Rick Telberg
Rick Telberg

Only Eight Days to Go in Tax Season ’09

But who’s counting? Next Question: How do you stay positive in these tough times? Share your best tip in the Busy Season poll; then see what other CPAs are saying.

April 6, 2009
by Rick Telberg/At Large

With barely a week left to Tax Season 2009, accountants are counting down the days to April 15. And, at the same time, keeping careful tabs on expenses and collections.

As we go into the final stretch, most tax professionals are reporting that this busy season has been as good as or better than last year’s. But that achievement is tempered by the continuing concerns of white-knuckled clients and a reeling economy.

In Brewer, Maine, CPA Thomas Hicks is most worried this year about simply getting paid. “We have seen an approximately 33-percent increase in moderately sophisticated returns such as 1120 and 1120S, and a 50-percent increase in 1040s.” It seems the new returns are coming from clients leaving larger firms for the fees he can offer.

“Looking at the results of their operations for the year, I'm very concerned about the ability of these clients to pay our fees,” Hicks says. “Since we are a relatively small firm, we can insist on payment in advance — a retainer — and at the very least payment on delivery. But we've been getting some static from our long-standing clients.”


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He has tried personally explaining to each of them that the general economic conditions do not allow his firm to extend credit.  “Because we want to ‘be there’ for them,” he tells them, “we need to keep our staff salaries and expenses paid, to be ready when they do need us again.” So he suggests to colleagues that you explain and document your billing and payment policies. “Anybody who has a problem with paying in advance at the time of delivery,” he says, “probably is going to be a deadbeat anyway and you're better off allowing them to go to your competition.”

CPA Charles F. Kantorik in Mount Pleasant, Pa., for example, says “clients are overly anxious for their refund.” He’s holding the line on fee increases this year, but he has posted a sign notifying clients of a fee increase next year.

Michael E. Schleifer in Brooklyn, N.Y., has been holding fees at last year’s levels and “letting clients know I empathize with their circumstances.” So far, he has yet to meet with any clients who have lost their jobs. “But most have suffered significant losses to their portfolios,” he says.

In Marlton, N.J., CPA Dennis J. Nettleton has doubled his practice since last year, helped, he believes, by clients who want a trusted CPA to make sure they get every deduction to which they’re entitled. He can hardly handle the business, which he took over from his retired father. But with the jump in work, he says, “I am actually trying to convince him to come back.”

Daniel R. Kaufman, a CPA in Middletown, CT., is collecting at time of appointment and thus avoiding any receivable issues. His rule: “No check, no work.”

These are, for sure, scary times for many CPAs and their clients. Paul Hensen in Grand Rapids, Mich., sums up the season in one word, all caps: “FEAR!” He sums up his advice in two words: “Stay calm.”

Easier said than done, perhaps. But then there are only a few days left.

HOW ARE YOU STAYING POSITIVE IN THESE TOGH TIMES?  Join the Busy Season poll; get all the answers.

COMMENTS:  Questions, ideas, rants or raves? Send an e-mail to Rick Telberg.

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.