Are you a good or bad tax client?
Saturday, January 24, 2009
There are lots of stories each tax season about how taxpayers can find a reputable, qualified tax preparer. Heck, I've done them myself, here on the ol' blog and elsewhere .
But there's a flip side to this coin.
How do tax professionals find good clients?
Unfortunately, as business people, many tax preparers, accountants, CPAs and tax attorneys too often don't have the luxury of vetting the folks who hire them.
Oh, sure, there's an interview process, some give and take and expectations enunciated on both sides. But in many cases, the client -- the person who is gong to pay for the tax preparation and advice -- is in charge, primarily because he or she is forking over the cash.
So tax pros follow that age-old dictum that the customer is always right and grin and bear it during tax season (and beyond).
But the truth is if you and I were better clients, we'd not only make our tax advisors' jobs easier, we'd likely end up with a better tax result. That adage "garbage in, garbage out" applies here; even the best tax professional can only work with what he or she gets from the taxpayer.
So to make everyone's lives a little easier at tax time, here are some "please do" and "please don't" suggestions from some tax professionals. As you can guess, most had the same complaints and wish list items, so I'm grouping them by category.
Even if you know your tax pro on a personal basis, tax filing is a business arrangement. So just as you expect your tax preparer to do his or her job thoroughly and professionally, you as a client do the same.
In that regard, Jessica Abella of Abella Tax Services says, "I hate when clients call my home phone!" She has a good point. Your tax pro has a personal life (albeit a very limited one during filing season), so keep all your communications on a business, not personal basis.
And when it comes to those communications, Robert D. Flach, an accountant who blogs as THE WANDERING TAX PRO, says don't waste valuable time, either his or yours.
"I wish that when a client receives a letter or notice from the Internal Revenue Service, or a state tax authority, about a tax return they would put it in the mail to me, fax it to me, or include it as a .pdf format attachment in an e-mail to me immediately," says Flach.
"I still have some clients who insist on trying to call me first to tell me that they got a notice from the IRS. This is a total waste of time. And what would happen if they did manage to reach me by telephone? They would tell me that they got a notice from the IRS or the New Jersey Division of Taxation or whoever and I would tell them to mail, fax or e-mail it to me!"
You're a grownup. You have a job. That's why you have income to report to the IRS. So quit acting like a helpless child when you go to your tax pro.
Or, as Eric Nisall, an accountant and financial advisor with Greenbridge Advisors, put it, "I wish clients would adjust their W-4 rather than bitching about having to wait until filing to get a refund."
Remember, your tax pro is not your mother. You have to do some of your tax work yourself. So do it!
Neither are tax pros magicians. They can't just conjure up your tax data. You have to get it to them, ideally in an as complete and organized manner as possible.
Flach again: "I wish clients would provide me with specific numbers for deductions they are claiming instead of telling me 'claim the maximum' or 'whatever I am allowed' or 'same as last year.' It is very rare that an expense or number of miles driven for an activity is exactly the same as it was the previous year. I need clients to tell me '$1,023.50' or '$20 per week for 50 weeks' or '4,638 miles.'"
Like most accountants, Flach gives his clients worksheets apply to specific situations (medical expenses, charitable contributions, rental income and expenses, employee business expenses, etc.). "I wish clients would fill them out completely and accurately or provide me with a detailed listing of your deductions in any other format," says Flach. "I want to make sure my clients take advantage of all the deductions and credits to which they are entitled. but I can only do this if I am given complete and accurate information."
Bruce McFarland, a tax pro who blogs as taxguy, has the same issues. "What I would like from clients is for them to be more aware of their financial situation. It is inevitable to have several clients call or email me with 'I've sent you my information and I just got ..." Know whether you have all material before you send it," says McFarland.
This is a corollary to the completeness issue. Not only do you need to give your tax pro all your tax and relevant finance date, it needs to be the true and correct information.
"We need to know everything," says McFarland. "Maybe not your concubine's name, but if you’re keeping one, you’d better announce it to your preparer." You might have some potentially tax-related expenses in connection with your extracurricular activity that could help you and your tax pro.
All or nothing
Prospective Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner's tax buck passing -- he says he showed his erroneous returns to an accountant for review -- also prompted tax professional reaction. The consensus is if you're not willing to turn your taxes over totally, then don't even waste an accountant's time.
Chad Bordeaux of Bordeaux & Bordeaux CPAs says, "How many other accountants out there are taking client-prepared tax returns and reviewing them? Not I. If our firm does not do it, we do not want any part of it."
Ditto from CPA Janice Dillaha: "I don't review client-prepared returns either. Either we prepare and I sign or we don't bother. Mr. Geithner isn't the sort of client I would want to work with."
Your tax client rating: So are you the kind of client a tax pro wants? Or are you one of those who makes tax preparers scream inside? Think about it before you simply dump a shoebox full of disparate (and unannotated) receipts and other tax material on your accountant's desk.
A little bit of planning and preparation on your part will enable your tax pro to do a better, and bigger tax-saving, job for you.
More tax and tax pro info: As you noticed from the graphic, some of these comments came via Twitter. If you Tweet and would like to keep up on tax-related conversations, you can follow @abellatax, @enisall, @cbordeaux, @rdftaxpro, @bruce_taxguy and, of course, me AKA @taxtweet.
And thanks to @MortgageChick for sparking this idea when she asked if I had any suggestions on how a taxpayer could be a better tax accountant client.
It sounds like there might be a market for a combination tax prep and administrative assistant service -- someone who really could take a giant pile of disorganized receipts, and a phone call when an email would do (and who would charge accordingly). Actually, that would also be a great way for the administrative person to learn more about tax preparation.
Posted by: taxrascal | Wednesday, January 28, 2009 at 11:26 PM