Tax season can add to your already busy workload, particularly if you have a larger client base or serve clients with more complex tax situations. Planning early can help ensure a smoother, less stressful process for everyone involved. Putting together a tax preparer checklist for clients can also help you verify that you have everything you need before it’s time to file.
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Benefits of Using a Tax Prep Checklist
Creating systems and organized processes can benefit both you and your clients in diverse ways. From an advisor perspective, having a tax preparer checklist to follow can make it easier to:
- Check that you have all of the documents necessary to do your clients’ taxes.
- Complete client taxes accurately and completely, so that their returns are less likely to be flagged by the IRS.
- Produce the best outcomes for clients by maximizing every tax break they’re eligible for.
- Manage your time and avoid potential slowdowns resulting from missing or incomplete information.
- Anticipate any questions your clients might have during the tax planning process.
- Create a contingency plan should your client need to file an extension.
The overall end result is a better experience for your clients, which can yield yet another benefit. If clients are satisfied with your tax planning services, they may be more likely to remain your client for the long term. They may also be more inclined to refer you to friends, family members or coworkers, allowing new opportunities to expand your client base.
What to Include in a Tax Preparer Checklist for Clients
Every advisor is different regarding how they approach tax planning, but there are some commonalities to consider when preparing for the season. As you create your tax prep checklist, you may find it helpful to break it down into different segments.
Here are some of the basic elements to include in a tax preparer checklist for clients.
You’ll first need to ensure that you have the correct personal information for each client you’re handling tax prep for. That includes organizing the following:
- Social Security number (or Taxpayer Identification Number)
- Date of birth
- Mailing address and physical address
- Phone number
- Email address
You’ll need the name, date of birth and Social Security number for any dependents your client plans to claim on their return. If you anticipate clients receiving a tax refund, you’ll also need their bank account information for direct deposit. Specifically, that includes the routing number of the bank and the account number they’d like their refund deposited into.
After gathering your clients’ personal information, you can move on to collecting details about their income. The types of documentation you’ll need here can depend on which sources of income they have, but your tax prep checklist may include:
- W2 forms
- 1099 forms
- Proof of business income
- Proof of rental property income
- Bank account statements
- Brokerage account statements
- Pension, annuity and Social Security statements
- Unemployment compensation statements
- Documentation for other types of income, such as gambling winnings or jury pay
- Documentation regarding the sale of a home or other tangible asset
There are a variety of 1099 forms your client may present to you to prepare their tax return. Some of the most common include 1099-MISC, 1099-R, 1099-INT and 1099-DIV.
If your client receives alimony payments, you may collect documentation for that as well. Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, alimony is no longer considered taxable income, but you may still need to account for those payments for financial planning purposes.
Deductions and Credits
Claiming every possible deduction or tax credit that your clients qualify for can help to lower their tax bill or increase their refund if they’re expecting one. The types of information you’ll need to gather for this part of your tax prep checklist can include:
- 401(k) contributions
- IRA contributions
- Health Savings Account (HSA) contributions
- Charitable contributions
- Medical expenses paid out of pocket
- Mortgage interest paid (listed on Form 1098)
- Child and dependent care expenses, if applicable
- Adoption costs, if applicable
- Tuition expenses and/or student loan interest paid (listed on Form 1098-T and 1098-E, respectively)
- Records for state and local taxes paid, including personal property tax
- Health insurance premiums paid out of pocket, if self-employed
- Documentation showing any energy-efficient improvements made to a home
- Records of moving expenses (for military members only)
- Home equity loan or line of credit statements showing interest paid
- Expenses associated with a rental property
The IRS accepts a wide range of documentation as proof when claiming deductions or tax credits. In addition to bank account statements or other financial account statements, you may ask clients to provide you with canceled checks or receipts as proof that they’ve paid a particular expense.
If you have clients who are business owners, you’ll need to add a separate section to your tax prep checklist to organize that information. The type of details you’ll need can include:
- Basic information about the business, including its structure and who owns it
- Profit and loss statements or income statements
- Sales records
- Inventory records
- Documentation for the purchase or sale of business assets
- Vehicle records if the client plans to deduct them
- Documentation for other deductible expenses, such as business travel, inventory, office supplies and rent or lease payments
- Payroll records or documentation showing payments made to independent contractors
- Charitable contributions made by the business
- Fees paid for professional services
- Professional membership fees
- Costs related to career advancement or education
Again, the types of documentation clients may provide can include receipts, invoices, sales slips and deposit slips. If they work with independent contractors or freelancers, you may need to obtain copies of any contractors they have in place with those individuals as well.
If your clients made any tax payments during the year, you’d need information for those as well. The most common types of payments they might make can include:
- Quarterly estimated tax payments if they’re self-employed
- Real estate tax
- Personal property tax
You may also need to collect records of sales tax paid if your client plans to deduct those amounts on their return.
Tax season can get hectic, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming for you or your clients. With a tax preparer checklist ready to go, you can tackle tax planning for your clients confidently and with less time wasted.
Tips for Growing Your Advisory Business
- One of the biggest challenges of gaining new clients is simply being found by the right audience. Building a financial advisor website and cultivating a social media following can help increase your visibility, but you might consider an online lead generation service if you’re looking for an additional boost. SmartAdvisor can help you avoid hours of cold calling or emailing and connect you with leads.
- Using tax planning software for financial advisors can help you keep track of everything you’ll need to help prepare client returns. If you’re already using financial planning software, you may have tax planning tools built in. The best financial planning software for financial advisors includes a comprehensive range of features at a price that’s affordable.
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