Rick Telberg
Rick Telberg

What CPAs Learned From Tax Season

And how will CPAs fare in this economy? Join the survey; get the answers.

April 27, 2009
by Rick Telberg/At Large

Now that busy season is over, CPAs across the nation are assessing their results, gleaning lessons from a tumultuous period and carefully recalibrating plans for the next several months.

It’s clear that a sense of unease pervades the profession. People are worried about the economy, about their clients and their own jobs and practices. Indeed, the AICPA has issued a memo laying out steps to take in considering cutbacks and providing valuable cost-saving advice to firms to make sure layoffs are used only as a last resort.


Join the survey; see the results.

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John J. Hack, owner of a small practice in Wausau, Wisc., says he had about as good a year as last year, and counts himself lucky. He expects the economy to remain stubbornly “stagnant” for the foreseeable future. But he was able to upgrade his client base this year and hopes to make similar gains next year. For next year, he plans to push himself to “work harder” on finishing tax returns faster and earlier.

Sole practitioner Mark J. Knighton in Glen Burnie, Md., is coming off a better year than last year and expects to stay busy in the coming weeks working with financially strapped clients on their IRS problems. His big lesson from Tax Season ’09: “Encourage clients to come in earlier.”

Michael S. Warner at Warner & Co. in Woodstown, N.J., is “staying the course” at his local CPA firm, but “with a watchful eye on clients and cash-flow.” His lesson: “Don’t accept new clients who immediately begin asking for discounts.”

A mid-level staffer in Bangor, Maine — call him Jim — expects “the economy will continue to slide downward until about year-end, and then we should start to see it turn around.” As a result, his firm “will probably pick up several more part-time staff for tax season and per-diem work” and not hire full-time staff until the economy improves. “Our clients are feeling the pinch,” he says. “But we expect very little in the way of bankruptcies or businesses closing.”

For next year, Jim W. says, “We need to do a better job training staff on proper IRS form prep. Some items were not consistently treated and it made checking more time-intensive than it needed to be.”

John T. Drawdy Jr in Woodstsock, Ga., sees problems with the economy; but they’re manageable. “I expect super inflation,” he says. Still, the firm will be hiring again next tax season.” And, as for clients? “They get better because I fire the bad ones.” His No. 1 Lesson from Tax Season 2009: “Start extensions earlier.”

Paul Hense, at Hense & Associates in Grand Rapids, Mich., is swimming against the tide of a contracting economy. But he’s learned to “work and not worry.” Hence has had a long, 40-year career and has seen a lot of ups and downs. Nevertheless, he finds he needs to hone a “habit of not letting stress affect productivity.”

Some firms have already started shedding staff. One senior staffer at a large firm reports, “We let go almost 20 people yesterday, probably more to come.”

But one sole proprietor is toughing it out. She said her “one assistant quit in the middle of tax season.” She “survived with the help of my sisters.” One is willing to help with data-entry whenever needed.

And another CPA sees “shrinkage everywhere.” But keep asking around and you might just as readily find a CPA who reports they “might be adding one more person in a supervisory position.” So the job outlook for CPA firms remains murky, at best.

NEXT QUESTION: Now that tax season is over, what’s next for accountants in this economy? Join the poll; get the answers.

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Copyright © 2009 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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Disclaimer: Any views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the AICPA or CPA2Biz. Official AICPA positions are determined through certain specific committee procedures, due process and deliberation.