eFiling with the IRS is Unavailable

Not Good for Tax Deadline Day!

Dead ComputerAt 8:46 EDT on April 17, 2018 the IRS sent out an alert announcing their eFile systems are down.

They ask that software providers not send any returns nor try to receive acknowledgements from the system right now.

There will be a lengthy delay in retrieving acknowledgments once the system is back on-line.

Taxing authorities that are independent of the IRS (FBAR, CA, TX, 5500, and some Michigan and Ohio cities) will be sent and process normally.

The IRS will issue another QuickAlert when the systems are back online. Please monitor the IRS’ MeF Status Page for updates to this issue.

Based on an Accounting Today article the IRS will be waiving all penalties for late filing caused by its technical difficulties today.

FLASH!

IRS Extends Tax Deadline by one day (to April 18th) because of its computer problems on April 17th), according to the Wall Street Journal and other news media,

How to Pay Less for Tax Preparation

As I work on the “paperwork” sent in by clients, I realize that we need to talk more about what a tax preparer wants — and does not need — to see.

Man uploading a fileOne long-term client really seems to enjoy the safe electronic file exchange portal. He sent me a group of files that include Excel spreadsheets, Word documents, PDF documents, and .jpg images of receipts. Wow!  What a collection!

I appreciate his thoroughness, but… Sending your tax preparer all of your raw information is like bringing in a shoebox of a year’s worth of receipts and dumping them on your accountant’s desk.

In the prehistoric, pre-electronic days, we always had a few clients who would bring a shoebox of some type and have us go through the receipts, statements, and tidbits. They’d ask us to organize their records, and we were happy to do that.

We’d have a junior team member, a bookkeeper or new accountant, create spreadsheets and pick out the data that would be needed on a tax return. This work was straight-forward, and the billing rate for the task was on the low end.

Form to start uploading files
The First Step to Upload Documents to Us

But, today’s electronic data dump is worse than the old shoe box! Because of the different types of documents mixed in the upload, we are finding that the traditional horde of bank statements, 10-99’s, payment records, and detailed detritus also has global instructions/questions that require attention from a stakeholder or other high-level professional in the firm.

Eeek!

This means that I can no longer take the shoe box and give it to a bookkeeper for data entry. Instead, I have to open all of the documents, sort them, and answer the questions or follow the instructions sent in by the client. Sure, I can turn over the receipts and routine things to record, once I’ve identified them. Unfortunately, the time I spend with my sorting hat on can be significant!

Happily, you can keep down the time we spend on the documents you give us (and therefore reduce your eventual cost).

Here are some ideas on how to curate the collection of financial information you send us.

  • Send a master list of what you’re uploading and why. If you have a Word document with questions/directions/comments call it out so that the senior person on your tax preparation team will read it first.
  • If you want us to organize your finances and produce a summary of things like investment profits, business expenses, partnership returns, we are happy to do that. Most clients do the summarizing work themselves because they naturally track their financial positions, but if you rather not spend the time and energy doing that tracking, we are delighted to do it for you.  (We are especially delighted if you send us the raw information well before the tax deadline day!)
  • If you have organized your finances yourself and have a summary of your income and deductible expenses, do NOT send in the receipts and statements. Keep the information you’ve processed and recorded with your tax records in case the IRS has questions in the next few years.  But, if you send raw documents to us, it’s hard for us to simply ignore them. So, we will wonder, worry, spend time, and also possibly double count the numbers you already recorded.
    Files moving into a trash can on a keyboard
  • We do want to see the forms that the IRS gets from people you work for, financial institutions, and invest in. These are form like W2’s, 1099s of all flavors, K1’s, 1098’s, etc.

Technology has made it easy to share documents with your tax preparer. It’s simple to upload a lot and let the accountant sort it out! But, we read everything that is sent to us, so if you’re sending things because you’re thinking you’d rather be safe than sorry, you’re really asking us to spend more time on your return.

So curate your collection of records. Show us only the really good stuff!

Sterck Kulik O’Neill Joins RINA

RINA? Who is RINA?

RINA Logo

“RINA accountancy corporation” is a regional full-service accounting and consulting firm with offices in San Francisco, Oakland and Walnut Creek, California as well as Bellingham, Washington. RINA serves closely-held businesses and their owners, high-net-worth individuals and families, and many not-for-profit organizations and private foundations.

Sterck Kulik O’Neill became a part of the RINA team on January 1st 2018. Our office remains on Post Street in San Francisco and all Sterck Kulik O’Neill team members were asked to join the RINA firm.

Sterck Kulik O’Neill merged with RINA to allow SKO’s partners – Charles and Geoffrey – to spend more time with clients and less time on administration and overhead duties. With the addition of SKO’s team, RINA now has approximately 100 Certified Public accountants and paraprofessionals.

Charles and Geoff have been familiar with RINA for many years and have long admired RINA’s organization. The firms share the same professional focus: businesses and their owners. They also place the same importance on employee well-being and development.

Charles and Geoffrey will be part of the RINA Sterck Kulik O’Neill management team.

CPA's Charles Sterck and Geoffrey Kulik
Charles Sterck and Geoffrey Kulik celebrate the merger with RINA

What will change for our clients?

We believe that our team, especially our senior team members, will have more time to focus on our clients and their needs.  We will also tap into RINA’s team for areas they have more experience than we have.

We hope you’ll see increased responsiveness, proactive suggestions, consulting recommendations, and generally better service from your accountants!

Letterheads, invoices, and other logos will gradually introduce the RINA name.

What we don’t expect to change is our focus on you and your financial success.


Message from Ed Fahey, CPA and President of RINA

Ed Fahey
Ed Fahey, CPA and President of RINA

Effective January 1, 2018, Sterck Kulik O’Neill accounting group joins RINA accountancy corporation’s San Francisco team. Our relationship dates back to 1998 and our years of friendly interaction and mutual respect have led to this combination.

We look forward to offering our clients greater resources; our team new opportunities for professional growth; and our friends and contacts new relationships to help each other.

RINA’s President Ed Fahey believes the combined firms can better serve closely held businesses and not-for-profit organizations.

“Charles Sterck and Geoff Kulik have unique talents that will enable us to expand our service offerings. We look forward to working with them and the SKO staff as well as their clients. We welcome them to the RINA family.”

RINA will maintain two offices in San Francisco into the summer and look to combine forces when one of the leases expires.

I have more questions.  Who can I talk to?

Talk to Charles or Geoffrey, just like you’ve always done. They can be reached at the same number: 415.433.4500 !

Their email addresses still work, too.  Charles’ address is [email protected] and Geoffrey’s email address is [email protected]

Perceived Indifference Disease

A neighborhood restaurant we went to nearly every week for several years got a new partner, a long-time bar tender who bought into the business. We’d been spending at least $5,000 a year there, going mostly on their slower nights. We knew all the staff, and had chatty, comfortable conversations with them. We thought we were good customers.

I Don't Care SignSoon after taking over, the new partner changed the music to something I didn’t like. Loud and screechy, in my humble opinion. In a low-key manner I asked if he’d switched the playlist. After he said he did, I said — politely I think — that I thought the new music was not as good as what they had been playing. He responded, “Well other people like it,” and abruptly turned away.

Okay.

He has every right to play whatever music he likes in his restaurant. But his comment and attitude said he didn’t care about me. I paid for the one drink I’d just ordered and left the restaurant without eating.

That conversation was in January and we haven’t been back. We simply disappeared from their list of customers.

I’ve told this story to incredulous friends who know how loyal we were, and they’ve moved birthday parties and dinners away from that restaurant to other spots in the neighborhood. So, the new partner’s interaction with me — and the restaurant’s failure to follow-up — has cost the business at least $7,500 in 2017 revenue.

I am not looking for sympathy or commiseration at being slighted. (Well maybe a little sympathy!) But, mainly I’m telling this story because it illustrates one of the dangers to your business that we explore with you in our business development sessions: Perceived Indifference Disease.

When your customers perceive that you don’t care about them, you’re in danger of losing them. You may never know why they stopped coming.

Our business consulting sessions help you uncover how your interactions with your clients may leave them feeling that you don’t care… even when you care very much!

If you are wondering why you’re not getting the repeat business you deserve, we can help you explore ways of assessing your customer’s feelings toward you and seeing if they feel loyal or repelled by perceived difference.

Indifference word cloud concept with disinterest ignore related tags

Contact us to learn more about the business development options we offer in addition to our traditional accounting services.

Does a CPA Firm Go Crazy During Tax Season?

Income tax preparation is a large piece of work for many public accounting firms, including ours.  Most of the clients whose businesses we help throughout the year ask us to file their personal and business returns, and some clients engage us just to do their taxes. So, from February through April 15th we’re doing at least some work for a majority of our clients.

We’re busy!

Our office hours remain 8:30 to 5:30, but our team members work longer days, and in February professional team members start working six days a week. No vacations are scheduled and we work on Martin Luther King and Presidents days.

CPA's Geoffrey Kulik and Charles SterckFortunately, because we are a mid-sized firm we are not all-consumed by tax preparation and we don’t go too crazy. During the height of tax season in past years we’ve conducted full-scale audits, completed independent inventories, created routine and special financial statements, and have helped potential buyers with their due diligence work.  We have also helped people with IRS and California tax notices and other pop up needs that were impossible to predict. We don’t pull all-nighters, either!

In addition, we welcome new tax clients up to nearly the filing deadline.  We may initially help the client file an extension request, but we are able to step up and help someone we’re just getting to know.

Smaller firms, especially sole practitioners, can be maxed out during tax season.  An unexpected illness — tax season is also flu season! — can severely limit what that firm can do for its clients.  When a single CPA is working 12 hours a day already, it’s difficult to find time to research an unexpected tax issue or to respond to a work interruption or a sudden, substantial client need.

For us, the view from the inside is that we’re bustling but not stupid bustling.  Most days most of us still have a sense of humor. We’re enjoying helping our clients with their taxes.

Why People Like Visiting Accountants As Much As Seeing Their Dentist

Accounting Services chart
Are you getting what you want from your CPA?

As we started talking to a business owner about growing his business earlier this month, he was surprised that I was interested and skilled in helping him re-engineer his operations.  The conversation reminded me about the limited things most people think accountants do.

It’s not the clients’ fault!  Many accounting firms keep themselves busy filling out forms and producing standard financial reports. We do a lot of this compliance-type work, too.

But, when business owners see their CPA only for boring, or pain-producing, numbers sessions filled with technical financial terms and spreadsheets, they are not getting full value from their accountant. They certainty aren’t going to want to call the accountant for advice.

Accounting would be unrewarding for me if all we did was report on what had happened in a business’ or a person’s financial life. Focusing on the past and completing mandatory forms isn’t that interesting for me nor particularly valuable for a client.

I like using the numbers we discover as tools to help a business owner grow their company, become more profitable, or improve their quality of life.  The business’ numbers can be used to spotlight areas of opportunity or to warn about potential weaknesses before those dangers actually impact the bottom line.

I enjoy talking with clients about their personal passion which pushed them into starting their business.  As they tell their stories, we learn together what makes their business unique, what they do better than anyone else, and where they want to take their company.

As we focus on plans for strategic growth, talk about their unique selling proposition, and discuss marketing, pricing, and cash flow for expansion, I feel like our accounting services are truly helping the client’s business.  We’re moving from compliance, through data analysis, to actual knowledge, and wisdom.  We are working together to use information which the owner can rely on.  That’s fun!  And, valuable!

The accounting field has many practitioners who seemed to have picked the profession because they are more comfortable with numbers and rules than they are with people and personal initiative.  There’s nothing wrong with going into accounting because you’re better with spreadsheets than networking.  But, that’s not why Geoffrey Kulik, our team members, and I decided to provide independent accounting services.

My passion is helping small businesses and their owners define and achieve financial success.  It’s exciting and energizing work!

What to do About the Bank of America’s New Debit Card Charge

The Bank of America says that in 2012 it is going to start charging $60 a year if people want to use their debit cards for purchases. What should you do?

Bank of America LogoThe answer is easy: don’t use a debit card from the Bank of America. In fact, don’t even get one.

Regardless of how much the BofA — or any bank — decides to charge for debit card use, I suggest that you don’t use ANY debit cards. Debit cards are not consumer-friendly cards. Sterck Kulik O’Neill wrote about the problem one of our team members had with a fraudulent charge on a debit card in a May newsletter (and see the gory details in his blog).  We also linked to news stories outlining how risky debit cards are.

Basically, debit cards don’t have the legal protection that credit cards do.  If you qualify for a credit card, then use the credit card instead of using a debit card, and pay the balance off every month.

Compounding the weakness of debit cards, the Bank of America wants to charge you for using this inferior payment tool.  Paying makes ZERO sense, especially since banks make a lot of money from merchant fees when their cards are used.  (A new Federal law limits how much banks can charge merchants for debit card use, but the charge is still way more that the bank’s cost per transaction.)

Just say NO.  No to using a debit card from Bank of America or from anyone else.

Fall back position:  if you are going to ignore the suggestion to abstain from debit card use and you don’t like BoA’s proposed charges, it’s probably time for you to sit down and figure out how much you’re willing to pay for convenient banking. Don’t stop at ATM fees.  Get all the information out on the table.

All of the major banks are on a fee binge.  Wells Fargo announced a $15/month fee on some previously free checking accounts, and Chase is piling on fees, too.

These institutions have ATMs on every city block and branches in your grocery store.   All of that infrastructure comes at a cost… to you! If you don’t like the fee options and decide you can live with less convenience, investigate using a smaller regional bank or else sign up with a credit union. A smaller bank or a credit union may not charge for your accounts or debit cards, but they don’t have the ATM network or so many branches.

Only you can decide if $5/month or $15/month is a reasonable charge for the large bank’s convenience.  Before you leap because of an ATM fee or other single charge, look at the whole picture of what your bank wants from you each month.  If you decide to switch, Consumers’ Report has online tips, including a PDF checklist of steps to follow when you move your account.