Rick Telberg

Five Must-Dos for the New Busy Season

Are you ready? How savvy CPAs plan to cope: Click here, get the answers.

October 20, 2008
by Rick Telberg/At Large

Just as CPAs were hitting their stride toward the October 15 final tax filing deadline, the world changed. Add in a hotly-contested Presidential election season, and all bets are off.

The new Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, signed into law on October 3, makes more than 290 changes to the tax code. It includes over $150 billion in tax breaks for individuals and businesses. “With most of the tax relief available immediately in 2008 and 2009, year-end tax planning takes on added urgency this year to maximize taxpayer use of these new tax breaks,” according to CCH.


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The tax code changes are dizzying. To name a few:

  • 2008 AMT patch;
  • Extended mortgage foreclosure tax relief;
  • Individual taxpayer incentives;
  • Disaster area tax relief;
  • New energy tax incentives;
  • Revised preparer penalty standard;
  • Business tax incentives;
  • Enhanced child tax credit; and
  • Broker basis reporting.

With the late-breaking complications, it could be difficult for many practitioners to improve upon last year’s busy season. About two in three practitioners enjoyed revenue and profit gains last season compared with the season before. This year, practitioners will be struggling with more confused and worried clients. Tax professionals will need to get going early and stay focused and discipline throughout the season, which, if like last season, could actually last until October 15 instead of ending on April 15.

In a nutshell here’s what we’re hearing from practitioners:

  1. Get new staff in place as soon as possible. And train, train, train.
  2. Upgrade workflow systems and equipment.
  3. Review and optimize billing rates and pricing policies.
  4. Purge “Grade D” clients.
  5. Alert all clients early and often.

“Get rid of some bad clients; because there is a shortage of employees,” is the 2009 tax season motto of a senior executive at mid-sized firm that was hit with tax prep double whammy of staffing problems and late and unprepared clients in the 2008 season. He complains that the past season was the hardest he’s worked in his 22-year career.

Last year Mark Pesacreta, owner of a small firm in Washington, Pa., was hit with a flurry of questions about the economic stimulus program. This year, he plans to “notify clients earlier in the tax year that my time and expertise is what I am providing, and that I expect to be fairly compensated.”

Norman Ulbrich, owner of a small firm in Arlington Heights, Ill., plans to set minimum rates per return and reduce client interviews and possibly even reduce the number of clients. In the past season he had difficulties finding staff and spent more time with clients answering questions about the economy and the federal economic stimulus plan.

A senior staffer at another medium-sized firm, which had an increase in clients and difficulty finding additional staff last season, expects the practice will “purge problematic clients who don't pay large fees.”

A senior staffer at a firm with 500-plus employees that was beleaguered by late-filing clients last season expects to “charge clients for being late” in the season ahead.

A managing partner of a small firm in Williamsburg, Va., plans to file returns later in the new season to avoid amending them for late and revised information Clients filing late and erroneous information made for a tough 2008 season at his firm.

Elizabeth Hammond, who had only a few stress-creating clients in 2007-2008 season, is working to further reduce tensions in the 2009 season by staggering deadlines so that not all returns are due at the same time. She also plans to do additional preliminary work and schedule client meetings earlier in the process.

While firms are gearing up for a tough-love approach to clients in the new season, they are softening dealings with staff.

Kathy Zaffore, owner of a small practice in Parker, Colo., will make sure all her staff members take significant vacations in advance of the upcoming season “to get rested and refocused.”

Neil Johnson, a senior executive with Brown, Kaplan & Liss in Evanston. Ill., wants to realign work processes to better match staff members’ skills. The firm developed new processes last year.

Michael K. Armour, managing partner with Bird & Armour in Springfield, Ill., still recalls the firm’s work overload in the early part of last season, so for the new season he says he will “bite the bullet and bring more staff in earlier.”

He won’t be the only one.

BUSY SEASON OUTLOOK 2009: Top CPA business strategies. Join the survey; get the results.

COMMENTS: Rants, raves, questions or ideas? Contact Rick Telberg.

Copyright © 2008 CPA Trendlines/BSG LLC. All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission. First published by the AICPA.

About Rick Telberg

Rick Telberg is editor at large/director of online content.

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