The IRS will begin accepting returns on Tuesday, Jan. 20 – so tax preparers around the country are using this week to make sure they’re ready for the filing season. The IRS itself offers a whole section of its Web site to helping tax pros get ready, and in the same spirit, we’ve put together this quick checklist to help you make sure you’re primed.
1. Is your software tested and ready?
Have you installed all your updates, made sure that all the necessary licenses are in place – and that everything works? If the software allows it, have you run any sort of test returns? If you or your staff will be working remotely or in the cloud, have you made sure that all the connections work, and that you’re using updated and supported browsers?
2. Are your staff trained and ready?
Are your regular staff up to date on any new software or procedures you’re using this year? Are they prepared for this year’s unique tax issues? Similarly, if you’ve brought on any new employees – whether seasonal or permanent – you’ll want to make sure they know everything they need to know. One easy way to find out is to actually ask them. Don’t have them wait until you’re waist-deep in returns.
3. Have you set your staff schedules?
Does everyone know when they’re expected to work? Are they aware of the crunch times? Now is a good time to double-check to make sure they’re not planning doctor’s appointments, personal days, or even blocks of vacation for the worst possible times.
4. Are you ready to deal with the IRS?
First and foremost, have you gotten or renewed your PTIN? And how about your EFIN? Assuming you’ve got those, is your e-filing system set up and ready to go?
5. Do you have a source for up-to-date tax research?
Whether you use Wikipedia or the most expensive online research service, have you lined up the resources you need to make sure you’re preparing returns appropriately? Do you know how to find the types of information you usually need? In many digital tax research platforms, you can set up lists of frequent searches to have them ready in advance.
6. Are you ready to explain the Affordable Care Act?
This will be one of the biggest issues of tax season, and it’s a good bet that your clients will mostly be clueless. You might want to come up with a short list of questions to ask as part of your usual interview process – and a short explanation of the ACA and its ramifications to send to clients, and to leave around your reception area.
7. Have you sent out your organizers?
Organizers also serve a marketing and communication purpose, so regardless of whether your clients fill them out – and many don’t – they’re worth considering, either in paper or digital form. Some preparers send them in December and others in January; either way, it’s handy for clients to have an “organized” way to think about all the tax-related documents and forms they receive this time of year.
8. Have you made, or started making, client appointments?
Some preparers these days are so digital they don’t even have client appointments; the goal here is less about filling your calendar than making sure that your clients are thinking about you and about their returns. If you can create a steady stream of clients coming in, or otherwise interacting with you, you can mitigate some of the mad rush at the end of the season.
9. Have you cleaned your office?
Many of your clients only see you once a year, so you want to make sure you make a good impression. Start by cleaning up your reception area, and then run a critical eye over any space that visiting clients might see, including your office bathroom. Then think about all the other spaces, too – even if clients never see them, you will, and you won’t have any time to clean them once the season starts.
10. Have you laid in enough supplies?
The digital revolution has somewhat reduced the mountain of supplies that tax offices used to get in – but it hasn’t eliminated it entirely. You’ll still want to stock up on extra toner and copy paper, notepads, pens, sticky notes and so on.
12. Have you made plans made for April 16?
Knowing how you’re going to relax once the madness is done can help you get through – and if you have staff, they’ll look forward to whatever celebration you may have planned.