By Joe Sylvester
Taxpayers should have received their W-2s and some are already gathering their financial paperwork for a trip to their local tax preparer.
This is the calm before the storm for accountants and others who prepare personal tax returns to file by April 15.
While there are some minor changes taxpayers can expect for the 2019 tax year, most of the tax law is pretty much the same. That is making this tax season less complicated for taxpayers and tax preparers alike.
“The forms will still be the same,” said Certified Public Accountant Courtney Solomon, a partner in the Herring, Roll and Solomon, an accounting firm in Sunbury. “Everything new for ’18 will be back for ’19.”
The biggest change is those without health insurance no longer have to pay a penalty.
“For some people, that is going to be a positive thing,” said Brian Elsasser, a CPA, certified valuation analyst and partner with Wagner, Dreese, Elsasser and Associates in Selinsgrove.
He said there were more changes the previous year.
“I think it took us a whole year to get us settled in with this new tax law,” Elsasser said.
Solomon said the standard deduction, a change in 2018, went up slightly in 2019.
She said clients have started bringing in their paperwork.
“It’s already getting crazy,” she said.
Not nearly like it was before electronic filing.
“When I first started 21 years ago, everything was paper filed,” Solomon said. “We still have some clients that like paper filing. Most of the clients are on board with electronic filing.”
“The work day is not as bad as it used to be, because of computers,” said CPA Penelope Margoles, of Selinsgrove. “We did everything by hand.”
She said she has been preparing tax returns since the early 1980s.
“My hand used to cramp up. Now my brain just cramps up,” she quipped.
“With computers, you’re putting the information in once,” said CPA Patricia Young, of Milton.
She said that is more efficient, as opposed filling out the paperwork by hand, sending it through the mail to the Internal Revenue Service, where someone else had to enter the data by hand.
“I’m 59. The first couple years I prepared returns, I did them by hand,” Elsasser said. “We cannot do them by hand anymore, nor would they be as accurate as the new software.”
Technology hasn’t hurt business
Electronic filing and software to help people do their own tax returns has not meant less business for those who prepare tax returns. The opposite probably is true,” said Solomon. “Last year, with the new format and new tax law, a lot of people were scared. Even this year, we got a couple phone calls from people saying, ‘I’m uncomfortable (doing my own returns).’”
Margoles said her office is just getting geared up. It will get really busy around mid-February.
“Mid-February to mid-April is kind of awful,” she said.
Young said the rush should start this week, as people receive their W2s. Those with more complicated returns, those who have more complicated investments, usually go in between late February and early March.
“We don’t get anywhere near as many people having to go on extension,” she said.
“We used to have quite a few. Most people get their information here by the end of March. Part of that is electronic filing, because you don’t have to rush to the post office.”
Elsasser said the rush of clients come in three waves, those with deductions such as couples with children, starting the first week in February; a heavy concentration of business returns from around Feb. 15 until March 15, and individuals with numerous investments and businesses such as limited partnerships, from March 15 to April 15.
The last group usually brings its paperwork in later in the preparation period because it takes longer for them to receive all of the paperwork they need, he said.
“Those are typically the complicated returns,” Elsasser said.
Depending on the number of investments, those returns could run from a dozen pages to more than 1,000.
“Sometimes they come out like a small novel,” he said.
Those who are expecting a refund usually bring their paperwork in early, while those who believe they will owe money to the government take their time coming in, Elsasser said.
There always are a few people who seek extensions, but most file on time.
“You always have those every year, they will jump from accountant to accountant and come in the last minute,” Solomon said. “We try to accommodate them, but it’s difficult when they come in April 14th or 15th and have box of stuff.”
The CPAs said, though, tax season should run smoother than it did last year.
Young said that with the changes in the tax law, new forms and the government shutdown last year, there was more uncertainty. She said people thought the government was going to withhold tax refunds, which resulted in a rush of clients in late January and early February.
“We don’t have that combination this year,” she said. “It’s a little more relaxed. It takes the pressure off and you don’t have worry.”
“One year we had a computer issue,” Solomon said. “That was awful.”
Margoles said the horror stories are the people who wait until April 10 to bring in their paperwork.
“I try not to extend people, if I can,” she said.
Last year, she extended eight.
“Oftentimes, clients pity us and bring us candy and coffee,” Margoles said.