More than many other professionals, tax professionals are constantly faced with the need to keep their knowledge and their skills current. Tax laws change – sometimes dramatically – from one year to the next. If you’re not up to speed on the latest changes, you’ll wind up making more work for yourself and potentially costing your clients money.
What makes this situation even more frustrating is that the government often makes changes at the last minute, and that it takes time for new tax law to trickle down into public knowledge.
If you want to do the best you can for your clients and keep your knowledge and skills current, there are some things you can do to stay on top of new tax law:
- Read. You need to read regularly. Read financial literature, business periodicals, and more. You need to be aware of what new tax law is being proposed, whether the laws pass, and how those changes might affect your clients. You’ll want to subscribe to local business journals, and you’ll regularly want to read national financial publications such as the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Money, and more.
- Associate with other tax professionals. Getting together with other professionals in the accounting and tax arena is a great way to keep your skills sharp. There are a number of different types of opportunities. There are state and national organizations of tax professionals that regularly have conferences or even regional meetings. There may be business groups that meet in your area, or in a nearby city. Getting together with other professionals lets you hear about the things that, left to your own, you might miss.
- Educate yourself about current tax changes. It doesn’t hurt to take a refresher or an update course from time to time. A one-day course on the tax law changes for the year can save you all sorts of headache and confusion during tax season. If you’ve taken a season or two off, a more extensive refresher course might be useful. Take advantage of online educational tools, as well.
- Visit the IRS website. The IRS has done a decent job of getting new tax law information out to the public and to tax professionals via their website. While it’s not always the most organized resource, chances are you can usually find what you’re looking for with a little bit of patience. The online seminars offered by the IRS can be especially useful for the tax professional.
- Don’t forget changes to state and local tax laws, as well. Federal tax laws are generally fairly easy to keep up on. State and local governments don’t always do as good a job keeping people informed about changes. Your state’s treasury department may put out an annual publication detailing changes to tax law that have taken place. In terms of local tax law changes, you’ll have to check with the particular municipality as to whether there have been any changes.
- Always be on the watch for learning opportunities. For example, a client’s audit can potentially give you some lessons on the way things have changed. This isn’t the idea situation, of course, but it illustrates the point: there are learning opportunities all around you. Take advantage of them.
- Listen to your clients. Clients have a vested interest in how tax laws affect them. In some cases, a client might be following legislation that directly affects his or her industry in a way that you’re probably not. By listening to clients’ concerns, you’ll know what areas you need to research, or what to be on the lookout for.
Why do all of this? Why go to all of the trouble to keep current? There are several ways this helps your business:
- You’ll have fewer errors when you prepare a client’s tax return.
- You’ll have fewer rejected returns because of one of those errors.
- Your clients will have greater confidence in you knowing that you’re on top of the changes. That will ultimately lead to greater client satisfaction and even more clients.
Don’t let your professional development lag behind. You have a responsibility to yourself and to your client to keep current withnew tax law.
Take your skills to the next level. Become a Certified Tax Coach.