Art of Accounting: Tax season in the new reality

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There is no question that tax season has been disrupted and we need to work under different and uncomfortable conditions and procedures. What we did yesterday is no longer relevant during the coronavirus pandemic and we need to adapt and quickly. Here are some issues to consider:

  • Firms that do not have cloud-based systems need staff to either work in the office or to come to the office to pick up work to bring home. The trips can be made at night or early in the morning when traffic is the lowest.
  • If you do not have a post office box or a mailbox in your office building, then someone will need to be in your office to receive the mail and express service deliveries.

  • Once client information is received, it can be assigned to a staff person who will either be in the office or stop by to get it.
  • An alternative is to have an admin person scan and email it to the preparer.
  • Firms that use smart scanners can still have an admin person do the scanning or a preparer could do it when they come into the office.
  • Small practices are very dependent on their admin people. Some only have one and if that person is confined to their house it can cause tremendous problems. If the firm is cloud based, this problem can be mitigated. However, if the firm isn’t, effective work can still be done. Not everyone confined is sick; some don’t want to get sick and are fully capable of working from home, processing returns, talking on the phone and organizing packages for delivery. You can possibly rent a better-quality printer or scanner for their house, and could arrange for daily pickups and drop-offs by you or a staff person, or Express Mail services for morning delivery. The point is that work can get done with some, but minimal, inconveniences.

  • As for questions, I suggest everyone who asks a question do so by email and be very specific. I find that when the request is written out succinctly, the answer becomes evident more than half of the time, eliminating the need to forward the question. It takes a little extra time writing it out, but saves much more in the long run, especially when it doesn’t need to be sent.
  • I suggest saving questions for a specific “question time” each day. This will minimize interruptions for everyone involved, including you. It will also provide an organized time for people to take a break and respond to questions. Try setting aside 3:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. for this.
  • Returns that are assigned remotely should be reviewed beforehand for more complicated issues and those should be dealt with or explained before being assigned.
  • All instructions should be crystal clear and not rushed, preferably in writing. Use bullet points and short sentences as much as possible.

We are in the midst of a crisis and need to improvise and use as much ingenuity as possible but without sacrificing quality. It can be done because it must be done. Good luck.

Do not hesitate to contact me at emendlowitz@withum.com with your practice management questions.

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) 743-4582 or emendlowitz@withum.com.

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Tax season Coronavirus Tax practice Ed Mendlowitz Practice management