Tax Season Turns Ugly under Coronavirus

CPA Trendlines Busy Season Barometer shows a marked decline in practitioners reporting a "better" year and increases in "worse."

Early optimism turns to fear and dismay as the COVID-19 crisis spreads.

Busy Season Barometer:
How Does This Year's Busy Season Compare to Last Year's?
BetterWorse, or About the Same?

By CPA Trendlines Research

Whether the Covid-19 panic is much ado about nothing or not enough being done about something, America’s tax and accounting practitioners are already seeing their early-season optimism shift into a mid-season nosedive.

More on Tax Season 2020: Tech Tools for Working through the Coronavirus  |  What’s NOT to Like about Tax Season?   |  Why ‘Tick and Tie’ Needs to Die   |  Lessons from the Trenches of Tax Season   |  Coronavirus Rattles Tax Season   |  Tax Season Funnies: The ‘Service’ in IRS   |  Can Your Reviewers Answer These 10 Questions?   |  Top Tech Choices for the Virtual Firm  |

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The CPA Trendlines 2020 Busy Season Barometer has been fielding responses since early January. And, for a while, things looked good. Until the end of February, early respondents generally saw their season moving along swimmingly, the economy booming, clients doing well, families hunky-dory. This year was going to be so much better than last year.

That was then. This is now.

Kenneth Stafford

In the course of a fortnight, optimism tipped into pessimism. Through February, 63 percent of respondents were reporting this year's busy season was shaping up to be "much better," at 15 percent, or "somewhat better," at 48 percent.

But today, that total has dropped 13 points to barely 50 percent. And those now reporting a "somewhat" or "much worse" year has more than doubled, from nine percent to 21.

Fearing the fear of fear

It’s hard to deny that fears of the Covid-19 coronavirus have something to do with the radical shift in outlook, though a few respondents fear there’s nothing to fear but fear itself. But there’s a lot of fear, so they’re afraid.

“Seriously," says one sole practitioner, "I think the media is making way too much out of this.  We always have sickness, especially during tax season.  It's just one more thing to worry about.”

Others, however, are concerned and taking preemptive action.

"I've canceled all face-to-face client meetings," says solo practitioner Kenneth Stafford at Stafford Advisors in Falmouth, Maine.

Nina Tross

"I think we may do more online activities by collecting data and tax documents," adds Nina Tross, MBA, EA, and executive director of the National Association of Tax Professionals.

Robert Hartmann (via NAEA)

“Our office wipes down every day," Robert Hartmann, EA, founder and president of Hartmann Professional Services in Sparks, NV, says. "If the virus were to get into our office we would have to close or limit contact with our clientele. We do spray (alcohol and distilled water) on all dropped-off material before distributing to staff.”

Whether or not the disease itself becomes a problem, quarantines are going to complicate the tax season. Staff may need to stay home to care for kids whose schools have closed. Clients may not have access to the information they need for tax purposes. Travel could become restricted.

Timing will be a big issue. Will the spread of the virus (and the quarantines) peak before April 15? Or, will quarantines and anti-contamination efforts stave off the worse until after the season?

“But if…”

“It shouldn't have much effect, depending on what part of the country you are in," says a CPA named Toni, working out of offices in Louisiana. She isn’t panicking, but she’s concerned, telling us, "If the IRS and other government agencies start shutting down to avoid contact, it could have a significant effect.”

CPA Trendlines Busy Season Barometer

The closing of government offices and schools, plus the widespread canceling of events, is almost certain to impact the economy. The stock market sees it coming, and so do CPAs. When the Barometer asked before the pandemic, “What are your chief concerns?” only eight percent specified the economy. But now, that number has tripled to 23 percent.

Concerns over late clients, competition, tax regs, IRS operations, and most other issues are remaining pretty stable.

But worries about personal or family issues are taking a big jump, from 16 percent to 25 percent – presumably, concerns over how to care for sick family members while dealing with the busy season made busier by absent staff.

Outlook on revenues and profits are also tanking, a reasonable response to fears of closed offices, sick clients, a lagging economy, and IRS services slowing from glacial to comatose.

Today, the numbers are down—not by much, but heading into a bearish direction.

Busy Season Barometer responses through February showed a bullish 72 percent expecting increases in total revenue and in net profit. Today, expectations of higher revenues have dropped to 68 percent, and optimism for net profit gains have sunk to 63 percent. These latter figures are very close to those of 2019 in the weeks when the government was shut down.

It’s not clear whether washing hands, wiping doorknobs and sticking to fist-bumps — or even closing the office and working from home — will dissipate the dark clouds of doom.


25 Responses to “Tax Season Turns Ugly under Coronavirus”

  1. Bess Huff

    All of the clients that have already filed and scheduled payment drafts for April 15 is wanting to put off the payments until July 15th and I just don’t know what to tell them. I’m sure calling IRS will not get a definite response. Anyone have guidance on this. All reports is that the put off date will be automatic but what about ones that have already filed and scheduled payments?

    • April

      Go to the Under their Corona Virus section there is information for changing payment dates for direct withdrawals payments after the return has been e-filed. The taxpayer will need to call the number that the IRS provides to cancel the currently scheduled payment. Just make sure they know to re-schedule the payment, also.

    • Gina DeVine CPA

      The preparer can call EFTPS/IRS at 888-353-4537 and cancel the payment that was scheduled to draft when you efiled for the client. You don’t need POA to do this. You/the client cannot reschedule on that line, but can either reschedule via IRS Direct Pay, entering the banking info and setting the preferable/later date, or else the client can mail a check postmarked on the preferable/later date.

  2. TAB CPA

    We are trying to limit interviews for tax returns-encouraging dropoffs

  3. Michael

    Are people going to stay home and not send us their information. Are clients going to bee able to pay us?

  4. sam

    Hard to say, but employee illness always impacts the season. Any quarantine will change things regardless of our tech.

  5. WMM

    We’re doing more work done remotely, and not interviewing tax clients in person.

  6. EA Bob

    The impact could be a much slower season because of fears by clients, and actual illness by staff.

  7. Tom

    Clients not bringing information on time and the tornado that hit Nashville has caused extra work.

  8. Scott Sanders

    Shutdowns may extend the deadlines for taxpayers removing the tax season pressures

  9. Gretchen

    Sick Professional Staff would slow production and ultimately cash flow.

    Luckily I have wealthy client’s but I have been worried about cash flow if clients are laid off and can’t pay. Call me crazy but I would not hold a return hostage if someone fell on hard times.

  10. Cathi Warnick

    This week has been slow, and I think people are waiting for the IRS to extend the deadline as well.

  11. Dan

    Meeting with clients is a problem.

  12. Delores Thom

    It won’t hurt my business. I do my business from my home office.

  13. Tod

    Not too bad yet. Staff allowed to work from home more than last year. It will be much worse for our biz clients

  14. B Land

    Everyone is trying to avoid crowds of people

  15. Ruth

    If congress extends filing deadlines it will drag out the season. Clients will not know they owe and it is unknown how late paying will be handled. As companies slow down or close people are being laid off. Expect a recession in the coming months. Since people will have less money more will try to do their own taxes. If the services of the companies we rely on also are reduced either by funding or reduced manpower it will be more difficult to provide service to our clients.

  16. Steve Seymour

    I think the majority of accounting firms will be affected whether indirectly or directly. For example, although the virus has not yet hit our community, many of my clients want to talk about what’s going on with the virus as well as the stock market. Most of my clients come back year after year so a relationship of trust has been built. Many are seeking guidance and support from me and my staff. We are taking the time to be that listening ear that they need. Time is very valuable in tax season, but calming our clients’ fears and concerns is a good use of some of that time. Also, schools have now closed until April 6. Someone will need to be home for the kids. It’s going to be interesting!

  17. Beth

    We have an older staff and many older clients that have health issues. We could be significantly impacted by the Coronavirus.

  18. Mark J Knighton CPA MST

    My main worry is IRS if they shut down, it will be a royal mess . I think it is good a lot of CPA’s and staff are working remotely More remote CPE also although i like to go to the seminars and talk with the others participants. Some clients you need to meet with if they new have issues,. these can be deferred off to later in the year. Personally stretching out the tax season a bit is not that bad a thing A line of credit may help I have noticed some fall off in receipts the last 7-10 days .Very few of my clients need a face to face and I had a mail slot cut into the door. All in all it remains to be seen how bad this will be .the most important thing is the health aspect and the need to have the US prepared to deal with this type of issues. I think this is like 9-11 in that we were not prepared and got caught unprepared Lack of Stockpiled Medical supplies etc. Time for the political process to get out of this partisan funk . We need a Roosevelt a Trumen or Eisenhower and what do we have ?

  19. Rita Schooley

    We have the technology in place so all employees are allowed to work at home all the time. We have set practice and procedures but those may evolve. One or two with multiple young children have decided to come to the office but there is no more than one person per office. Clients are not to come to the office. We sent out an email to all clients and the response was supportive

  20. S.D. TAX PRO

    Canceled appointments – that gang up after April 1.

  21. jack annunziato

    Tremendous impact.

  22. Cecilia K.

    In my opinion, the Coronavirus may create a positive impact…allowing tax and accounting practitioners to get stronger virtual participation in facilitating documents, conversations, and follow-up with clients.

  23. David Crouch

    Our Bay Area California firm, Bregante + Company LLP, has taken precautionary measures, and have closed our 3 office locations, with all employees working remotely until the end of tax season. So thankful we have gone all in on the cloud and paperless methods!


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