This is a followup to the post I wrote last week about trends I see in the tax field and in dealing with clients. Warning, this is a cynical … but honest, post.

I have talked to tax pros who tell me they appreciate what I have written on this subject and they thank me and say it really hits home with their experiences.

Taxes are hard and getting harder.

Now if I could just get clients to understand this.

This is Why it “Takes So Long” to Finish a Return

At one time, I could sit down and crank out tax returns without much issue.

Turnaround time was short. Risk seemed low.

Somewhere along the time — for some reason, 2015 is the year that stands out for me — this all changed.

The following are now true:

  1. The truly “easy” returns are dropping off each year (as they should; if your return really is “easy” you should do it yourself).
  2. But my client count grows by about 10% a year, meaning the “easy” returns in #1 drop off but are replaced — and then some — by new, tougher, returns.
  3. The new returns ALWAYS have things on them that make it so I can’t just finish the return and send it off without doing research, running calculations, and spending time pondering the situation and the risks involved.
  4. I could use some help from staff on this; however, as a small operator I can’t pay enough to hire someone with the experience needed to navigate all the “stuff” I see on tax returns, so the best I can do is hire staff to help with data entry and basic review, while the actual “deep thinking” part of the return falls on my shoulders and there’s not much I can do about that.
  5. By the time April 15th arrives, I am like a marathon runner crossing the finish line. I collapse in a heap.

And so when clients “check in” to “see how things are coming,” or say something like “my car dealer wants to know when you’ll be done so I can go buy that car,” it makes me very angry.

I do not handle these “check ins” well, and I admit that a few times I have been unprofessional with a client when they have dared to call to “check in.”

I told one, who called to complain that it was “taking too long,” I said, “Look, I’m not sitting here twiddling my damned thumbs. If it bothers you, you’re welcome to come right now and get your stuff and go to the big CPA firm on the highway, where they’ll take twice as long and charge twice as much, and then you’ll actually have something worth complaining about. And don’t let the door hit you on the way out.”

I should not have spoken to the client that way (side note: would you believe, that was three years ago and they have continued to come back!).

But the client should have thought about things on my side of the fence too.

Nowadays most people don’t call because as I wrote about in my last post, clients more and more are not using the phone but are texting instead.

And so I get semi-literate texts such as the following. These are real, by the way:

How r u comming with r taxes? We would like too stop by too sign 2nite if u will be thier?

Or:

Hopefully ur almost done cuz we r looking 2 buy a car

Or texts that are perfectly literate but extremely angry such as this:

I need answers about the status of my tax return and I need them NOW.

Sometimes I Just Need to Get Away from Taxes

When April 15th hits, it’s like a wave of relief. Anything not done goes on extension. And I have a convenient excuse for not having to deal with the risks and complications of taxes for awhile.

I stay open but I do other things rather than taxes.

“Oh, it’s May, plenty of time to do that return, not worrying about it right now.”

“Oh, it’s June, maybe I’ll look at that one return and research a few things.” And of course, I don’t.

“Oh, it’s July, I suppose I need to think about those returns on extension. But I don’t want to ruin my summer, dammit, so it can wait awhile longer.”

And now that it’s August, I guess I don’t have any more excuses.

Notice this: it took about THREE AND A HALF MONTHS for my brain to recover to a point where I could even think about taxes again.

That’s not because I’m lazy. It’s because this stuff is hard and requires a MASSIVE amount of brain energy on every return.

When you care about getting it right, taxes take lots of energy because oftentimes “right” is not clear and it’s very easy to do something “wrong” no matter how good you are or how careful you are.

Couple that with the fact that — on business returns especially– the info we’re using (bookkeeping, etc.) is usually a disaster area that we have to try to pick through, and you can see why this is all so mentally taxing.

For Most Preparers, An Extension is Not Just “Granting a Few Extra Days”

A few clients have said to me, “an extension should just be a way to get a few extra days to finish the return.”

April 30th seems to be a big date for these people; if the return isn’t done by then, they get pissy because they thought an extension should have just granted me a few extra days to finish up.

I haven’t seen this enough to call it a trend yet, but it’s something I’ve had happen a few times.

A few prospective clients have said it as well, as a complaint about their prior preparer. “He put me on extension and then I didn’t hear from him for 4 months.”

Well yeah. Probably because your return is hard (and if you’re a business, chances are your records are a disaster; sorry, just sayin’) and his brain was fried by April 15th.

And so he extended you and didn’t look at it again until August or September because that’s how long it takes for a good preparer’s brain to recover enough to look at your situation again, a situation which probably has far more risk and complication than you think, so maybe instead of complaining about going on extension, you should be thankful you have a preparer who wants to give you the best of his mental energy.

I have started telling prospects who complain about their “other guy” putting them on extension: “I would do the same thing as the other guy, and you should be happy about that.”

And when one of my clients texts or emails wanting to know when things will be done or “what’s taking so long,” I no longer even respond.

Moral of the Story

  • Taxes are hard; clients need to understand this.
  • It “takes so long” to finish your return because there’s a lot to think about on your return and I am trying to protect you. Which leads to….
  • Tax season anymore takes a MASSIVE amount of mental energy. My brain feels like it has been beaten to a pulp once April 15th passes. Which leads to….
  • There is a timeframe — usually April 16th through July 31st — where I cannot look at a tax return and have my brain process what I’m looking at.
  • Extensions buy me time for my brain to recover. This is a real phenomenon that many preparers tell me they experience — the “brain melt” of tax season and the complexity we deal with, and needing some time to just “not” for awhile.