May 10, 2019

How I Survived Tax Season

Terry EybergBy Terry Eyberg, EA

An argument can be made that, after 35 years of tax seasons, my preparation for tax season should be a breeze. Not necessarily so!

We all go into tax season with well-laid plans for survival. Unfortunately, the best of plans often go awry. Every tax practitioner has his or her share of tax season horror stories. I would like to share one of mine, and explain how I survived. There were ups and there were downs, but in the end it all worked out as it most often does.

The Beginning

Tax File FolderTax season started on a quiet note. Organizers were sent out in January, and I kicked off the season with a high level of enthusiasm. I was confident that I could face any challenge. My first line of defense was to develop a solid action plan:

  • Review the prior year to determine what went right and what went wrong.
  • Review client list for completeness.
  • Follow up with clients regarding 2018 tax information, including foreign asset reporting.
  • Prioritize work.
  • Create daily “to-do” lists.
  • Create checklists.
  • Set attainable goals; no time for “stretch” goals.
  • Take breaks.
  • Stay calm.
  • Stay optimistic and smile, even when it hurts.
  • Get some sleep.

The 2019 tax season presented unique challenges. There was major tax reform legislation to analyze and implement. While I reviewed it at year-end, the moment of truth had arrived. I took a deep dive into each client’s situation to ensure I was availing them of the best tax breaks possible given the new legislation. When the reality of the tax changes set in, many angry clients reached out “for a chat.” They were not happy with lost tax deductions, and this became an area of great contention. “What do you mean I owe money? I always got a refund!” Or, “My refund is so much lower than last year. I do not understand.”

As March Madness began, the March madness began. The tax season monster reared its ugly head. I was ready to throw my action plan out the window and head south to join the wintering birds. I regrouped and stayed the course. After all, nothing is achieved in a state of panic (though that is the natural inclination when feeling overwhelmed). I revised my action plan several times, and it ended up saving my sanity in the long run.

I made sure, however, that I was going to be ahead of the game for next year’s action plan in terms of identifying what went wrong. I started a list while the events were fresh in my mind. As phones began to ring off the hook, I experienced the seemingly endless nightmares of missed deadlines and clients changing their plans and going out of town in advance of April 15. I had to reprioritize my workload to accommodate those who would need early deadlines.

Sound Familiar?

Information gathering was a huge challenge to be reckoned with. Not all of my clients were as forthcoming as I would have liked, and I had to push harder than usual to get what I needed. Lack of priority and aggravation on the part of clients were probably the cause. Since they were angry about some of the tax law changes, they wanted to shoot the messenger (another unfortunate natural inclination). This was where communication became critical. I had to patiently and calmly talk with the offenders, and try to get them to see how intransigence was only making the situation worse. I couldn’t complete their returns on time without the information I needed, which would mean filing for extensions. My clients do not like extensions, so the mere mention of this possibility lit a fire under them.

Client “checklists” were critical to my survival. Every client had one, and it was the only way I could centralize the information I had and see what needed to be done at any given point in time. My daily “to-do” list was also a lifeline. It allowed me to plan my days and nights efficiently and stay on target with my goals. The other parts of my action plan were important too, but these two items saved the day for me.

The End

Now that tax season is over, I plan on taking a few days off and joining all those birds still down south. I need to recover from what has been the worst tax season of my career since the 1986 income tax changes. I hope you get some rest as well.

Terry Eyberg, EA, is an independent contractor specializing in high net worth individuals, estates, trusts, and private foundations. She earned her BBA and MBA from Pace University in New York City.

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Statements of fact and opinion are the authors’ responsibility alone and do not imply an opinion on the part of PICPA officers or members. The information contained in herein does not constitute accounting, legal, or professional advice. For professional advice, please engage or consult a qualified professional.