My name is Mark Goodfield. Welcome to The Blunt Bean Counter ™, a blog that shares my thoughts on income taxes, finance and the psychology of money. I am a tax partner and the managing partner of Cunningham LLP in Toronto. This blog is meant for everyone, but in particular for high net worth individuals and owners of private corporations. The views and opinions expressed in this blog do not reflect the position of Cunningham LLP. My posts are blunt, opinionated and even have a twist of humor/sarcasm. You've been warned.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Suggestions and Strategies to Facilitate the Tax Preparation Process for You and Your Accountant


The Blunt Bean Counter
Last year I wrote a tongue-in-cheek post “The Top Ten Accountant Pet Peeves about Personal Income Tax Season”. One of my long-time readers, who uses the pseudonym Pursuit 99, made the following comment on that blog post: “Thanks for the heads up on what not to do. It really is helpful. Now, how about a list of ten specific solutions or strategies that really benefit the process of personal tax completion for both you and the client.”

Pursuit 99, your wish is my command. Today, I will provide an accountants dream list of actions, forms and summaries that will benefit the tax preparation process for both the client and his/her accountant. Please excuse the overlap between todays post and the Pet Peeves post.

The list below requires the client to do extensive summarizing and organizing. I have a feeling some people after reading the list are going to be saying to themselves, “Pursuit 99 said what can be done to benefit the client and their accountant, not just their accountant.” However, there is an art to preparing a tax return as certain items require subjective decisions. You want your accountant to be spending his/her time making these decisions, not adding up your telephone bills. 

How to Become your Accountants Favourite Client


1. Provide your accountant a summary page of what forms and slips you have included in your tax package. You would be surprised how often there are disagreements as to what was received from a client. This summary keeps both sides accountable for information flow and retention.

2. Do not send a shoe box. Many accountants will not accept shoebox clients. I personally would be concerned about any accountant that does, since they are not spending time on what is important. In my opinion, any accountant who lets their clients bring in a shoe box every year is clearly not concerned with ensuring an efficient tax preparation process.

3. Open any envelope containing an income tax slip at home and do not send your accountant unopened envelopes. Do you really want to be paying your accountant to open envelopes? Also, if you have a cranky accountant like me, you have started off on the wrong foot.

4. Don’t send junk. Separate real tax slips from things like RRSP & TFSA application forms, monthly investment account statements for RRSP and RRIFs, last year's Efile form and last years actual return. If you are unsure, send the form, but don't send everything just because you are too lazy to sort through your tax papers. By the way, your accountant does not need a copy of last year's return, it is on their computer.

5. Advise your accountant upfront about any changes in your personal situation. The birth of children, address change, marital changes, extramarital affairs (just kidding, although this may explain why you have less investment income this year).

6. Summarize and total donation and medical expenses. Your accountant will review all donations slips to ensure they are deductible and all medical expenses to ensure they qualify and are deductible and have not been double counted (when there is an insurance plan in place). However, having a summarized total lets your accountant reconcile their totals with yours quickly.

7. Summarize capital gains/losses (if not provided by your financial advisor). This is a huge issue. Accountants do not have the time to figure out your gains and losses on 50 trades in the middle of tax season, let alone try and figure out the adjusted cost base for stocks you owned 10 years ago when you were not even their client. You either need to do this yourself, or engage your accountant to do this throughout the year so all your capital gains/losses are summarized before March. This is not to say you may not have specific questions regarding a cost base determination to discuss with your accountant. However, if you don't do the majority of the work, you will be charged an arm and a leg by your accountant for undertaking this task during tax season.

8. Make a copy of your 2011 T776 rental schedule and write the comparable 2012 numbers, excluding depreciation, beside the 2011 totals (or summarize your rental expenses on an excel spreadsheet). By undertaking this task, you will note any obvious discrepancies between the two years, which you should review before providing the information to your accountant. This exercise benefits your tax return process as instead of adding up rental expenses, your accountant can now concentrate on contentious issues such as whether a large rental repair is an expense or capital addition.

9. The same holds true for the T2125 or T2032 business and self-employment statements. Provide your accountant a summary of the income and expenses and a list of any questions you had in putting the numbers together. Your accountant can then spend time reviewing the numbers and asking questions rather than adding up a bunch of receipts.

10. If you do not keep an automobile log and are claiming car expenses for employment or business, at minimum, provide your accountant with your odometer reading at January 1st and December 31st. This quantifies your mileage driven during the year and will assist in the discussion as to what percentage of your automobile expenses were deductible in the year.

11. If you are claiming employment expenses, ensure you have obtained the T2200 Form from your employer and summarize your employment expenses for the year. The T2200 allows your accountant to review what expenses your employer says you incurred or were required to incur.

12. If you purchased a rental property during the year, provide your accountant with the purchase and sale agreement, statement of adjustments, legal fees and appraisal fees. This will save significant time on your file and ensure you get full benefit for all the initial costs incurred.

13. If your children are in University or College, ensure they download their T2202A tuition forms, since students can transfer up to $5,000 of tuition credits to their parents, but your accountant cannot make that determination without the T2202A form and your child's tax slips.

14. Don’t just tell your accountant your kids exceed the minimum $500 fitness amount. Obtain invoices and statements from the sports club, dance studio, etc. There is a good chance the CRA will request these forms to substantiate your claim, so ensure you have the correct numbers from the start.

15. If you are claiming child care, provide a copy of your Nanny’s T4. If you use daycare, provide a receipt that reflects payment for the year.

The above is a substantial list that requires significant time and effort on your behalf. However, if you provide most of these items, your fee should be lower and your accountant will have more time to spend minimizing your tax liability.

The blogs posted on The Blunt Bean Counter provide information of a general nature. These posts should not be considered specific advice; as each reader's personal financial situation is unique and fact specific. Please contact a professional advisor prior to implementing or acting upon any of the information contained in one of the blogs.

11 comments:

  1. Your list has taught me two overall lessons. 1) My tax situation is much simpler than your clients' situation, and 2) I do not want to become an accountant :-)

    Number 14 made me laugh. I can just hear the guy talking: "Oh, yeah, I don't have any fitness receipts, but don't worry -- I'm way over the $500 limit so you can just claim that."

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    1. Hey Michael,

      How can your situation be simpler than my clients when you earn so much in blogging revenue. You probably have a family trust with a corporate beneficiary and multiple family members as beneficiaries to split all that income :)

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  2. Replies
    1. Thx John and Phyllis, was hoping people would find it timely.

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  3. Awesome list.

    Looks like my return this year, other than some small business income, should be fairly straight-forward.

    Here's hoping my friend!
    Mark

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    1. Mark, dont forget to report all the income you made on the golf course from unsuspecting golf partners who did not know you were a scratch golfer :)

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  4. hmmm, so it's possible to claim car expenses without a vehicle log?

    This is the 2nd year I've intended but not got around to making a log for my partner's self-employed business (tho I do have mileage records). So far, we've just forgone making a vehicle expense claim, but I guess #10 implies that I can try making a claim using reasonable assumptions based on mileage?

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    1. Hi Anon

      In all my years as a CA, I have only had a few clients keep a log. Most either re-create some kind of log or just agree with the auditor on a reasonable number when audited. However, you are always at the mercy of the auditor without a log.

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  5. To help a client, I have seen good checklists that one can use and make notes when sitting done with the Accountant. This can be used to verify what was dropped off as a starting point. This also helps the CA of what is expected from client and not the shoe box. I am a CA but in industry and don't miss the tax season. CA's need to educate their clients. Just like you who can read their minds of their ACB, etc, clients can's read their CA minds on what is needed or the process pain one can endure doing taxes. It can also help reduce the invoice for the client and eventual write-off by the CA. These articles helps bridge the pain and experience. Thanks for all CA's

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