The start of tax filing season is just around the corner. And thanks to the 16-day government shutdown last year, the IRS has pushed back the official start of the 2014 filing season yet again – accountants and financial planners cannot start filing 2013 tax returns until January 31, a full 10 days after the originally scheduled start date.
This means that accountants and financial planners have less time to do the same amount of work – a full day less, even, than last year’s tax season, which began on January 30 after delays due to the American Taxpayer Relief Act (ATRA).
Accountants and financial planners know how significant one day of lost work is during filing season, never mind ten. And when your office is at full capacity, the opportunity for mistakes and oversights – and the resulting Errors and Omissions lawsuits – increases.
So before you and your employees find yourselves in the midst of filing season 2014’s death grip, take the time to prepare yourself for the stress and strain.
Below are three tips to act on today that can help your accounting, tax preparation, or financial planning firm avoid costly E&O lawsuits in the coming year.
1. Take Note of 2013’s New and Changed Tax Provisions
With the time crunch and 2013’s new and changed provisions, tax professionals are bound to hit a few hiccups. By now you may be having flashbacks to last year, when the IRS waited until January 1 to release an onslaught of crucial individual and business-related provisions related to the ATRA.
This year’s IRS release includes a list of new and changed provisions to get acquainted with before the end of this month. Many of these provisions affect higher-income taxpayers. Highlights include:
- New top ordinary income tax rate for individuals.
- Additional Medicare payroll tax.
- Same-sex marriage recognized for federal tax purposes in some states.
- Healthcare coverage and deduction provisions.
- Optional safe-harbor method for calculating deductions for business use of a tax payer’s residence.
For more information on new, changed, or expiring provisions, check out the Journal of Accountancy’s “Buckle Up for Tax Season” and the publication’s annual Filing Season Quick Guide, which outlines several of the most commonly consulted thresholds, tax tables, credit amounts, and other important information.
2. Prepare a Plan to Keep Your Accounting or Financial Planning Office Energized and Healthy.
When you and your employees are stretched thin, mistakes are more likely. You can try to combat the burnout blues in your office by making sure to actually schedule time into your busy days to relieve stress and manage health. (Doing this can also help you manage your Workers’ Comp costs!)
A few minutes of relaxation each day can help promote productivity and help ward off illness and mistakes. The Ohio Society of CPAs (OSCPA) details several “busy season survival strategies” on its website, and we’ve highlighted a few below to help you get started on your office’s tax-season wellness plan:
- Schedule periodic stretch, dance, or recess breaks. You may also look into group rates at your local yoga or meditation studio to encourage employees to take advantage of an early morning or late afternoon session.
- Designate a “resting room” in your office. This should be a quite space where employees can go to rest, read, or take a quick power nap.
- Bring in exercise equipment (or a massage professional!). Sometimes, massage professionals discount their time for quick chair massages in exchange for promotion (or free tax services).
- Stock the break-room fridge with healthful alternatives. For breakfast, OSCPA recommends food items such as yogurt, fruit, bagels, muffins, and cereal. Snack options such as fruit, veggies, nuts, and protein bars should also be on hand.
- Provide meals for “working Saturdays” and late evenings. Have lunch and dinner menus from local vendors on hand, and encourage your employees to take a break while they eat their meals.
- Help your employees with small errands. Since your employees’ personal time will be stretched thin, consider hiring a temporary concierge service to help them with tasks such as picking up dry cleaning.
- Be flexible. Allow your employees to work somewhat flexible hours. For example, if some of your employees fancy themselves “night owls,” then let them come in later and work into the evening.
3. Take Advantage of the Time Management Tools You Already Have
As an accountant or financial planner, it’s likely that you already have a plethora of organizational and time-management tools at your disposal. But as filing season 2014 nears, it’s never a bad idea to take stock of these tools and plan to use them to your advantage during the season.
Below are a few tried and true tricks, adapted from Accounting Web, to help get your wheels spinning:
- Find one time-management tool and stick with it. You likely have several at your disposal already: a software program, your email calendar, an iPad app. Choose one that you’ll actually use and take advantage of the reminder feature to stay on the ball. It may also be a good idea to streamline ALL aspects of your appointments (personal and professional) – including contact information – into one calendar, so you don’t need to waste time cross referencing.
- Spend LESS time emailing. Often times, replying to emails or using instant messaging programs takes a lot more time than a simple phone call. It’s also a bad idea to “live in your inbox” by treating unread messages as a to-do list. You’ll end up reacting to tasks as they come in, which can be a distraction. Instead of responding right away, put emails that require a response on a physical to-do list.
- Make a not-to-do list. Not everything can get done in one workday – and stressing about that fact will only make matters worse. Each evening, decide what not to do the next day, make a list, and then make peace with it.
For more time-management tips and tricks, check out “66 Time Management Tips to Help You Survive Busy Season” on the Accounting Web website. When your office is organized, important tasks and top priorities are less likely to be overlooked.