Too much work, too few warm bodies

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Every filing season brings new and — all too often — bigger challenges. What's the big headache in this year's run to Tax Day?

"Staffing and making sure I have the personnel to get the work done," said Robert Seltzer, a CPA at Seltzer Business Management in Los Angeles. 

"Looking for both a bookkeeper and a tax preparer. Not a lot of qualified folks where we are, and the ones we interview think they're worth more than I could pay … and have little experience or education," said Enrolled Agent Terri Ryman, of Southwest Tax & Accounting in Elkhart, Kansas.

"We were behind the eight ball before this tax season ever started," Ryman said. "A preparer in the next town over retired, and a lot of her clients have come to us. Another preparer went down in flames late last year, and many of her clients have come to us — most with two, three or four years of returns to do. And bookkeeping has lagged behind. Unfortunately, we're working more hours to get caught up."

'Died or disappeared'

The dearth of accountants at all levels routinely ranks as the top issue across the profession, but some practitioners suggested that there may be a silver lining.

"The shortage of tax preparers and accountants creates a huge opportunity to bring in more work," said Scott Kadrlik, a CPA and managing partner at Meuwissen, Flygare, Kadrlik & Associates, in Eden Prairie, Minnesota.

"Individuals and businesses are all looking for a new accountant because their former tax preparer has either retired, sold, died or disappeared," he continued. "This means more work is available as we try to determine if we have enough staff to service our existing clients properly and add new clients to the mix. Tough choices have to be made on C and D clients … ."

One threat postponed

Before the end of December, many preparers were concerned about the flood of 1099-Ks they expected because of a lowering of the dollar threshold for issuing them. A late-year postponement of the change by the IRS pushed that concern off until next year; nonetheless, Capitol Hill and the Internal Revenue Service remain a threat to a smooth season. 

In early February, the IRS caused confusion by telling taxpayers in a number of states to hold off on filing their taxes, due to uncertainty surrounding the taxability of certain state payments. Then, after a week of chaos, it said that most of those taxpayers didn't need to report tax payments, and could go ahead and file.

Uncertainty about current regulations is only one part of the equation; the possibility of new and heretofore unknown changes is another.

"The biggest challenge and biggest fear the last several tax seasons has been the idea that there could be tax changes during the filing season that could affect returns I have already filed. A mess for everyone," said Jeff Gentner, an EA at Gentner Tax Associates, in Williamsville, N.Y. "I'm hoping that once the House gets their house in order, they'll hold off any tax discussion until the 2022 filing season has ended."

"In the past, [the challenge] was getting work done timely with all the other outside items the fed and state governments were throwing at us in addition to preparing taxes. Scheduling became more difficult," said Brian Stoner, a CPA in Burbank, Calif. "This year I have new scheduling procedures in place that should help speed up my productivity. We'll see how it goes."

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