Well, the festivities of the holiday season are behind you now. In between ugly sweater parties, drinking eggnog and maneuvering through crowded shopping malls in search of gifts, it’s probably safe to assume that preparing for tax season wasn’t the first thing on your mind. Now that we’ve started a new year, make sure this list of critical activities is at the top of your to-do list to get yourself organized.
Get Your Clients’ Organizers up to Date: One of the greatest sources of tax return errors and missed planning opportunities comes from the lack of communication between a tax practitioner and his or her clients during the year. Many times, significant events affecting a client aren’t discovered until it’s too late. To keep this communication pipeline strong, Intuit® ProConnect™ has launched a powerful tool called Intuit Link. A portal for encrypted transmission of client documents and a user-friendly online client organizer, Link has made it very easy to stay on top of your clients’ significant life events.
With this tool, clients become engaged in information sharing with ease because they are steered away from old-fashioned, thick paper-based organizers that they would frequently find overwhelming. Link is highly integrated within Intuit ProConnect Tax Online and allows the practitioner to add additional questions, streamlining the information gathering process even further.
Make Sure You’re Up on the Latest Rules and Changes From Last Year: There are a slew of updates pertaining to tax year 2016, and you should make sure your technical skills are sharp as a tack. For example, filing deadlines for certain returns have changed. Of particular note, partnership returns (Form 1065, U.S. Return of Partnership Income) are now due March 15, rather than April 15. W-2s and 1099 forms for 2016 are also due earlier on Jan. 31, 2017, rather than the usual deadline of Feb. 28. A review of the highlights of the Protecting Americans From Tax Hikes (PATH) Act would serve you well; many provisions have enhanced certain tax credits by making them permanent, in addition to broadening their scope. The IRS’ Twitter account for tax professionals is a good resource to keep up with brief updates on the latest news.
Re-Evaluate Your Business Model: Profitability and efficiency often take a backseat when you are working at full horsepower in the thick of tax season, and there is a rush to accommodate large client workloads. As you begin preparing engagement letters, be sure and think about strategically pricing your services. You may realize that the effort you put in for some clients is not worth the fee you charge, and certain clients may not fit into your business model any longer. You may also have developed a certain expertise in a specific niche that carries a high billing value. For example, perhaps you are skilled at research & development tax credits for certain innovative business clients in a particular industry. If you can establish a value proposition that separates your practice from the competition, you will be able to handily maximize client fees.
Get Your Infrastructure in Place Early: Although the usual list of procuring supplies, subscriptions and seasonal staff might be old hat, the earlier you plan, the better off you will be when things get really busy. Prices for most resources needed in your practice will be lower when you start well before tax season and take advantage of discount programs and market conditions. For example, you would be able to arrange a more favorable compensation agreement for a seasonal tax preparer when you are not negotiating in desperation in the middle of tax season, after suddenly discovering you are understaffed. In addition, software license procurement is another area of opportunity in planning ahead. For example, with ProConnect Tax Online, you can buy returns early to take advantage of deeper early season discounts, but you won’t actually be charged until shortly before e-file opens in January, allowing you to better manage your practice’s cash flow.
Tax season can get the better of you if you don’t have your ducks in a row and stay organized. Be sure and incorporate the above list of activities when preparing for tax season, and strive to make it the best one yet!