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6 Tips for the Most Efficient Tax Season

Jan 12th 2018
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Tax season can be the best time of year in your firm or the worst and how you prepare can mean whether your business, profits, and reputation pumps you up or deflates you. 

As such, running your tax practice as efficiently and thoughtfully as possible will help you have a successful season and year. The following are some key tips to have the most efficient and productive season that you can:

1. Use Powerful Technology: Yes, powerful technology can be expensive; but there is a cost-benefit one should consider before ruling it out. For one, tax software that can integrate with accounting software, depreciation software, document/receipt storage, electronic signature, tax planning software and even email can save you an amazing amount of time.

Tax software which can allow individual returns to share data with personal returns can help identify information which may not have made it into the paper files – even possibly stopping something that could have resulted in an amended tax returns or tax notices down the road.

Hardware such as multiple screens or large split monitors can allow you to see source documents, input screens, and the resulting tax returns all at the same time. No more wasting time flipping back and forth.

2. Set Client Expectations: Whether you are working on business or personal clients, set the expectations for what you expect from them before you begin on their work. For business clients, send a client assistance package detailing the items needed for your preparation and the date you wish these items to be ready. These items may include access to the accounting system, their trial balance, bank reconciliations, proof of inventory, etc. 

For individual clients, ask them to review the information they sent you last year, the best way to do this is for you to send out a client organizer or list of information and make sure they provide each of those things again or have a reason why they did not. For all returns no matter business, individual, estate, etc, prepare an engagement letter outlining the understanding of work to be performed so both client and firm are on the same page.

3. Scheduling: Schedule your business clients so the returns are spread through the season and staff is productive all of the time. When clients can bring returns in whenever they want, there is a tendency for many to procrastinate and then suddenly show up all about the same time causing a bottle neck. Neither the staff nor the client is happy.

Debate over scheduling 1040 appointments still exists; some firms like to do it, some don’t. Even if you are on a first-in, first-out system with no client pre-scheduled appointments you should schedule the time in the office that you are willing to meet with clients versus time that work will be produced.  This enables you to think.

If your appointments are scattered throughout the week at various times of the day, it is hard to use your brain, which is the source of the one thing people are truly paying you for – your knowledge, to stay focused and efficient. Appointments interrupt your train of thought.

The “put it down and pick back up” of complicated work in order to stop for an appointment is completely inefficient. Sometimes it is almost impossible to get back into a complicated area after having your train of thought interrupted. 

Some firms will make quiet hours. Some will let each individual decide their own blocks of time. Consider how best it works for you.

4. Train Your Staff:  Review your processes to make sure a tax return is touched as few times as possible. Train staff to prepare an entire list of questions for a reviewer or partner before coming to them rather than stopping in to have every single question answered one at a time.

The preparation staff should have possible answers to any procedural or “how to” questions before they come to you. Expect staff to fix their own mistakes. Both of the last two help the preparers gain experience, problem solve, and become better, more efficient preparers in the future.

5. Develop Workflow: As part of training your staff, make sure each person knows what duties they are responsible for in the firm from receptionist to partner. Design a system and job duties so one knows when they are to pass on the return to the next area.

Using a project management software to follow the workflow will help you stay on top of when returns are in the door, in process, in review, and, finally, in the client’s possession. You can identify any weak points and correct them before they become a real problem.

6. Make Notes: So that all staff and even the client are on the same page, make notes of your conversations with the clients, keep a log that the preparer can see, review, and add to if there are questions on the return. Do this both throughout the year and during the season.

If anything special needs to be recognized, make sure to flag it as part of the tax preparation process so it doesn’t get forgotten and one has to redo a return or tax planning during your most time crunched season of the year. Make reviewing notes the first step in the tax preparation process.

This article is bought to you in association with Receipt Bank as part of their mission to provide the tools and the know how to drive practice growth and transformation in the American accounting firm.

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