Decoding the difference: Tax planning vs. advisory
Decoding the difference: Tax planning vs. advisory Vertical

Decoding the difference: Tax planning vs. advisory

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‘Tis the season! While chestnuts crackle and we gear up for the annual tax preparation season, it becomes clear that the winter holidays bring more than just festivities and time off; they also mark the beginning of the tax preparation party. But before we put away the leftovers and really shift into holiday mode, let’s explore the nuanced seasons of taxation.

Tax preparation has its spotlight, tax planning follows a rhythmic beat … and tax advisory? Well, that’s a year-round task, not really bothered by the changing seasons. It’s ever-present in the financial journey.

While we’ve used terms like tax planning and tax advisory interchangeably because they feel similar, they are quite different—like fall and winter. Let’s talk through how these two functions differ, and how you as a tax professional can better define them for your clients to create additional revenue streams.

Frequency

While proactive, tax planning typically only occurs one to two times per year. One meeting typically gets the job done, but if there are major financial events that shift the plan, a follow-up meeting is ideal.

Tax advisory tends to be much more frequent. In our firm, we meet with advisory clients at least four times per year, strategically around the estimated tax payment due dates. This is an ongoing activity because it covers so much more, including answering difficult questions for the clients in real time, helping them to understand the tax implications of their decisions, and serving as a source of continuous guidance.

Scope

How does the scope between tax planning and tax advisory differ?

Tax planning: During tax planning meetings, the focus is usually on eliminating tax prep season surprises by discussing anticipated income and life changes, and estimating future tax liabilities.

Tax advisory: The conversation subtly shifts from focusing on tax liabilities to tax savings and the initiatives that are important to the client. These could, for example, include saving for retirement, preparing kids to go to college, and building wealth. Instead of solely planning for the tax bill, we’re looking at the whole picture. How do we use specific strategies to get you further along in your goals? What tax savings come along with our proactive strategy sessions?

Proactivity

Tax planning is proactive. It’s planning for the future; just in a limited fashion. Tax planning tends to be focused on the next one to three years, and the priority is to minimize a client’s tax liability.

Tax advisory is hyper-proactive! Yes, we want to save on taxes in the upcoming year, and even if we don’t save, we definitely want to avoid interest, penalties, and surprises, but that’s not our only goal. We’re often anticipating changes in future tax laws, and thinking more further out, to retirement. Even if the client may not retire for 10-15 years, we’re already discussing this in tax advisory meetings.

Along the way, we’re using Intuit® Tax Advisor to help us put together the most effective strategy for clients and quantify how much they will save so they can see the value of our advisory services.

Education and focus

Tax planning’s primary focus is on minimizing taxes and tax season surprises. Since the cadence is typically less frequent than tax advisory, there is less emphasis on educating the client. The guidance is typically centered on optimizing tax outcomes within the current tax environment.

Tax advisory is all about empowering the client to make the best possible financial decisions. Equipping the client with data, and ensuring they understand the big picture, is what makes tax advisory sparkle. It’s taking the focus solely off of shrinking the tax bill to create proactive conservations where the client begins to say, “Let me talk to my accountant first.” They begin to make the connection between decision making and data, and start to understand that making decisions before mobilizing the data can be costly in a number of ways.

The differences empower you and your clients

In essence, tax planning and tax advisory are integral components of effective financial management, each serving distinct purposes. When you better understand the role they play in creating a harmonious tax cycle for your firm and your clients, you can plan and price more appropriately.

While tax planning strategically minimizes tax liabilities, penalties, and surprises through careful arrangement of financial activities, tax advisory offers holistic, ongoing guidance encompassing a host of financial considerations. Recognizing the differences between these two offerings empowers individuals and businesses to leverage them harmoniously, ensuring a comprehensive and proactive approach to financial success for your clients and your firm.

Editor’s note: This article was also published in the CPA Practice Advisor.

Al-Nesha Jones, CPA, MBA

Al-Nesha Jones, CPA, MBA, is founder of ASE Group, a full-service accounting, tax, and advisory firm focused on empowering small business owners to build strong and sustainable businesses. ASE Group specializes in making the dollars make sense through solid recordkeeping, proactive tax planning, tax preparation, and year-round advisory support for entrepreneurs in New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania. She was recognized as a 2021 CPA Practice Advisor "40 Under 40" Professional. Prior to forming ASE Group, Al-Nesha successfully managed teams with Ernst & Young and Prudential Financial in audit, assurance, and financial reporting roles. In addition Al-Nesha is a member of the Intuit® Tax Council, a member of the Intuit Trainer/Writer Network, an inaugural member of the CHIP Professionals Council (CHIP is bridging the gap between consumers of financial products and financial professionals of color), a member of the National Society of Black CPAs and the National Association of Black Accountants, a mentor at her alma mater, Montclair State University, president of the 501c3 organization Black-Owned Everything, and also teaches a college-level bookkeeping course. Follow Al-Nesha on Twitter @AlNeshaJ_CPA. More from Al-Nesha Jones, CPA, MBA

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