Rick Telberg
Rick Telberg

Economy Weighs on Busy Season Outlook

Still, many CPAs see a better year ahead. Get the busy season forecast: Join the survey; see the results.

November 16, 2009
by Rick Telberg/At Large

CPAs appear to be headed into Busy Season 2010 with cautious optimism that this year will be better, or at least no worse, than last year’s, when the economy seemed to be careening out of control.

A survey of 151 professionals shows that 38 percent of respondents expect the 2010 busy season to be “better than last year,” compared with 22 percent who are bracing for one “worse than last year.” The rest, 40 percent, expect “about the same” according to the CPA Trendlines poll by Bay Street Group LLC for the AICPA Insider.

Michael Kelfer of Kelfer & Associates in Granada Hills, Calif., may not be typical of every tax practitioner when he reports a surge in referral business buoying his outlook for tax season. Yet, he’s wary. “I think the economy is still suffering and I do not see any relief in the near future.” His strategy is simple: “Service. Service. Service.”

Busy Season 2010: What to expect?

How to get ready?

Join the survey; get the results.

(Free. Confidential.)

Among those preparing for a more difficult year is Jerry L. Eden, at Eden, Sprowls & Co. in Elk City, Okla., which, he describes as “an area where oil and gas activity dictates revenue.”

Eden’s anxiety and anger surfaces easily when you ask him about the business situation. “The downturn seems to be leveling out, depending on what segment of the business world you’re in.” But he’s “not sure how things can improve substantially if jobs continue to be shifted to foreign countries.” Jerry is going to do what he knows how to do best: Focus on “continued hard work and knowledge.”

At this early stage of planning, it’s clear that the general economic situation tops the list of chief concerns this year, with 62 percent of practitioners mentioning it, followed by late or unprepared clients and getting up-to-date on the new tax issues.

Chief Concerns for Busy Season 2010
General economic situation. 62%
Clients late or unprepared. 48%
Getting up-to-date on new tax issues. 41%
Tax code changes. 38%
Setting aside enough time to plan. 30%
Late or erroneous K1s, 1099s, etc. 26%
Personal or family issues. 23%
Getting up-to-date on new office, technology or software processes. 21%
Finding good staffers. 20%
IRS operations. 17%
Partner or office issues. 17%
Making plans correctly. 16%
Technology/software problems. 15%
Competition from others. 12%
Getting up-to-date on new accounting and auditing issues. 12%

(Source: CPA Trendlines survey by Bay Street Group LLC for the AICPA Insiders)

As uncertain as the economy appears, and as difficult as it may be, accountants remain more optimistic for themselves than the economy-at-large or even some of their own clients. Only 12 percent rate busy season at all positively for the nation’s economy in general, with more than half (54%) expecting further deterioration.  Less than a quarter (19%) see upticks in the next few months for their clients and customers, but more than a third (39%) see declines.

That said, more than one in three (38%) accountants see improvements in their own firms and businesses, while less than one in four (22%) are bracing for tougher times. And, personally, when it comes to their own families and themselves, more than one in four (29%) accountants are optimistic for their economic lives at home, with 23 percent expecting conditions to worsen.

Terence Niewolny of White Bear Lake, Minn., doesn’t claim to be an economist or even to own a crystal ball. But he voices a common opinion when he says, “2010 will be fairly flat,” and the “economy won’t turn around until the second or third quarter of 2011.”

On the other hand, he’s still hoping to get enough business this tax season to put on some additional part time help. Let’s hope he’s wrong about how long it will take the economy to get going and that he’s right about needing more help this tax season.

BUSY SEASON FORECAST: What to expect? How to gear up? Join the survey; get the results.

COMMENTS: Rants, raves, questions, ideas? E-mail 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.