Payroll services are great assets. As compliance becomes more and more a full time job, outsourcing this task to experienced providers has become a popular alternative to handling such matters in-house. A single penalty for a missed tax deposit can far exceed the cost of a good payroll service for an entire year.
Complications do arise, however, such as when starting up, switching from in-house to a provider, changing providers mid-year, or terminating a business mid-quarter or before W-2 season.
We recently had a situation where a client sold his business assets (but no the business). As his business entity no longer had payroll, he contacted the payroll provider to terminate his account (with no payroll to process and no income from further operations, it seemed a logical choice). Unfortunately, that left the final quarter’s payroll tax reporting undone, and us (as the accountants preparing the general ledger) unable to access his payroll data online.
While we can’t blame the service provider per se (the provider is not paid to maintain the data in the online portal or to provide any services whatsoever after the account is closed), the issue is that many clients seem to forget that even though payroll may have stopped after the first week of the payroll quarter, payroll returns will still be due following the end of the quarter, and year-end reports (Federal Form 940, at a minimum) and W-2’s (and W-3) will also be due the following January.
Most payroll service providers will require their clients to maintain accounts (even if no current payroll is being generated) for a nominal fee in order to prepare the quarterly and year-end reports, as well as the W-2’s, and clients should expect to likely pay a la carte for such reporting services, even if they were previously accustomed to a package deal (unless the provider offers a similar package for inactive employers).
As always, communication is key. In the case above, because we have an ongoing relationship with the payroll provider, we were able to obtain the reports necessary and get the dialog moving (again) between our client and the payroll provider to ensure that the reports will indeed be prepared for this year, and to obtain the data we needed to prepare the general ledger work in a timely fashion. It may be easy to mentally separate the roles of accountant and payroll service provider, but in truth, we both work together, complimenting each other’s service offerings, and a good accountant will strive to maintain a good rapport with the service provider to minimize the impact on the client of procedural and administrative matters.