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CPAs Struggling Under Pandemic Stress, Extra-Long Tax Season

July 16, 2020, 8:46 AM

This tax season was the most brutal Shaun Goodman, a certified public accountant, has faced in his 14-year career.

Goodman, a partner at the Goodman CPA Group in New Jersey, worked 20-hour days with a small team to help clients navigate the Paycheck Protection Program, a loan program the government enacted this spring to help small businesses weather the coronavirus pandemic.

Those demands came on top of a tax-filing season that was three months longer than usual. When his wife gave birth, Goodman was so busy that he couldn’t spend time with his family.

“I had half a week to spend at home and then I had to go back to work, because there was no possible way I could get my tax return load done if I took more time off,” Goodman said.

Now that the extended season has ended, CPAs speaking with Bloomberg Tax say they felt stretched to the limit, working extra hours during a time when they would usually have a slightly slower pace. The pandemic disrupted their normal operations, requiring them to juggle childcare and client questions from home, while many struggled to get answers from the IRS.

Some CPAs fear that any rest now will be short-lived, as further deadlines loom and businesses will continue to need assistance. But that constant need for advice presents an opportunity to obtain more business and ultimately help more people.

“They realize we’re all in it together, so we got to help each other out as much as we can,” said Cindy Hockenberry, director of tax research and government relations at the National Association of Tax Preparers.

Virus Loan Frenzy

While the federal government was trying to kick money out the door to businesses via the Paycheck Protection Program in early April, the frenzy put pressure on CPAs to advise many new businesses.

“Everybody kind of came out of the woodwork, not just our regular clients, but new clients,” Sabrina Cook, owner of a North Carolina-based CPA firm, said. “People that we’ve never worked with before were coming out and needing help with how to apply, how to meet the requirements.”

The PPP has been a central pillar of the government’s pandemic response. In the CARES Act (Public Law 116-136), the government authorized almost $350 billion in loans that could be forgiven if certain requirements were met. But as quickly as Congress passed the bill, the Treasury Department, IRS, and Small Business Administration released a slew of regulations to help as many companies as possible.

More regulations meant more rules to sort through. CPAs became the go-to source for advice, general information, and clarity.

CPAs said they scrambled to accommodate and keep up with the new rules that businesses needed to abide by to ensure they qualified for loan forgiveness. Officials had to introduce new rules to clarify that companies could opt to preserve the first set of regulations. But until that point, companies were left in limbo, presenting more issues for financial advisers like CPAs to sort through.

Shayna Chapman—owner of Shaynaco LLC in Gallipolis, Ohio—said the pressing need for PPP loans, especially for those in her rural community who are at risk of losing their businesses, added major stress that eclipsed the normal pressure of tax-filing time.

“I think it’s made some of us a little mean where we would otherwise be very kind to our clients and just take the heat,” she said.

‘Buy Your CPA a Drink’

The work isn’t over yet for CPAs. In the 30 years NAPT’s Hockenberry has been working at the organization, this filing season has been the most stressful and most extraordinary given all the moving parts of government relief programs, unmanned phone lines at the IRS and general anxiety about the pandemic.

Adam Traywick, owner of a Fort Worth, Texas-based firm, said he’ll be taking off for a few days, and then head right back into the office to help clients with an increased volume of tax-filing extension requests.

Once tax-filing extensions are dealt with, PPP forgiveness applications will have to be processed for companies that received loans. That could last well into December.

“I have a feeling there’s gonna be a decent bit to do on PPP forgiveness—getting all that information back to the banks and trying to get all that sorted out—hopefully before year-end and before we get into another tax season,” Traywick said. “We’re all pretty tired at the moment.”

In the meantime, many CPAs said they are grateful for the opportunity to help their communities, despite the long hours, changing regulatory landscape, and sometimes overwhelming stress brought on by the pandemic.

“When you get a chance,” Cook advised, “buy your CPA a drink. They really need it.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Jeffery Leon in Washington at jleon@bloombergtax.com; David Hood at dhood@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Patrick Ambrosio at pambrosio@bloombergtax.com; Colleen Murphy at cmurphy@bloombergtax.com

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