Keeping Up

In December of last year (2013) I finished the exams for Enrolled Agent and received my official "certificate" this month. When preparing for the E. A. exam I had to mentally block out most of what I heard about tax changes because the exam was on 2012 laws. Following that I started spending time getting up to date on what has been happening since 2012 in taxation. With today's on-line connection possibilities that has been relatively easy. Much of the updates were provided graciously by publications, organizations, and the IRS through email that I can access on my cell phone.

Daily Email

From Accounting Today, I get email newsletters Accounting Today (Daily), Accounting Technology, and Tax Pro Today. Accounting Today also prints and mails a newsletter, but most of the articles in the print edition are in electronic format first. From AICPA, I get email newsletters CPA Letter Daily, CPA Insider, and Tax Insider. These are probably available to members only, but not only are memberships available for CPAs; memberships are also available to students and CPA candidates. Progressive Accountant is yet another email newsletter I get, along with a variety of business, finance and financially planning newsletters, and of course the IRS notices. 

Most of these emails provide summaries and links to articles with more details, from their own websites or others, such as the Journal of Accountancy. Although these emails clog my email everyday, if I read them on a daily basis I can be sure I am up to date. In some emails, the list of articles is continuous, that is, the most recent ones are at the top, with others that may have already been included in the email. Also, the same article is often included in more than one email. In fact, on some days there is nothing new to report.

Organize

My process is to daily (if possible) read the tax related articles in each newsletter, bookmark them, and organize them for future reference. Once you are familiar with what issues need to be followed you can better organize and keep up with changes to that issue. For example, the regulations for the NIIT has gone through several stages so I keep track of that separately. Similarly, ObamaCare information continues to be made available and notable areas where knowing new regulations can be important is in the use of RMAs and FSAs.

In the process of reviewing emails and following links to articles, you can also review those sites for other articles that you may need to read. The Tax Adviser (AICPA) has a number of indepth articles that can enrichen your potential for better serving your clients. You might also want to follow links to resources being quoted in the articles, such as previous articles, or IRS regulations and code sections. If you need to follow up more later, bookmark the article in a Follow-up folder for future reference.

I suppose being unemployed now actually has its advantages in this. Working full-time it would be a challenge to spend two hours or more a day getting up to speed on what's going on. I suspect many CPAs get some of that via inter-office memo, but that doesn't provide the detail that articles and other resources provide. There are other resources available that can provide contemporaneous information for tax season. I've seen several year-end or tax season summaries that you could use to get the latest, most important information.

Continuing Education

Continuing Education seminars is probably the most used method of getting up to date. They serve the dual purpose of providing the needed information for the new season (tax or otherwise) and meeting the profession's continuing education requirements. After spending endless hours keeping up with changes as they happen, however, I've found that the continuing education classes that I have taken so far are elementary in comparisen. I suppose that is the purpose, establishing a minimum for the profession's advancement.

Group Discussions

Yet another way to keep up to date is to follow on-line discussion groups related to the profession. In these discussions, there are varying levels of inquiry. Many of the discussions are elementary while some can be very informative. Not only can you learn what the regulations are on some topic, you can also participant in navigating issues related to that topic. LinkedIn and Yahoo groups are some of the group resources I use.

Related Areas

In the process of keeping up I also find that an understanding of related areas can be helpful. For example, personal financial planning is important since it often has tax consequences. Furthermore, professionals need to be conversant in any area that relates to their particular specialty. Tax professionals should be knowledgeable about different types of trusts, even if they are all either simple or complex,  for example.

Keeping Up

If you're a tax practitioner, all of this underlines the necessity of keeping up with changes in tax law and related business subjects. If you're looking for a tax practitioner, the takeaway here is that you need to get a preparer that is informed and up to date on current tax laws. Don't be swayed by advertising rhetoric like H&R Block's get your billion back campaign. If you're not going to spend the time to study your situation and prepare your own return, get a knowledgeable tax preparer, someone who spends time keeping up.

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