Most clients prefer water boarding to the way CPA, accounting, and tax firms e-deliver tax returns. The CIA has nothing on us. Under the threat of un-filed returns and IRS letters, we force clients to parse through a PDF nightmare known as the “government” copy.
Define “government” copy for me. I dare you. You might start with, “It’s the stuff we want clients to sign and return.” Not so fast, oh future CIA head of torture. What about state returns that have to be mailed? They’re in that god awful mess as well. What about estimated tax payment vouchers? What about tax return payment vouchers to mail with checks?
We stuff all of this garbage into a hundred page PDF file and tell clients to “follow the enclosed filing instructions.” Have you ever even looked at the filing instructions? They’re written by the same people, who wrote the Internal Revenue Code. After they perfected indecipherable tax regulations, they graduated to tax return filing instructions.
After thirty years of tax software development, we’re still left with government, client, and accountant copies in our software. That was great back when Reagan was still President, Larry Bird still played basketball, and clients still picked up paper copies of tax returns. Unless I’m really out of touch, Circular 230 doesn’t mandate this setup. My fellow tax preparers, maybe it’s time for a change.
Here’s how bad it’s gotten. Many if not most firms, who e-deliver tax returns, actually print the returns on paper and then scan them for delivery to clients. I know this because I serve as a reference for our tax software vendor. When I talk to firms on behalf of the vendor, I ask them about their workflow processes.
Printing to paper, then scanning, is absolute total nonsense in the 21st century, but I totally get why firms do this. They care about their clients. Of course, they also don’t want a thousand client phone calls in April asking, “What in the hell am I supposed to do with this government copy thing?”
We’ve been e-delivering tax returns for almost a decade – mostly badly. We’ve done our share of client water boarding. In the last few years, however, we’ve been on a mission from God, the United Nations, and Elvis to stamp out client torture.
We’ve rethought the entire process of e-delivering tax returns from our clients’ perspective. We have earned honorary degrees in human engineering and expect to win the Nobel prize next year. My acceptance speech is already written. You’re invited to the ceremony.
Step 1: Toss out the idea that government, accountant, and client copies have to be used the way your tax software publisher intended. The Bible says nothing about e-delivering tax returns. So you’re not committing a sin – at least not a mortal one.
Begin by grouping tax return deliverables into understandable chunks. For instance, we deliver e-filing authorization forms in one file and estimated tax payment vouchers in another one. We’re no longer asking clients to parse through pdf’s of dissimilar forms. If something needs to be signed and returned to us, it’s not in the same file as something clients must mail.
Step 2: Use understandable file names. We put our 8879’s in a file called “E-file authorization forms to sign and return to us.” In case you haven’t noticed, long file names have been around for about twenty years. We put the client’s tax return copy in a file called “Copies of your tax returns for your files.” We put Virginia state returns to mail in a file called “Virginia return to sign and mail.”
Step 3 is the hardest and you can help us with this. Reduce the process to something easily automated and achieved by admin staff. Our software has a kludgy way to do this called “print sets”. We have smart admin staff. They set up multiple print sets to accomplish step 2. It took tens of hours, and our vendor lost one of the print sets rolling over to 2015. I’m setting up the rack for the next time our tax software sales dude visits. He’ll beg for death.
How can you help with this? Attend your vendor’s software conference and beat the 1980’s right out of them. The slogan for our movement is “All we are saying is give clients a chance.” John Lennon would have written a song for us, if he were still alive. You can help us reduce the client suicide rate.
We aren’t yet in the heat of tax season. So there’s still time to avoid the Ghost of Tax Seasons Past. Rethink how you’re e-delivering tax returns – if not for your clients, think about their children and their pets. Grab whatever small amount of humanity, that yearns to survive yet another tax season, and swear off the client torture of badly done e-delivery.
Thanks for reading!
Frank Stitely, CPA, CVA
Chief Torture Officer