REGIONAL—The IRS income tax filing deadline is back to its usual April 15 date this year, and area tax preparers are scrambling to help N’West Iowans get their paperwork done in time.
Tax season always is hectic for accountants, and that was before the coronavirus pandemic.
Last spring, the IRS pushed back its filing deadline for income tax after COVID-19 took hold in the United States.
“We’ve been trying to be resources for our clients since everyone has so many questions,” said Stacie Dykstra, business development director at Cain Ellsworth & Co. in Sheldon. “Everyone is trying to get up to speed on legislation at the same time.”
The coronavirus era spurred a slew of fiscal policies from all levels of government. Just from federal law, Iowans received expanded unemployment benefits, special small-business loans and two rounds of direct stimulus checks.
Dykstra said that it is important for taxpayers to have their documentation in order every year, but it is especially vital this season to cut through the red tape.
“Everything is just more complicated. It’s been an interesting year,” she said.
Beyond the heterogeneous cash flows, there’s the added complexity for accountants and clients not being able to meet in person as usual.
Blake Hanisch of Rens & Hanisch in Larchwood said that his office is “trying to do everything we can” to put clients at ease, including providing disposable masks, staggering appointment slots and limiting physical meetings when possible. The lack of the personal touch has been hard, he said, and providing safe, quality service is a challenge.
“I am sure our clients miss the candy dish that we have always had in the past,” Hanisch said.
He also noted that while the filing deadline is the same as regular years, the IRS delayed the acceptance of tax returns. According to a Jan. 15 statement from the revenue service, this move “allows the IRS time to do additional programming and testing of IRS systems” following the second round of stimulus checks approved in late December.
Hanisch stressed the need to have proper paperwork handy during tax filing. With the various programs offered to small-business owners and self-employed people, this year could be more even complicated. As for unemployment benefits, Hanisch said that money is taxed as regular income.
“If taxpayers had little or no federal and/or state income tax withheld from the unemployment income, they may very well have taxes due when they file their 2020 tax return,” he said.
The slogan underneath the Cain Ellsworth logo reads “Beyond the numbers,” and Dykstra was quick to mention the human-level toll the pandemic has wrought.
“It’s important that we have grace for everybody because everybody has been impacted by COVID in some way,” she said. “It’s important that we realize that it’s made everyone’s jobs more difficult and more stressful.”
She also said she is encouraged to see such wide adoption of digital platforms such as Zoom and GoToMeeting to maintain distancing standards.
“The other thing is how willing people are to adapt,” Dykstra said. “Some people may have been scared to use technology at first, but they’ve learned to be flexible.”
Hanisch echoed the call for patience in what is already a challenging time.
“We, as tax practitioners, are doing our best to stay up to date on the latest changes and legislation and will continue to work with you and the IRS to resolve any issues that arise,” he said. “But unfortunately, it is taking more time than usual this year.”
The accountant said he “could write a novel” on the last year of tax filing, and the next few months should be quite the conclusion for the industry.