Saturday, January 28, 2012

Organize to save money on accounting fees!

Many people are surprised at how much it costs for their CPA to prepare their returns. Hiring an expert to do your taxes is a good idea, and most of the fees are money well spent. However, some habits may be costing you a lot of money, and they could lead to errors. What are these habits?
  • Disorganization
  • Sloppy bookkeeping
  • Unresponsiveness
This is how those habits cost you and what you can do about them.
It is amazing how many people simply gather up any documents that they think might somehow be related to their income tax, stuff them in folders or large envelopes, and send them to their CPA. The CPA will review and make copies of everything. Many of the documents will turn out to be unnecessary. Even so, once their CPAs start going through the files, they find that many important items are not included. The CPA will then have to contact the client and ask for the missing documents. This adds to the expense of preparing the return because the accountant spends additional time and expense on the unnecessary items and them spends extra time tracking down the missing items.
A few common examples are listed below.

Housing related items
Taxpayers that own homes may be eligible to deduct mortgage interest, PMI, and property taxes. The only documents that the accountant needs are the mortgage interest statements from the holder of the mortgage and property tax receipts. It is generally not necessary to provide monthly statements for the mortgage or tax notices. Taxpayers should be sure to let their accountants know what they paid, and in instances where they may not have paid an item (such as delaying a property tax payment) what they have not paid.

Taxpayers that sold or purchased a home should generally provide the settlement statements to their accountants. This will help the accountant evaluate whether there are deductible expenses related to the transaction, and it will help confirm whether the taxpayer qualifies for gain exclusions. If the home was converted to or from rental use or vacation property, then it is especially important to provide this information.
Clients with home offices should keep additional records.

Bank and brokerage accounts
Clients with bank and brokerage accounts will often provide monthly, quarterly, and annual reports. Clients may, or may not, provide the relevant 1099s. The CPA will review all of the documents. If the 1099's are not provided, the CPA will contact the client and ask for them. It is especially important for clients that receive stock based compensation and clients that do a lot of trading to review their documents and make sure that the CPA has what he or she needs to complete the return, and that unnecessary information is not included in the file.

Business expenses
Unless your accountant set up and maintains your bookkeeping, he or she has no way of knowing the details of your expenses. Clients frequently bring folders and envelopes full of receipts to their CPA. All that is really necessary is a set of financial statements and a summary of expenses. The reason that this increases the cost of the return is that the accountant will have to organize the receipts, and this takes time. It is much less expensive to organize expenses than it is to pay the accountant to organize them for you.

Clients who use automobiles for business should keep records and provide them to their accountant.

Childcare expenses
Clients with children who pay for childcare should provide information about the care provider including the address, tax ID number and the amount paid. If the client used a flexible spending account, or if the employer provided a childcare benefit, then the client should provide that information as well.

Sloppy (or no) bookkeeping
Many business owners try to save money by limiting their record keeping. When the do decide to keep detailed records, they often consist of spreadsheets. Once the records get to complex for spreadsheets then business owners will buy a bookkeeping program. In the long run, none of this saves money. If the books are not well organized then the accountant may have to virtually redo them in order to prepare the tax return. This adds to the cost of the return, and it is more expensive than it would have been to have had the books properly prepared before bringing them to the CPA for tax filing.

Another thing that adds to the cost of preparing tax returns is when accounts are set up incorrectly. When accounts are set up correctly, then they can be configured in a way that makes it simple to produce reports in standard formats. These formats include tax reporting formats as well as formats designed to help manage a business.

A final problem for many taxpayers is failing to separate personal and business expenses. Ideally, business owners will have different bank accounts for business and personal use. If that is not possible, then at the very least, they should keep personal items out of their business records by flagging them appropriately so that they can be identified and excluded from reports.

Many clients do not respond when their accountant tries to contact them. The reason the accountant is calling is either to find missing information or to clarify something that is not clear. When clients do not respond, their returns remain unfinished. Tax preparers have to set the return aside and wait for the additional information. When the client does respond, sometimes weeks later after several emails or telephone calls, the preparer will reopen the file and begin working on the return. Unfortunately, it will probably not be fresh in the preparer's mind, and it will take longer to complete than if the missing information had been available sooner. Unresponsiveness increases the cost of preparing your return because it is difficult to work with missing information and it takes longer to prepare the return. In addition, every one of those phone calls and emails take time.

Changing your habits
Now that you know about these three money saving bad habits, you can start changing your behavior.

Get organized!
Talk to your CPA or the professional that prepares your filing. He or she can tell you exactly what you need to do in order to simplify your tax filing and to make it less expensive to prepare your return. Take advantage of the checklists and organizers your accountant provides. Spend a little time reviewing your documents before you take them to your accountant.

Keep records throughout the year, and organize them so that they will be ready for your accountant. If you drive an automobile for work, get one of those auto record books and keep it. Keep your business and personal records separate.

Get help with your records.
It is worth your time to talk to your CPA or to a bookkeeper to learn how to set up your records. If you have a small business, seriously consider purchasing bookkeeping software such as QuickBooks or Peachtree. If you do, it is worth your while to ask your accountant or bookkeeper to help you set up your books. If you simply don't want to organize your own records, or if they are too complex, then hire a bookkeeper. The cost of paying a bookkeeper to do your books throughout the year will be less than the cost of asking your accountant to do it a month before your taxes are due.

Return your calls! Respond to email!
When the CPA calls or emails, assume it is important and respond! If you do not return your calls or answer your email, then one contact becomes two or three or more. Your CPA will be able to complete your return faster and for less cost if you respond when he or she tries to contact you.

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