This time of year, tax preparers are doing everything they can to set themselves up for a successful tax season. While that often means considering your own workflows, you can take steps to make tax filing easier for your client as well. Here are four ways tax professionals can ensure a smoother experience for themselves and their clients this tax season.
Use a Tax Software that Supports Your Unique Needs
The backbone of any tax professional’s toolkit is their tax preparation software. Though your clients may not realize it, the software you choose impacts them as well. Selecting a platform that aligns with the unique needs of both the tax preparer and the clients is key. The right tax software should offer more than just accurate returns –– it should offer features tailored to your workflow and your clients’ expectations.
If you want the flexibility to work remotely, look for capabilities such as cloud integration and real-time collaboration. If you serve small businesses, look for software that supports business forms and makes it easy to import data from your clients’ documents or accounting software. Consider your clients’ needs as well, whether that’s the option to upload tax documents remotely or to apply for refund advances in your office. Ultimately, the features of your tax software should make life easier for you and help attract clients with an experience that meets their needs and expectations.
Have Easy-to-Use Options for Digital Signatures
Speaking of client expectations, these days many have come to expect the convenience of online tax preparation and eSigning. If your software doesn’t allow your clients to securely upload documents or, at the very least, e-sign documents, it may inadvertently be narrowing your pool of potential clients. Implementing tools like the TaxesToGo app can help you offer the streamlined service clients expect, allowing them to upload and sign documents securely and conveniently from the comfort of their homes.
Ideally, your eSigning platform will be so user-friendly that even your clients who aren’t tech-savvy find it easy and convenient. As you schedule appointments during tax season, consider sending out automated emails explaining that your clients have the option to skip in-person meetings and opt for uploading their documents and eSigning instead. For clients who are hesitant to go digital, it might be worthwhile to mention in this email that these digital options are just as secure as face-to-face meetings (assuming that you are using a trusted, encrypted platform). Some clients may benefit from step-by-step instructions for downloading the necessary app or creating an account for your eSigning platform. While it may take you a few extra minutes to write out the steps now, it will likely save you time answering questions during tax season.
Hand Out a Tax Client Checklist During Onboarding
When clients know exactly what you need to file their returns accurately and efficiently, they can gather their documents and information ahead of time, meaning more efficient meetings for both of you. When you’re onboarding a new client, consider providing a comprehensive checklist of what to bring (or upload) for their appointments, including:
- W-2 form(s) for all jobs last year (issued by your employer(s) by January 31st)
- 1099-NEC and/or 1099-K
- Self-employed individuals should also keep detailed records and receipts of business expenses and any estimated tax payments
- Retirement or Disability Benefits
- SSA-1099 form for Social Security benefits
- Income or loss from the sale of stocks, bonds, or real estate
- Documents from other sources of income such as retirement accounts, scholarships, rental property, alimony, etc.
For those itemizing deductions, ask for records of:
- Retirement contributions, including a 401(k) or IRA
- Charitable donation receipts
- Mortgage statements and property tax bills
- College tuition (Form 1098-T) and student loan statements (Form 1098-E)
- State and local taxes paid
- Childcare expenses and the information of the childcare provider
- Medical and dental bills
- Records for supplies used as an educator
Personal Documents and Information
- Photo ID such as driver’s licenses or passports
- Social Security cards (or have Social Security Numbers memorized or written down for themselves, spouse, and any dependents)
- Bank account and routing number or a voided check (for direct depositing their refund)
- Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) assignment letters or Identity Protection PIN (IP PIN), if applicable
- Form 1095-A (from coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace)
- Any other documents from state tax agencies or notices from the IRS
Equipping clients with a clear understanding of the documents they’ll need not only saves time during the actual appointment but also minimizes the risk of missing critical documents, reducing the need for follow-up communications and potential delays in the tax preparation process.
Have a List of Questions about Life Events and “Exceptions”
As any tax preparer knows, clients’ returns can change drastically from year to year based on life events. Be prepared with a list of questions related to events such as marriage, divorce, new dependents, new jobs, etc. In many cases, your tax software will walk you through the most obvious questions. But in some cases, you may want to have more specific questions that target “exceptions” to common tax rules.
For example, in general a taxpayer cannot claim the Child and Dependent Care credit if they are married filing separately. However, if they meet certain requirements such as living apart from their spouse for the last six months of the year, they may still qualify for the credit. Obviously, tax law is complex enough that it isn’t feasible to have a list of questions for every exception to every rule. But consider the credits, rules, and deductions that impact your clients the most. Read the fine print on these from the IRS website (usually in the form of an IRS Publication or instructions for a form) and notice any exceptions to the general rules that your software may not account for. From there, you can make a list of clarifying questions to ask your clients.
With tax season on the horizon, a few proactive steps can make the process smoother for both yourself and your clients. Adopting the right software for your tax practice and client base, embracing digital signatures and remote tax preparation, providing comprehensive checklists, and anticipating life events can help your clients breeze through tax season.