By Jassen Bowman
Tax Resolution Systems
Every office function should have a system.
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Here are some miscellaneous but vital functions and how to handle each one.
The “Who To Call When …” List
Every tax office should maintain a one-page list of “who to call when XYZ” occurs. This list will consist of both internal personnel and outside approved vendors (which you should set up relationships and billing accounts with ahead of time). This will increase efficiency within the office and make staff feel empowered to address issues on their own.
Common matters/questions and personnel you’ll want on this list include:
- Business tax questions
- Personal tax questions
- Computer, printer and network problems
- Tax software issues
- Supply needs (paper, toner, pens, etc.)
- Workflow questions
- Human resources matters (payday, benefits, time off requests, etc.)
- Client complaints or refund requests
- Plumbing/electrical issues
Office Hours and Scheduling
During the peaks of tax preparation season and tax resolution in particular, your office should maintain regular office hours and staffing levels appropriate to the needs of your firm. This is NOT the time of year to discover that you didn’t adequately plan ahead for the peak of seasons.
If you are using a digital office management/CRM system (which I highly encourage), then you will be better able to plan ahead for your scheduling needs. It is the responsibility of your office manager to ensure proper coverage for the scheduled appointments and anticipated walk-ins.
If you operate your practice as a “do it while they sit there” sort of tax prep operation, then you will need to know your average tax return preparation time and block out the necessary time blocks. If you operate by appointment but also accept walk-ins, then you will need proper tax preparer coverage. Though this can be hard to predict ahead of time if you do not have a track record from previous tax seasons to look at, you should generally anticipate having one preparer available at half-hour intervals during the peak of tax season.
During tax prep season and peak tax resolution season, it should be anticipated that your office manager will always exceed a 40-hour workweek. Plan ahead for overtime pay, or make this a salaried position. An office manager for a busy tax firm will typically put in 55+ hours per week during seasonal peaks, even with adequate tax preparer staffing and efficient systems.
Outside of seasonal peaks, your office manager may be the only other employee in your tax office. This may become a part-time position at this point, with designated office hours for the off season. To fully leverage this person’s time and talents, it is best if they can perform bookkeeping, tax resolution assistance or other revenue-generating billable actions.
Another inevitable reality of running a high-volume tax office is that supplies will run low.
Each office manager should be supplied with a corporate credit card with a pre-set spending cap. This will allow the office manager to address supply needs on a daily basis. Approved stores/vendors should be selected and agreed upon.
In addition, each staff person should be assigned a “fix it” dollar limit commensurate with their position and experience. What this means is that each staff person can, without supervisory authorization, invest a certain amount of company money into ensuring customer satisfaction. In the majority of situations, this will be a credit against the client’s invoice.
Empower your people to fix problems so you don’t have to get involved.
Suggested dollar amounts for staff roles:
- Receptionist: $20
- Tax preparer: $50
- Return reviewer: $75
- Office manager: $100
- Licensed tax professional: $250
Most offices will maintain some sort of petty cash drawer, although the use of corporate credit card with pre-set spending limits for the employee is much preferred.
The use of petty cash should be very closely tracked so that it does not get out of hand. Any use of petty cash should be documented in the form of a receipt and completion of some sort of Petty Cash Expenditure Report.
Petty cash drawer should be spot-checked for actual cash amount versus book amount to look for discrepancies.
Tax Prep Only Off-Season Processes
For tax offices that only engage in seasonal tax preparation, the office has a significant amount of annual down time. However, even a seasonal-only office is still going to have to complete certain tasks during the off-season. This checklist serves to spell out those off-season needs.
- Set your limited office hours for the off-season. Most offices will be open for at least half a day once or twice per week.
- Check office email and voicemail once daily, remotely.
- Each week, check e-file statuses for all outstanding returns.
- Each week, contact all clients with outstanding document needs.
- Conduct file reviews to ensure signatures and document copies for all returns have been properly obtained and archived.
- Conduct any necessary collections activity on accounts receivable.
- Ensure that office is clean and tidy.
- Gradually work through clients who are on extension to contact them for information and complete their returns.
Inclement Weather Policy
The safety of our employees is a priority for __________. We realize there are emergency situations caused by inclement weather. This inclement weather policy outlines how _________________ will handle pay and notification of employees.
When an emergency situation occurs in which _____________ is closed, all full-time exempt and non-exempt employees will receive pay for up to one week during the closure. After that time, employees are eligible to use paid time off to cover lost wages. No overtime will be paid during this time. Employees will continue to receive health benefits and any other benefit that does not require a physical presence for eligibility.
Should inclement weather occur during the work day, management will make the determination regarding what time the business will close. All employees will be paid for their scheduled hours for the remainder of the day. Any clients with outstanding appointments the rest of the day shall be called to notify them of the closure and to reschedule their appointments.
During all business closures, any employee who can work remotely is required to do so.
Upon determination that our office will be closed because of an emergency situation, all efforts will be made to notify employees properly. Examples of communication include:
- outgoing message on the company’s main line will be changed to reflect the closure,
- news outlets will be notified when appropriate,
- the company website will reflect the closure and
- each office manager will be expected to notify their respective staff members by phone, text message and email.
Upon the company reopening, all employees are expected to return to work. For any employee who needs more time to tend to repairs or damage beyond the norm, our normal leave of absence policies will apply. In these cases, employees should stay in close communication with their managers to ensure the time off is considered properly.
Clients should be expected to pay for your services either in advance or at the time of return delivery (prior to e-file transmission). Maintaining this policy will prevent the vast majority of collections issues.
Unfortunately, collections issues can still arise because of returned checks, credit card chargebacks and bank product denials. In such cases, follow this collections process to get paid.
- Tag the client as “Collections” in the CRM system, or move paper file to “Collections” bin.
- Make initial contact via telephone to attempt making payment arrangements.
- In the case of returned checks, always obtain payment via credit card or certified funds (money order, bank check, etc.).
- In the case of credit card chargebacks, do not accept another credit card. Insist upon certified funds.
- If unable to make contact via telephone after three consecutive daily attempts, mail the client a first contact collections letter via first-class mail.
- If no response within one week from first letter, make additional telephone contact attempt.
- If no contact at this point, send second contact collections letter via certified mail return receipt.
- If still no contact from client, mail final notice collections letter via certified mail return receipt one week later.
- If unable to establish contact within 30 days, close client file.
- If a Form 2848 is active, revoke immediately and fax revocation to CAF unit and any IRS field personnel.
- Annotate CRM system that client is no longer to be serviced in any way.
- Notify company accountant in regard to bad debt.