CPA: Cut, Paste, Assemble

By | February 27, 2020

Cut, Paste, Assemble: the new definition of CPA  

Last Sunday I decided to take a break from work (yes, I said Sunday and work) so I took the dogs for a little walk. My wife came with me and during our walk, I discussed a client that had sent me all her documents (and yes, those are the thrilling discussions you have when you are married to a tax accountant). The client asked if she could fish for a compliment on how she sent over her documents; among many well-earned praises, I told her how much I appreciated her taking the time to organize her information. 

Then, while talking to my wife, I got on a tangent about my new pet peeve: the fact that nobody labels their documents when they send them. So, my broad-minded wife asked, “Have you ever told your clients how to send you documents or how to label them?” With red cheeks and a blushful look on my face, I simply answered, “No.” Well, obvious questions are sometimes the hardest to see.

So here are some simple instructions on how to send information to your accountant. I’m sharing this because I want you to know how to save your CPA time and in turn save yourself money – and most importantly, because I want to maintain my pet peeve without a guilty conscience.

There are several ways to send information these days, and as an accountant I can tell you we get it in every format: pictures, text, email, scanning and the old-school shoebox method now known as “snailmail.” Here’s my official stance on each one:

  • Please do label your attachments. Before we even talk about how to send info, let’s get to the key point. I know you are thinking “Mark, that is just you being lazy and wanting me to do your work,” but it really isn’t. I get emails all day with attachments labeled “file,” “document 1,” “Cannon” or “doc78453,” which tells me nothing about what is attached. It sounds silly, but a quick title like “2018 W2,” “Schwab 1099,” “charity,” etc. will save so much time. Remember, you just have to do one label; we get a ton of emails every day with unlabeled attachments. We have no idea what was sent so we have to take the time to figure it out and rename each file. Also, with a title we can just click and drag it to your file. Then, for example, if you are getting your house refinanced and send me an email that says “Mark, I need all my W2’s, K1’s and 1099” I am not billing you for 30 minutes of time as I go through all the documents looking for what you need. I am simply dragging them to the file and I am in done in 5 min. See, win-win!
  • Please do not text pictures. A lot of clients take a picture of a document and text it to me. Please do not do this for a couple of reasons. A) If you send a text it is on my phone and the document you send usually has sensitive information on it like your name, address, and most of the time your SSN. If lose my phone, somebody could access all your information. B) I do not keep your file on my phone, so I then need to forward it to myself and save it in your file and, you guessed it, label it or print it. 
  • Emailed pictures are fine. It’s best to email pictures, again for a couple of different reasons. A) Your documents are safer as you can upload via our secure portal (which is not on my phone with a text). All your support is on our network and I can easily save it that way. All phones allow you to send a picture via text or email, so please choose the email method. B) When emailing, you usually get to look at the picture first. Often the picture is on a kitchen table, folded in half with the salt and pepper shaker, and a shadow of the phone over the numbers so they can’t be read clearly. Remember, you are sending me something that’s important and that probably has some pretty private information on it so take a minute and look at it. If you cannot read it or it is upside down for you, it is probably going to be the same for me.
  • Scanned images are even better. I know a picture is easier, but if possible, try and scan it because pdf documents are easier for us read and save, and they usually come through a lot more clearly. Additionally, you can use a password and our secure portal to increase your security. A pdf is also more user friendly than a picture and allows us to make notes or rotate the document. When you do scan, please review the scanned image, similar to a picture above, to make sure things are not upside down or bunched up in the scanner or most importantly, not skipped over during the scan process. Then (I promise this is my last request), please try and put the information in some type of order and not all jumbled up with forms scattered all over the place. Again, if it is a little organized we have a better chance of reading it correctly and not missing anything important.
  • Snailmail works. Even in the digital age, we still get the classic shoebox of information and we’re fine with it. When you send this or drop it off, we will always scan the documents in it before we send them back. So, if you can organize it a little – just enough so that it makes sense – that is a big help to us.
  • Call if you’re unsure. If you are not sure I need something, always feel free to call and ask. It’s okay to err on the side of caution and just send it, but, if you call we are always happy to help walk you through what we need, what order to put it in and how to label it. That way we can confirm that we have it, which is good for you.

I hope you find this clarification helpful. I know you are busy and if you can’t follow any of the suggestions above it is fine; we will make it work. But when you can follow them, these simple hints help us do a better and more efficient job for you.