Tax season is here. Many of you are already hot and heavy into preparing the first round of returns for this year. For some, it may be the first time to experience the exhilaration and exhaustion of busy season. For others, it’s more like old hat, get in the routine and settle in for the long haul.

No matter how many times this phase of the year has come around in your career, now is a great time to make sure that you’re going to have a tech-smart tax season. Gaining even just a little more tech-knowhow than last year can save you heaps of time. It can also help you manage your risk. No one is perfect, so why not leverage technology to make this as error-free a tax season as possible?


If You Are Supposed To Be Paperless, Be Paperless

These days, many firms operate in a paperless environment. Or, they try to. If your firm functions paper-free, be one of those people in the company who actually is paper-free. Especially if you have been preparing returns for many years, or if you are “old school,” sometimes it’s difficult to transition to operating in a fully electronic environment. But, commit to making the change.

If you are still printing out returns or work papers, ask yourself why. If it’s because you aren’t set up to look at multiple documents at once on-screen, request a new monitor or two. You can quickly recoup the expense of a new monitor by using less paper. And, don’t tell yourself you can’t prepare returns without printing them out to review.

You do have to get used to preparing and reviewing returns electronically, so give yourself a little time. But once you get the hang of it, you’ll almost never need to lug back from the printer reams of paper or drag paper copies of returns home to look at after dinner.


Use OCR Technology Instead Of Inputting Data Into Returns

OCR technology has been around for many years, especially in the banking industry. And, it has now existed for several years in the tax return preparation business. This technology is used to read source documents and then electronically input the information directly into tax software.

Utilized correctly, it can help you minimize the risk of data-entry errors. It can also save significant time hard-keying client information. If your software vendor has this technology available, learn how to use it. Then, implement its usage as part of the action steps used to complete returns.


Import W-2s and 1099s Directly From Payers

These days, a significant number of financial institutions, investment firms, and employers make their year-end tax documents available electronically and accessible for direct download into tax software. Just like the previous tip, this is a great way to save time and increase accuracy. Skip the hard-keying of information.

Spend more productive time ensuring that the return is correct and contains the tax positions most favorable for your client. But, be sure to give yourself a little extra time up front. You will need to secure permission from your client to implement this step. After you explain the benefits, most clients should be willing to allow you electronic access to these documents. In the end, this is generally a quick and painless process that can save heaps of time.


Use A Project Management App To Track Work

Gone are the days (or at least they should be) of the Excel spreadsheet to keep track of your work in process. Nearly all tax applications now operate via a dashboard where you can monitor the progress of each return. Or, if you have work other than just returns, there are project management applications that again operate via a dashboard concept. These allow you to monitor start dates, due dates, and milestone dates, plus see where in the pipeline projects currently sit. But, these are like other forms of technology.

You have to spend the time to understand how the applications operate. Decide to utilize a project management application and select one. Consider the one included with your tax software. Then, jump in and start using it. That’s the best way to get good at it. With a little practice, most dashboards are intuitive and quite easy to use. And then throw away that spreadsheet and congratulate yourself on moving into the 21st century.


Use Cloud-Based Storage For Greater Mobility and Access

Making sure that client information is secure is of utmost importance, especially in this time of security breaches and data hacks. One of the best ways to keep data safe is to use cloud-based storage. And, since the data is stored off of company hard drives, it is much less apt to be lost, especially if you have a system failure.

Depending on the application you employ, you can have a separate folder or even site for each project. Then, you can allow your clients to access a specific area of the site or to a subfolder. There, they can upload materials for you to use on their project and you can provide documents for them. This access eases the transfer of information and allows for smoother project flow.


Standardize Your Processes

Another tech-savvy step to take this year is to standardize your processes. Take advantage of features in your software that allow you to keep up with what’s going on and make sure that projects stay on track.

Things like electronic notifications of when returns are ready for review or reminders of upcoming milestone dates can be worth their weight in gold. And, if a project is turning out to be more complicated and time-consuming than initially anticipated, it’s much easier to tell early in the process. That way, you can discuss the complexities with the client, renegotiate timing and fees, if needed, and get the project back on track.

Having a tech-smart tax season can be one of the best things you decide to do this year. Take a look at the actions you can take now with the applications and software that you already have. Invest in hardware that allows you operate in a paperless environment as efficiently and painlessly as possible. And, finally, have a tech-smart mindset. That alone can help you to have the best, most tech-savvy tax season.