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Deadlines, disorganized clients top complaints among CPAs

One client ‘used to bring in all his tax records in a suitcase’

Think tax time is tough for you? Try being a professional tax preparer, a job that gives a whole new meaning to the term March (and April) Madness.

Interviews with a handful of area CPAs and tax attorneys found widespread agreement that the first few months of the year are by far their most challenging time of the year, although they had slightly different takes on the challenges they face.

For tax attorney David Rosen, director of tax services at the Owings Mills-based accounting and business consulting firm of RS&F, the biggest bugaboo is the time crunch.

“We have to have all of our work done, every single client, by April 15,” he said. “But often, clients don’t get the information they need [from the IRS] till mid-March. … For some of the sophisticated companies, the amount of work is staggering.”

The time squeeze is exacerbated, Rosen said, by the increasing complexity of both federal and state regulations.

Companies that do business in different states, he said, have to file in those states. “And every state has its own set of rules,” he said. “It is getting increasingly difficult to comply with state regulations.”

Charles Keenan, an attorney with the Belair-based firm law firm of Stark and Keenan, said the federal government makes his work on trusts more difficult. The forms he needs used to be available by Jan. 31, he said, but now don’t have to be available till Feb. 15.

“And half the time, they revise them after that,” he said. “Sometimes, the 1099s and K1s aren’t available till the middle of March.”

His clients, meanwhile, need the information to file their tax returns, which, of course, are due April 15. Often, he said, the clients have to file for extensions.

Kurt Sturn, a partner at the Baltimore office of CohnReznick with 30 years of experience in the business, had a similar complaint. He also noted that the IRS doesn’t allow electronic returns until late January or early February.

“It’s more than just unfair,” he said of meeting the April 15 deadline when so much information is not available until February or March. “You can’t get ahead of the game.”

Walter Stone

Walter R. Stone, attorney at Adelberg, Rudow, Dorf & Hendler, LLC. (The Daily Record/Maximilian Franz)

For some, the pet peeve isn’t tight deadlines or complex regulations. It is disorganized, ill-prepared clients who expect them to bring order to their chaotic records.

“I had a client, a doctor, who used to bring in all his tax records in a suitcase,” recalled Walter Stone, a non-practicing CPA and tax attorney with Adelberg, Rudow, Dorf & Hendler in Baltimore. “It was not nice.”

Sturn had a more lighthearted pet peeve.

“In October, November, December, we’re very popular,” he said of accountants. “We get invited to a lot of parties, a lot of events. But after that, people stop inviting us. I guess they figure we’re working all the time.”

He conceded that accountants work long hours in late winter and early spring, but said: “We do take time out for dinner. We do go out. So, please, don’t stop inviting us.”

Brian Crepeau, a partner specializing in taxes with Rosenberg Martin Greenberg, a business law firm in Baltimore, had a few complaints about tax time. One was the complicated tax code and the April 15 deadline, and another was clients who “give me all their tax stuff on April 10 and then say they really need it done by April 15.”

But another of his complaints was this: all the complaining done by his fellow accountants.

“My biggest complaint is all the drama associated with it,” Crepeau said. CPAs “complain about how they have to work nights and long hours. I tell them, ‘Look, the weather’s crappy, there’s no football. What else do you have to do this time of year? And anyway, you chose to do this for a living.’

“I’ve been doing this since the mid-1990s, and it always gets done,” he added. “And if it doesn’t get done [by April 15], you file for an extension, that’s all.”

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