The short answer is: You should expect your accountant to go well beyond “doing your taxes.”
That means, for example, developing relationships with other professionals on your financial team—tax attorney, financial planner, etc. That relationship building positions your accountant to quarterback and coordinate those disciplines not just at tax time, but throughout the year.
Quarterbacking this interdisciplinary effort also equips your accountant to provide something else you should expect: planning based on educated projections, so there are no surprises when the tax deadline rolls around in mid-April.
For accountants who basically act as tax preparers, tax time runs from January 2 to April 15. But for tax accountants who provide the level of service just described, “tax time” is basically all the time. They do their quarterbacking of your tax team not three and a half months a year but every month of the year. For example, I worked with clients all this past summer and through the fall on their 2017 taxes.
But how, you might ask, can an accountant start working on a client’s taxes, or ask his or her team of professionals to do so, before the client finishes the work year, and/or the client’s business posts its earnings?
For starters, that accountant must know the client’s situation, both familial and financial. Most businesses and careers start the year on a high note, with optimistic projections for sales and income. But as the year progresses, things happen and unforeseen occurrences arise, both good and bad. Tax strategies should reflect and incorporate changes in performance and projections, not at the end of the year, but throughout the year.
This means that up-to-date information is essential, about a client’s current and future plans for his or her business or career, even an impending marriage. In this way, an accountant can do relevant planning and make intelligent projections to ensure a client benefits from every tax advantage possible.
There is another benefit for clients whose accountants make planning and projections a priority: It is a two-way street. When based on solid information garnered from all members of a client’s team of professionals, projections can inform and even give direction to how the client can, and perhaps should, conduct business for the balance of the year.
As we often say, our clients’ tax returns are the byproduct of everything else we do.
So if tax time is all the time, you should expect from your accountant requests for updates throughout the year, not only on what makes you money, but what makes you happy, like your family, your giving and your collectibles.
Having this information from you, the client, as well as information regularly garnered from all members of your tax team will not only equip your CPA to match your life with every possible tax advantage, it will stop tax time from being crunch time.
One additional expectation for your CPA: In addition to regular contact with your professional advisors, at least once a year, your CPA should arrange a meeting of all members of your team, either in person or by phone. The sole purpose of this meeting: making absolutely certain all these disciplines are serving your best interests.
One of the sacrosanct rules of business is: No surprises. Of course, life always offers up its share of surprises. But when it comes to taxes, if your accountant does quarterback your team of professionals, and does take the time to understand the full scope of your situation and does make plans and projections, this action keeps the surprises to a minimum. Not to mention, it keeps more of your money where it belongs—in your pocket.