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Love your CPA? Prove it!

The other day we got to talking around the office and made an interesting observation. It seems the more you love, trust, and need your CPA, the messier your stack of paperwork when you go to visit them each spring.

We know you love us. We love you, too. But can you do us a little favor? Imagine what our office would look like if everyone brings in grocery sacks crammed with receipts. Or file boxes with papers jammed in every which way... even we are shuddering at the thought.

Yes, we are nerds and love untangling, um, creative bookkeeping. We also really love helping clients who are clearly drowning in seas of incomprehensible forms and paperwork. It makes us so happy to help them right the ship, get back on track, and understand their finances. But, while we're happy to help, paperwork situations like the example above have unintended consequences:

  • It takes us longer to process your return (and everyone else's) when the paperwork is a mess.

  • We have to charge more because we make copies of what you bring us and that takes time and resources. If you bring us a single sheet of paper with totals on it instead of stacks of receipts we have to copy and then add, you're saving yourself money right there.

  • It's wasteful of said time and resources.

We wanted to know why it is that so many clients bring in every little scrap of paper they've been given throughout the year... receipts, copies, little notes with mileage tracked on them, etc. A non-CPA friend/client explained it to us: "What you do is magic. It's seriously like a miracle to people like me. Not being any kind of magician or deity, I don't know what you need to make it all happen. I just assume that you need everything with a number on it, so I put it all in a big file and drop it off in April. What does it all mean? What forms do you need? How am I filing? What kinds of write-offs do I have? How would I know? That's what you're for. If I could make heads or tails of it, I'd do it myself.'

So, we came up with a little list of things you can do to help your CPA - consider it a public service announcement for my fellow professionals everywhere:

1. Start early. Get yourself organized as soon as you can. Better yet, stay organized throughout the year. Separate different types of paperwork - income, expenses, donations, proof of insurance, etc.

We suggest using a plastic file folder to keep all your paperwork in. Sort it by date as you get it and if you're really feeling ambitious, keep a running total so you don't have as much adding to do at the end of the year.

2. Keep a list of what forms/paperwork you give your CPA from year-to-year and make sure you have all those documents before you give them your paperwork. It saves you from having to run to their office, pop it in the mail, or scan and email it after the fact.

3. Fill out the organizer they send you at the beginning of each year. In our office, it's a quick questionnaire so we're up to speed on any changes in your life since last year. It also helps jog your memory in case you should be expecting new paperwork this year or you're not quite as organized as you're hoping you'd be and you have to hunt the forms down.

4. Sign the agreement letter. Most firms send clients this type of letter that says we're authorized by you to prepare your return based on the information you give us. That last bit is important and we'll talk more about that in #5.

5. Let's get back to your paperwork. Instead of bringing us stacks of receipts straining at their rubber bands, just give us totals. For the love of all things nerdy, keep your receipts! That way, if the IRS audits you we can back up the numbers you gave us. Just add them up in the different categories under which they fall (if you're really not that good with math, add it three times to make sure the total is right) and then give us those numbers.

Again, we prepare your return based on the numbers you give us. As long as you add things up properly and have the receipts to prove it, we're good to go. Just save the receipts.

While we're on the topic of receipts, let's talk about medical expenses. If you have receipts for prescriptions, etc. then again, just give us the total and save the receipts. We don't need printouts of every medication you take or what your office visit was for.

If you're using a 125 Plan or HSA at work, then I need to know how much of your total expenses are paid by the plan.

6. If you're filing your paperwork by type throughout the year, that means that you opened it and looked it over. This is a good thing! Opening your envelopes saves us time and effort. Plus, we don't need the envelopes. Checking the paperwork to make sure there aren't any mistakes is always a savvy thing to do.

7. We know staples help keep you organized, but we'd be much obliged if you'd stick to paperclips. In our office, we make copies of (nearly) everything you bring us. That means if you staple stuff together, we have to take it apart, run it through the copier, and then staple it back together. Removing a paperclip instead of a staple saves time on processing your return. Trust us, we spend a lot of time prying stapled paper apart.

8. We don't know what glue Post-Its use, but dang! Those things are seriously sticky, and difficult to get off of paperwork. If you don't mind, just skip them and use a full sheet of paper instead of little neon stickies! Not only can we run it through the copier faster, but we don't have to fight that glue.

Many thanks from CPAs everywhere!

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