The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has created different day-to-day challenges than a few weeks ago. Just last month, you were probably discussing business expansion or future growth opportunities with clients and now you’re talking about how to stay afloat during uncertain times.
Practically overnight, your clients’ needs have changed completely. Some of your client questions might even go beyond what you have been accustomed to addressing.
Here are some ways to help center your client communications to focus all parties on building a brighter and stable future.
- Reassure clients.
Tell clients how you plan to operate through the disruptions and what measures are in place to prevent community coronavirus spread. Employing a dedicated webpage, posting alerts on social media channels, sending emails or calling clients are good methods to reach clients quickly and stay connected with them.
For some pointers on how to get started, use these client communication tools:
Next, be proactive and anticipate what your clients need to know. Consider hosting a webinar to showcase your expertise and value.
- Explain what the extended deadlines really mean to each client.
Recently, the IRS extended the April 15 filing and payment deadline to July 15. Yesterday, the IRS expanded its relief to additional returns and tax payments in Notice 2020-23, but many clients may not understand what this means for their situation. Give your clients an update on your plans for filing season. Debrief them on how to send information to you and your expected timeline.
- Provide insights on stimulus payments.
Economic stimulus payments, also known as recovery rebates, are expected to be issued in mid-April. Use this stimulus calculator to help your clients calculate their recovery rebate and talk to them about the timing of rebates and what they should expect.
Even though the tax deadlines were extended, it will benefit many clients to file their 2019 returns as soon as possible, especially if they are due a tax refund. Keep in mind that the IRS will use a taxpayer’s 2019 return to calculate their stimulus payment. In the absence of a 2019 return, the IRS will use the taxpayer’s 2018 return to calculate the stimulus payment. Consider if the 2018 return would yield a higher stimulus payment (e.g., income was lower in 2018). If so, it may be beneficial to hold filing the 2019 return to get the most stimulus payment sooner.
If your clients have direct deposit set up on their tax forms, they will get their payments sooner. For those who don’t have direct deposit information on file with the IRS or who file by mail, the Treasury Department plans to set up a web-based portal for people to provide their banking information. If no direct deposit information is on file, the IRS will mail a check to the taxpayer.
- Prep clients on cybersecurity concerns.
Recently, the IRS warned taxpayers that coronavirus-related scams were increasing. Educate your clients on these issues:
- The IRS will not ask taxpayers to give personal or financial information over the phone or email to help accelerate the payment of a stimulus payment.
- Be skeptical of text messages or website and social media requests for money or personal information.
- If a taxpayer needs to use the IRS online portal to get a stimulus payment, do not provide direct deposit information or other banking information to others.
- Help small business clients navigate federal relief programs.
Your small business clients who have been economically affected by COVID-19 can get help through the Small Business Administration (SBA). The following are possible options for your small business clients:
- Paycheck Protection Program (PPP)
- Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) and Emergency Economic Injury Grants
- Small Business Debt Relief Program
Use this SBA loan snapshot to help your clients understand the various options available to them.
- Work with the IRS effectively.
You’re still the best advocate for your clients through all this and you must be able to contact the IRS. Recently, the IRS announced it was scaling back some of its operations to focus on “mission-critical activities.” Some of these include temporarily closing the Practitioner Priority Service line and suspending the e-Services Help Desk line, FIRE (Filing Information Returns Electronically) and AIR (the Affordable Care Act Information Return) system help desks.
Given this, what are the best ways for you to contact the IRS? Try these:
- Tax practitioners with e-Services accounts and client authorization can still access the Transcript Delivery System (TDS) to get prior-year transcripts. The AICPA Tax Section’s Using IRS E-Services page features tips and tricks for using the tool.
- Encourage your clients to still use the Where’s My Refund? and Get Transcript services to pull information regarding these items.
- Contact your local taxpayer advocate, especially if a levy situation creates hardship. There may be a message indicating that they will contact you in 24 hours if you leave a voicemail.
- The IRS can still receive mail, although responses will probably be delayed.
Client communication is critical.
Not only are you considered your clients’ trusted financial adviser but being a supportive counselor has taken center stage. Your clients look to you to provide comfort in this crucial period. Fortunately, there are steps you can take in the short term that will provide lasting benefits for better client relationships.
Minh Graham, CPA, Lead Manager — Tax Practice & Ethics, Association of International Certified Professional Accountants