The income tax squeeze: Complexity, delay

Tax preparers for affluent Americans -- people with investments, college accounts, small businesses -- are getting  squeezed by the proliferation of federal tax rules, calculations and exemptions, which delays effective tax prep time a little later each year, says Matt Becker, regional managing at accounting firm BDO USA, which has a large and growing presence in Philadelphia.

“The easiest way to summarize what preparers face is to say that information becomes available later and later and the filing deadline remains the same," Becker told me this morning from his office in Michigan as last-minute filings jammed offices across the U.S. (See my Philadelphia Inquirer story here. You may have to register for the site.)

"This is a long term trend. As the reporting requirements for people and businesses who provide information to individuals for their returns, it takes longer to produce," Becker added. "A lot of the information still comes in an archaic paper format to be turned back into electronic information.

"For every new regulation and requirement, there is an additional delay. The information becomes available later. The timing becomes compressed."

If accountants have less time to do more, doesn't that mean their time is at a premium -- and are they boosting prices accordingly? "Basic economics would suggest we will see a price increase, to be borne by the U.S. taxpayer [who pays a professional]," Becker said.

"But our pricing is driven by the market. We have to stay competitive. We have not seen a large increase in market pricing yet as as result of tax return preparation tax frame being compressed."

Doesn't faster computer technology balance the proliferation of regulations -- for people who can afford pro tax help? "Technology has improved. But my professional judgement is it has not kept up with the compression" of having to handle more tax issues in fewer weeks each tax season, Becker concluded. #Inquirer