Tax season is once again upon us, and for the second straight year, COVID-19 is back to make it even more stressful than usual. With professionals and individuals getting ramped up to file their 2020 returns, uncertainties hang in the air: will the IRS extend tax season again?
The AICPA and some other professional tax organizations are lobbying for such an extension.
Thankfully, regardless of whether or not the IRS extends the deadline, the 2021 tax filing season should not be as hectic as 2020, which came at the onset of the pandemic. For the most part, accounting and tax firms have adapted and learned to operate in the pandemic environment, using a variety of remote collaboration tools and practices.
One thing that hasn’t changed, however, is that tax-heavy firms will still experience the annual onslaught of long hours, missing source documents, client reminders, and last-minute extensions. That stress, unfortunately, is still as consistent as ever.
To help fight the stress, here are some ways to lessen that stress and still achieve your firm’s goals.
Use the Right Technology
Your tax software is already in place, but there are other practice tools you can still take advantage of this tax season. Consider video conferencing for your clients when an interview-style format is necessary. This adds a personal touch.
Practice management systems, including those found in BQE, can help with tracking engagements, productivity, staff resources, and milestones, and can also enable secure file sharing, allowing you and your clients to securely transfer tax documents and forms without using email (which is a privacy violation in several states). Additional collaboration tools can also enhance teamwork among your staff, and scheduling tools can help you keep on track.
Distractions can pop up whether you’re working from the office or at home. It’s hard for many professionals to do, but to fight this, consider having time slots during the day when you turn off (or mute) your phone/devices and abstain from email or messaging apps. Use these windows for productive work only (tax prep, reviews, and other client services).
Also, consider “windowed working,” or using your personally most-productive times of the day to get the bulk of your work done. This can help reduce stress or tax season burnout. If working from home, you may have to shape these windows around the needs or patterns of your children, but it can still be done.
Hire More Staff, Temps or Outsource
If you or your staff are suffocating under an unmanageable workload, it may be time to get some more workers. Since tax season's ensuing onslaught is seasonal, you probably won’t want to bring on new full-time staff, so there are a couple of options: Robert Half and Randstad are two of the largest professional staffing firms specializing in financial workers, and have many available workers with varying levels of tax experience. Alternatively, technology companies like TaxFyle and SurePrep offer firms the ability to outsource their tax preparation to their U.S.-based staff, which have varying levels of tax experience and credentials. These approaches will help lighten your load and boost your ability to maintain your client relationships.
Do Better Pre-Prep
In a more remote world, the role of the client organizer/checklist is even more important. Getting a tax client to quickly and accurately provide you with their information and source documents is critical to getting their returns completed quickly and accurately. The better you can pre-prepare each client’s data, the less time will be spent on each stage of each return: Prep, follow-up, and review. This should also include having a digital signing process and accepting electronic payments.
Have a Pre-Deadline Deadline
Whether the tax season deadline stays on April 15 or not, it’s a good idea to set a cutoff deadline for new tax clients (for instance, two weeks before the deadline), or for clients to have all of their information submitted to you. For existing clients who don’t get their materials in by, for instance, a week before the filing deadline, the firm will file an automatic extension.
Rest and Relaxation
Getting a good night’s sleep is important to overall health, and a good way to remove tax season stress. Likewise, a break or two during the workday can help lower blood pressure and allow you a moment to catch up on less important tasks. Some also find a mid-day walk or more vigorous exercise to be beneficial. And don’t forget your weekends: Reserve most of your weekend time for non-work activities, even if you must do some tasks.
Eat Healthy (or at least healthier)
It’s too easy to get into the pizza and delivery food habit, especially with all of the delivery apps now available. But those foods are packed with unhealthy side effects, including feeling more tired and lethargic. Instead, try to keep some healthy options available for when cravings arise, including fruits, nuts, and juices. And when at home, try to eat at least one meal with someone else in your household. If you live alone, at least eat away from your work area/home office. This will further help you decompress from the workday.
By following these steps you’ll take the stress out of the April 15 deadline, not only will you appreciate it… your entire firm will appreciate it too!
Don’t let tax season get the best of you.