While it may feel like you’ve just finished the current tax season, the next one is right around the corner. But before you even start to think about next year, you need to take a look at how this past tax season went.
What did your firm do right? What went wrong? Where can you improve or streamline processes?
Knowing the answers to these questions sets you up for a successful upcoming tax season, and we’re here to help. Based on first-hand experience of our education team, we’ve curated the ultimate year-end tax season checklist for accounting firms so you can start 2023 armed with the knowledge to blow this upcoming tax season out of the water.
Reassess last year’s tax season
If your firm has already evaluated how this past tax season went, you’re ahead of the game. If not, that’s OK, too. Make sure your checklist for next year includes reviewing how tax season is going while tax season is in full swing (I know that sounds crazy, but trust me on this). It’s a lot easier to track what’s going right and wrong while it’s happening instead of several months later when issues during tax season have been long forgotten. Being proactive is better than being reactive!
When assessing how this past tax season went, you’ll want to think about what worked and consider ideas for improvement. Provide your staff with a tax season scorecard (Rootworks members: We have one for you in the online learning library), and encourage them to be candid with their feedback.
Here are some areas to consider in your tax season assessment:
- Engagement letters—How and when are engagement letters sent, and how are signatures managed?
- Gathering data—How does information come in, who handles it and how is missing information managed?
- Scanning—Who handles scanning documents? How is it done and at what point are documents scanned?
- Preparation—What tools are available for tax prep? What’s the process for preparation?
- Reviewing returns—How often is this done, and how much time do the reviews take?
- Delivery of returns—Are returns delivered electronically or via paper? How much time is spent assembling and sending returns?
- Billing—How and when is a client billed, and when is payment collected?
- Tech stack—Are employees properly trained on all applications being used, and do the tools function properly in order for them to do their jobs?
- Internal communication—Are staff members comfortable with how process changes or new tax laws are communicated before and/or during tax season?
- Team environment—Does everyone work as a team to succeed during tax season?
Motivate staff members who are directly responsible for these processes—and those who are affected by the processes—to take daily notes during tax season, including specific achievements or areas that need work. Take all feedback into consideration so you can make necessary changes to help create a more efficient and streamlined tax season moving forward.
Streamline your tech stack
Now, before tax season starts, is the perfect time to evaluate your tech stack. Based on your tax season assessment, you may have helpful feedback from your team on where you can make changes. Modern firms are as paperless as possible. So if your team is still accepting paper documents or tracking, that’s a process you’ll want to streamline right away.
To make tax season more efficient, a modern accounting firm tech stack should include the following:
- A modern website. Your firm’s website should be well designed, intuitive and provide a single place to do business, where clients can securely pay invoices and access applications you use to do business.
- Collaboration tools. Make sure your team uses streamlined collaboration tools, such as Slack or Microsoft Teams for internal communication, Zoom for virtual meetings and Calendly for ease of scheduling.
- Cloud storage. Make the process of uploading and accessing documents simple—and secure—with cloud storage tools like Google Drive or Microsoft OneDrive.
- Tax software. Use an automated tool like SurePrep to reduce or eliminate data entry and organize source documents to make 1040s a breeze.
- Client touchpoint automation apps. Streamline tax return delivery, e-signatures or estimate reminders with tools like SafeSend.
The goal of a streamlined tech stack is to make working with your firm during tax season as frictionless as possible. But remember to be intentional with your tech stack—don’t add on every potential application you can think of. Use your team’s feedback and make minor adjustments before implementing too many apps. (Hint: The goal is to simplify and streamline—not overwhelm.) Start slow, adjust processes as needed, and—most important—implement changes before January to set your firm up for a successful tax season.
Brush up on updated tax requirements
Whether they’re being added, removed or altered, tax laws change every single year. Changes to laws surrounding tax deductibility, charitable donations and more can be complex and overwhelming. And as tax professionals, your firm needs to stay on top of these changes so your clients’ businesses are compliant.
To keep updated on tax laws for the upcoming tax season, we have five resources for you to consider:
- Internal Revenue Service (IRS): The IRS website is a good reference that includes a summary of tax law changes that have gone into effect, along with additional resources and tools for tax professionals.
- American Institute of CPAs (AICPA): Subscribe to the AICPA’s newsletters that provide breakdowns of tax law changes and timelines, along with additional relative topics for the profession.
- State-specific Departments of Revenue: Check out your state’s Department of Revenue website for changes to state-specific tax laws. Some states even offer their own newsletter regarding tax updates.
- Tax software. Refer to your tax software and check for annual updates that will include changes to federal and state tax codes.
- CPE. Stay on top of your minimum 40 hours of continuing education each year, so you can keep updated on alterations to tax law and share with your firm to keep everyone compliant.
Be sure to hold regular meetings with your staff to discuss important tax laws and changes, so your team is knowledgeable and ready to answer questions your clients may have during busy season.
Incorporate your company culture
Employee retention can take a nosedive during and after a grueling tax season. That’s why it’s important that your staff members feel appreciated, supported and engaged at all times. Make sure they’re taking time to take care of themselves. Whether it’s offering flexible paid time off (PTO) or mental health days. You don’t want them burning the midnight oil…and burning out, so take time to ensure they aren’t.
Consistently check in with your team on a weekly basis to gauge workloads. Provide necessary communication updates and see how they’re feeling about the progress you’re making. Plan a day or two during tax season (yes, I’m serious) to take your team out of the work environment. Do something fun, relaxing and non-tax related. Encourage (or demand) that they maintain a proper work-life balance during busy season. Doing this will help employee retention year-round. After all, if tax season doesn’t suck, the rest of the year won’t, either.
Provide a tax season checklist to clients
I’ve focused a lot on how you can prepare your firm and your team for tax season, but one last thing we need to talk about is getting your clients prepared. And the best way to do this is by providing them with a tax preparation checklist. This checklist should include items including, but not limited to:
- Personal information, including Social Security numbers and birth dates for filers and any dependents, copies of last year’s return and bank account details for refund deposits.
- Income information, like W-2s, 1099s, alimony and any additional income from rental properties, gambling winnings, scholarships or jury duty.
- Income adjustments, such as student loan or tuition payments, IRA contributions, qualifying home improvements, Medical Savings Accounts (MSA) contributions, or retirement or pension plans.
- Deductions and credits, like detailed childcare costs, investment interest expenses, charitable donations, education costs or home business expenses.
- Taxes paid, such as state and local income taxes, real estate or personal property taxes, and vehicle license fees.
While this list isn’t exhaustive, it should give you a good idea of where to start. Providing this to your clients as tax season approaches will allow them to get their documentation in order so they can contribute to (and enjoy) a seamless and friction-free tax season.
Tax season doesn’t have to suck. Taking the steps now to prepare your firm for the upcoming busy season. It will help ensure a smooth and not-so-sucky tax season ahead. This year-end tax season checklist is a great first step.
For more information on how a Rootworks membership can help ease the pains of tax season, contact our sales team today: email@example.com.