CPA firms are extremely busy during tax season, as you know, and many tax accountants become swamped during this stressful time of year. You want to give the best service possible for each person, and it’s important to be open and honest with your clients throughout tax season.
Before you become buried under piles of paperwork, here are three strategies for handling client expectations, streamlining workflows and dealing with filing extensions.
1. Initiate communication early
Establish clear timelines about when clients can expect to hear from you. Conduct consultations as early as January, so your clients understand any critical dates involved in the filing process. Administrative personnel can contact clients to schedule early filing appointments, reducing your workload while ensuring your clients get the care and attention they’ve grown to expect from your firm.
Establishing frequent communication can prevent misunderstandings and ensure that your clients feel heard and understood. Further, setting clear deadlines for when clients need to submit specific information is beneficial, especially for clients that manage large enterprises. The AICPA & CIMA Annual Tax Compliance Kit offers materials for client engagement, such as letters, organizers, checklists and much more.
2. Set limits to reach goals and deadlines
Clarify expectations from the start of tax season by scheduling deadlines to avoid overburdening yourself. You can devote the necessary time to your clients when you have greater control over your availability.
Stacee Rash, CPA, a partner with Martin Starnes & Associates, shared during the webcast “Reimagining Your Tax Practice — Session 1: Level Setting Client Expectations”: "[Find] your boundary and [hold] your ground! And I know we're all afraid of the consequences of doing that. But we have to have the courage to do hard things to see improvement."
You can manage your priorities more carefully by sorting your clients by company size or whether they're returning or new. Be honest about how long filing will take so your client understands the importance of providing you with relevant information on time.
Being open and candid with clients about their filing status also lets you maintain expectations and provide timely updates.
3. Educate clients about extensions
Be proactive in teaching clients about tax extensions, ensuring that your client knows the pros and cons of extensions and how they can impact their tax filing.
Chris Wittich, CPA, a partner with Boyum Barenscheer, explained a common situation requiring a tax extension: “If you tell [a client], ‘Hey, this is complicated,’ or ‘We're waiting on guidance,’ you know you've got a K-2 or K-3 issue, and you tell them, ‘Hey, look, this is new. We think maybe some guidance is coming or relief. … The tax law is changed. We're waiting for guidance. I really think it would be a bad idea to file your return.’ Now, I think 90% of the time those clients accept the extension.”
Many Americans are wary of tax extensions due to widespread misunderstandings about them. Explain clearly some of the risks associated when clients fail to file on time, such as additional costs, including penalty fees and interest.
Also take the opportunity to highlight the benefits of an extension, such as having more time to ensure proper tax filing and avoiding late penalties, which will result in paying less in the long run. The sooner your clients are aware of their extension options, the better prepared they will be to make an informed decision about them.
Resources are available to prepare for tax season
Tax season is a hectic time, and it may be challenging to manage dependable tax procedures that are effective, lucrative and flexible. To stay updated and informed, Statements on Standards for Tax Services (SSTSs) can assist you with improving your services and maintaining a seamless experience during tax season. Join the AICPA Tax Section for more tools, including guidelines for addressing tax extensions, and tips for proactively engaging with clients early in the tax filing process.