Monthly Archives: September 2010

Tax Preparation Requirements ? What Your CPA Needs when Preparing Your Taxes

The goal of a Certified Public Accountant is to prepare your tax return accurately and with the biggest refund allowable or in some cases, owing less to the IRS. To do so, the CPA has to obtain all the pertinent information from the taxpayer. There are two primary ways to obtain this information. The first option is to sit down, face to face with the client, and ask 40-80 questions, provide them with a list of documents they will need and send the taxpayer home to accumulate the documents.

The most efficient option is for the Certified Public Accountant to provide the taxpayer with a questionnaire and a list of documents they will need before the client arrives in the office. The questionnaire lets the CPA know the areas that they need to research or ask additional questions which in turn could lead to a more robust tax refund for the client.

A typical question would be, “Did you purchase a new car during the tax year?” If the answer is yes, the CPA knows to inquire about sales tax paid (which is a deduction), and can ask further questions about the use of the vehicle (personal or business) which might result in further deductions. A CPA can review the list quickly which lowers the client invoice since most CPAs charge by the hour.

Most CPAs create their own list of documents needed to complete tax preparation for a client, and usually consists of one or two pages. Generally, the minimum a Certified Public Accountant needs is:

– Form(s) W-2 (wages, etc.)

– Form(s) 1099 (interest, dividends, etc.)

– Schedule(s) K-1 (income/loss from partnerships, S corporations, etc.)

– Form(s) 1098 (mortgage interest) and property tax statements

– Brokerage statements from stock, bond or other investment transactions

– Closing statements pertaining to real estate transactions

– All other supporting documents (schedules, checkbooks, etc.)

– Any tax notices received from the IRS or other taxing authorities

– Prior Year’s Tax Return if prepared by different firm.

– Value of donated items.

By bringing these items to your CPA, you will save time, money and frustration – all while potentially uncovering hidden deduction gems and saving you money on your tax return.

John Harman is a Certified Public Accountant in McKinney Texas. With over 25 years in the tax preparation industry, John has the knowledge and insight to get the most out of your corporate or personal tax returns.

Go Green: Sell Your CPA Firm with a Monthly Email Newsletter

Meet Diana. She runs a catering firm and is always challenged with paying her five employees on time.

 

Although Diana likes her accountant, she’s overwhelmed by her finances. Her accountant sends her a CPA newsletter now and then – in the mail. The tips sometimes look useful, but she never reads them.

 

Now meet Angela. With her own business – she has three employees for her landscaping outfit – and two kids nearing college, she’s busy, too.

 

Nobody would deny that a monthly accounting newsletter pays in terms of both client retention and client acquisition. Your existing clients will appreciate that you’re taking time to keep them informed. Prospective clients, however, often require some time before they close. A monthly newsletter is the perfect way to keep your brand in front of them while you wait for that critical moment when, for whatever reason, the prospect finally needs your CPA services.

 

Angela gets a CPA newsletter, too – straight to her email account. She stars it and reads it later, when she has more time.

 

Last week, she read an article about the best college savings plans. She went straight to her accountant to set up a new account.

 

Both of these accountants are savvy business people. Both have websites and both get the concept of networking, but Angela’s accountant has learned how to use the website to cut her newsletter costs and make it more effective.

 

Emailed Newsletters Are Better for Clients and Prospects…

 

Clearly, Diana’s newsletter isn’t doing her any good.

 

Angela, however, gets a lot out of hers. It educates her about financial matters and gives her action steps that help her manage her complicated finances. It also helps her stay more connected to her accountant, which helps her feel in control.

 

Emailed Newsletters Are Better for Accountants…

 

With an emailed newsletter, a CPA firm is more efficient – saving time and money – and it has stronger client and prospect relationships, which leads to more clients and better client retention. Why?

 

Here are 6 reasons…

 

1. Saves Money: An emailed newsletter is far cheaper than a paper one. Let’s compare costs:

 

Costs of Paper Newsletter

• write content or buy license

• design and layout

• paper

• ink

• printer

• labels

• postage

Total = $800-$900 per issue / $9,600-$10,800 per year

 

Costs of Emailed Newsletter

Total = $0.00 (included in your web suite)

 

2. Saves Time

 

Not only do you have to pay for all the materials when you send a paper newsletter, but also you need to take the time to coordinate the writing, design, printing, and distribution.

 

Your emailed client newsletter is automatically uploaded to your site and then emailed to all your clients. If you want to take a few minutes to add a couple custom messages, you can; or just leave it as is. Your clients still receive a superior product.

 

3. Clients Actually Read Them

 

When clients receive a newsletter in the mail – stapled over, black and white – they usually recycle it. They have too many competing needs, and opening a piece of mail that’s not a bill is low on their list. They also might not choose to keep it around so it won’t clutter their living room.

 

Emailed newsletters, on the other hand, can be archived and read when the client has the time. Further, more and more people are used to reading and gathering information online. It fits with their schedule – they can read it at work, on the weekends, or on the commuter train. Design your email newsletter to drive the reader to your website. This way even if they don’t decide to act on the actual article there’s a good chance some other service will catch their eye that actually inspires them to act.

 

4. Go Green

 

Everyone is going green these days. The less paper and ink you use – as well as fuel for the delivery trucks and cargo jets – the better for our planet and the cheaper it is for you. Going green is good marketing, but it also saves you money.

 

Clients appreciate less waste, too. Emailing a newsletter reflects well on your firm.

 

5. Stronger Relationships

 

When client or prospect get an emailed newsletter, they hear from you once a month. If they have a festering tax or financial question, all they have to do is it “reply” to send you a message, or see your phone number on the newsletter and give you a call. This not only brings in new clients, but increases billable hours for the client you already have.

 

It’s a monthly reminder that you’re there and it provides a super-easy way to get in touch.

 

6. The Way of the Future

 

There’s no question that fewer and fewer professionals will send paper newsletters in the future. Email is the method used for all types of transactions, and that will only increase. Everyone needs to make the switch at some point.

 

CPA newsletters are for more effective when they’re emailed instead of mailed.

 

Just imagine being able to sit back and let clients come to you! Make the most of today’s online opportunities. It’s easier than you think. Most website providers include an emailed client newsletter with their service. If yours doesn’t there are provders that can plug one in for you. It benefits both you and your clients.

Brian O’Connell is the CEO and founder of CPA Site Solutions, one of the country’s biggest web design businesses dedicated solely to CPA website design. His company at present provides websites for more than 4000 CPA, accounting, and bookkeeping firms.

Selling Your Practice Online: Finding the Best CPA Website Design

Numerous companies provide CPA websites. This guide helps you determine what’s most important in a web designer – and what to watch out for.

 

Look for These 7 Attributes in a CPA Website Designer

 

1. A wide variety of modern designs

 

Make sure your website designer provides a number of design choices – at least 100, and not just the same 5 or 6 styles with different colors. You should be able to customize your site or build it from the ground up, or, if you’d rather, choose from stock styles. Make sure your website designer allows you to see all their designs before you sign up.

 

2. Loads of content

 

The designer you choose should be able to load your website with tons of content, at least 1,000 pages. Also, be sure a good portion of these are customizable, and that you can add your own pages if desired.

 

3. Web tools

 

A high-quality website design firm will offer web tools at no extra cost. You find lots of tools out there, but these are the most important:

 

Emailed CPA newsletter for your clients (make sure the designer emails the newsletter and doesn’t just put it online)
Email accounts and shared calendars for your firm
Client portal, which allows you to store and transfer files that you need to share with your clients
Financial calculators – a wide variety of them
Tax organizers – and they should be customizable
Integrated blog

 

4. Flexibility in who can make changes

 

Look for a company that will be happy to make changes for you, or will allow you to make changes to the content of the site yourself. You also want to make sure there’s no extra charge for making changes – so that if a member of your firm makes partner, for example, you can up this information without a penalty.

 

5. SEO, SEM, and other marketing efforts that go beyond just the website

 

Although professional CPA websites are important for marketing accounting firms, in today’s high-tech world, just having a website doesn’t cut it. SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, is a process that gets your website listed near the top of the search engine results. SEM, or Search Engine Marketing, is the pay-per-click ads on the search engines.

 

Be sure your web designer offers SEO and SEM, and that they are knowledgeable about marketing in general.

 

6. Free trials and guarantees

 

Several companies offer free trial periods of 30 or 60 days. Some also offer guarantees: if your website is not profitable, you get your money back. (Just be sure to read the fine print on the guarantee. For some, you need to supply so much documentation that it’s not worth the trouble.)

 

7. Testimonials

 

Any website designer worth their salt will have testimonials from satisfied clients – preferably clearly displayed on their site. If you don’t see any, that’s a warning sign.

 

Avoid These 3 Pitfalls

 

1. Hidden fees

 

Some website design companies look like a great value – until you look closely and see they’re charging for features you assumed were included in the package. Watch out for these hidden fees:

 

Setup or design fees
Extra charges for web tools, like calculators and newsletters
Extra charges to make changes to the site
Extra charges for more than one email account for your firm
A fee for enough space in the client portal to make it usable (the client portal should have at least 250 MB of storage space as part of the base package)

 

2. Need to sign up before you can see designs

 

Several website providers only allow you to see their styles once you sign up for their service. If you end up not liking the designs, you’re out of luck. You should go with a company that clearly displays all their site styles before asking for a commitment from you.

 

3. Contracts that lock you in / annual commitments

 

Choose a website designer that doesn’t require you to sign a contract. It’s also preferable to go with a company that bills monthly, rather than yearly. Look for a firm that allows you to cancel your account at any time and with no penalties.

 

With a little research, you can find a website designer for your accounting firm that’s affordable and transparent, and that provides you with a dynamic website that will attract new clients and retain existing ones.

Brian O’Connell is the founder of CPA Site Solutions and Websites4Accountants. Follow here for more about finding the best provider of CPA websites.

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