It’s Here Already? A 10-Step Checklist to Prep for Tax Season

Tax season may sneak up on individuals, but it should never sneak up on businesses. Yes, it’s September, not April, but it’s already time to start preparing to close the books on 2014 for your clients or your company. Gear up by making sure you have the staff, resources and processes in place to sail through the busiest time of year.

Here’s a handy 10-step checklist to help you map out your strategy for year-end and tax season:  

1. Assess your needs

Before year-end, make sure you evaluate the staff you’ll need for tax season next year. Consider how your group’s most critical needs may have changed since last year. Has business increased? Have your clients’ tax implications become more complex? Focus on these needs rather than roles. In other words, if you are thinking of filling a vacant position, consider how priorities may have changed since the last time the job was open instead of immediately searching for a candidate to fill the vacant position. Should a potential replacement have the same skills and experience as her predecessor?

2. Fill any gaps

Create a plan for the needs you’ve identified. This could include shifting projects around or reassigning some of your staff members to help with your most urgent matters during the season. And if you know you'll need additional full-time staff members to handle certain long-term duties, hire for those positions well in advance of crunch time.

3. Address complications

Get ready for clients who will have complicated tax issues. Assign your more experienced tax professionals to assignments that require specialized skills.  If you lack this expertise in house, consider hiring professionals who have those specific, specialized skills.

4. Blaze a paper trail

Don’t allow paperwork to overwhelm your staff. Develop a system for tracking the status of returns: when the information comes in, where the returns are in the production process and what information is still needed. Whether it’s a software program or a whiteboard that you update daily, staying on top of your clients’ information may make the difference between a smooth-sailing tax season and a disastrous one.

5. Save the date

Develop a reference list of important tax dates and the types of documentation your clients should collect throughout the year. Encourage your staff to use it as a handout or post it on your website.

6. Give QuickBooks a glance

If your office uses QuickBooks, make sure the software is working properly and the information inside the accounts is correct. Don’t wait until year-end to notice that there are inaccurate balances or that tax mappings are incorrect.

7. Make a match

Let your clients know whom they should contact at your firm. Tax season is a stressful time of year for your clients as well. Provide them comfort by giving them the name of the tax professional they will work with.

8. Strategize the review process

Decide how you will review and approve tax returns before they’re sent to clients. Plan which of your staff members will look for specific issues and which staff members will help to resolve those issues.

9. Share the love

No matter how well you planned your staff and hiring, your tax professionals will work longer hours and endure more stress than at any other time during the year. Make sure you recognize their hard work with bonuses, if possible, or smaller gestures such as ordering lunch or distributing gift cards. Always remember to sincerely say "thank you."

10. Learn from the past

What made last tax season difficult? Identify any problems you encountered, and put a plan in place so you don't repeat them this year. Likewise, take the time to document any problems you encounter this year so you’ll be even better prepared for next year.

With the right preparation, crunch time doesn’t have to be crush time.

How do you prepare for tax season? Let us know in the comments section.