routine is key to reviewing tax returns

young man riding hour hand of clockgot info they need? don’t delay.

by ed mendlowitz
how to review tax returns: the field-tested update

reviewing returns is a technical process. however, there are times that the mechanical functioning of tax season interferes with or alters the reviewer routine and momentum.

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most returns are reviewed on a fifo basis as they are transferred to the reviewer. however, in many firms returns are pushed to the head of the line for many reasons – some legitimate, such as the client is going on a vacation, and some because the partner wants to get a return out to the client.

in some cases, delays are caused by incomplete information or the unavailability of the preparer to make changes to complete the return. in other cases, excessive errors can cause unallocated or unexpected review time, causing the reviewer to fall behind. other delays can be caused by incomplete work papers or documentation, making the reviewer spend extra time calling the preparer, partner or client for explanations or for backup data. any changes in routine or timing can cause a change in the review method and also delay the return’s completion.

another problem causing a change in routine is when a partner needs to get back to a staff person or the reviewer with an answer and they delay doing it. this usually occurs when the partner either needs to make a decision about how something should be treated, and puts it off, or when they neglect telling the preparer something they found out about a client’s activities or transactions, and they suddenly “remember” it when the reviewer asks a question or perhaps when they review the return before signing it.

many reviewers set themselves up to review returns on a continuous basis during the day, breaking the routine to speak with preparers with questions, about review notes or to request they obtain additional information. another time-consuming function they perform is that they become a mr. or ms. answerperson. when a preparer or partner has a tax question, they either walk into their office, call or send an email or slack message with the question and usually wanting the answer asap. that creates a (usually continuous) disruption in the reviewer’s workflow and routine.

a suggestion is for the reviewer to block out unavailable time when they will review returns without interruptions. for example, the period from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. and 2:00 to 4:30 p.m. can be designated as a “no interruption” period. this will give the reviewer 4 ½ hours of quiet time. i have been told by many reviewers that they can get a day’s work done during the blocked-out period. other reviewers or higher-level tax personnel can be listed as being available during those hours to answer questions that cannot wait. if the firm has more than one reviewer, they can stagger the blocked-out time so one will always be available.