clients get the right service the right way at the right time. I firmly believe this business model holds the keys to building a successful firm. It also is a nudge that continuously reminds me that I am in a business and need to act like I am in business. That means being able to leverage myself, our systems, and everyone and everything else in the firm.

Form 1040
Tax forms background

The second checklist, Tax Research Request, could be a surprise for a lot of people (me too). We have a tendency to ask whoever is near us technical questions rather than looking up the answers beforehand. This checklist was developed when my partner, Peter Weitsen, told me he would no longer answer my tax questions unless I wrote out what I wanted to know, the time budget, when I needed the answer and the client to charge the time. I was a little annoyed, but did what he wanted. Well, my first burning question was answered as I wrote out what he asked me to do. Many times people ask questions but are not clear about what they really want to know or the actual issue. Writing it out provides that clarity. Since that time, I write out every question I need someone to work on, and I’ve found that about two-thirds of them don’t make it past the initial stage since the answer becomes obvious. You should try it — it works. The checklist was developed to make it easier to remember what the requester wanted. Now I use it for every question I think I need someone to answer for me.

The third is the Easing Tax Season Workload Compression Checklist. None of us is exempt from the crushing workload of tax season. Some of it we cannot really manage, but we can reduce the workload and the resulting pressure tremendously by proper and deliberate planning and scheduling, and by shifting some of the more time-consuming work to an earlier period. This checklist has over 19 bullet points, with over 25 tax season time-saving tips. Some can be adopted today and some are opportunities that can be implemented for next year’s tax season.

Each checklist is important under the right circumstances at the right time. However, they have no value if you don’t use them, and use starts with familiarity with what’s available. Look them over and spend 90 seconds on the listing at the front to see what you might be able to use when a suitable situation arises.

If you do not yet have these checklists, send me an email at GoodiesFromEd@withum.com. So far, over 3,000 colleagues have them for this tax season. It’s free!

Have a great tax season.

Edward Mendlowitz, CPA, is partner at WithumSmith+Brown, PC, CPAs. He is on the Accounting Today Top 100 Influential People List. He is the author of 24 books, including “How to Review Tax Returns,” co-written with Andrew D. Mendlowitz, and “Managing Your Tax Season, Third Edition.” Ed also writes a twice-a-week blog addressing issues that clients have at www.partners-network.com along with the Pay-Less-Tax Man blog for Bottom Line. Ed is an adjunct professor in the MBA program at Fairleigh Dickinson University teaching end user applications of financial statements. Art of Accounting is a continuing series where Ed shares autobiographical experiences with tips that he hopes can be adopted by his colleagues. Ed welcomes practice management questions and can be reached at (732) 964-9329 or emendlowitz@withum.com.