What other things should a prospective new client know or consider?
Okay, good question. First off, I require that every client have access to the internet as email really is my preferred method of communication. (Now, since you are reading this website, we’re gonna go ahead and mark that one “Check!”)
This next one is a bit unusual…I do require that every client have on file with the IRS a “Tax Information Authorization” (IRS Form 8821) that designates me to get copies of any notices that are sent to you and enables me to call up and speak to the IRS about your account. (If you are married, I need one for each spouse.) This is non-negotiable. This is signed on or before the time we prepare your taxes. I also require the same access at the state level. In Massachusetts, it is a Power of Attorney for “Mass Tax Connect.”
This procedure essentially allows me to be copied on any IRS notice that may be coming your way. I have frequently had the pleasure of calling a client at work to tell them that they would be receiving a notice from the IRS when they got home that evening, but that I had already contacted the IRS and addressed it, and the matter had been favorably resolved. That is in fact the “gold standard” in my office, and there is no charge for that follow up either. (Note however, that whenever you receive a notice, you should make sure we have seen a copy. Sometimes the IRS or the Mass DOR does not copy us, and many states never send us copies.)
Well, now that you mention it, I would ask potential new tax preparation clients to ask themselves a question before reaching out to me. “Are you looking for an ongoing professional relationship or is this a one time thing?”
Charles, seriously, are you preparing my taxes or are you asking me out to dinner? I mean honestly.
Yeah, this isn’t coming out exactly the way I wanted it to. Let me try this: Here’s the spirit of what I seek in a new client. In any given tax season, I only have so many new client spots and it really is quite an investment of both our times to bring you into our system,and we really don’t reflect that in the pricing. (We price a new client at the ongoing price.) If you are seeking an accountant because there is some really complicated tax issue that you are grappling with, but as soon it is resolved, you are going to go back to doing it yourself (or having your sister-in-law do them). Could you please go elsewhere? I am really looking for new clients that at least think they want someone doing their taxes for the foreseeable future. Now maybe that’s gonna be me and maybe it won’t be, but that’s the type of new client I am looking for.
Okay, I got this, anything else, you want to tell (or lecture) me about?
Well, now that you mention it, let’s talk about outstanding information and getting it to me. I realize that the first year takes a little getting used to our procedures and you won’t be getting an “organizer” (which you will get next year). First off, the in person appointment is optional and not mandatory. There’s one appointment to a customer. You are welcome to just mail your stuff in. The vast majority of clients do that. Often, after a couple of years, people typically switch to mailing stuff in. Now whether you mail-in or make an appointment, but especially if you make an in person appointment, you may wind up with a “to do” list of things to get to me.
THE FOLLOWING IS VERY IMPORTANT. (1) Please get me this information in one submission—no dribbling it in. It makes us crazy during tax season and (hint, hint) we might just be a little disorganized. (2) And take responsibility for it. Example—Don’t ask your stock broker to send me the info. Have them send to you and then you send me. That way you know when it comes in, and it allows you to get it all to me at once (see how that works). (3) This last part is most important; it is incredibly important that you get this information to me as soon as possible. I mean like within 48 hours. What happens is I will start to forget the details of our meeting. I figured out a long time ago to work on what I call the “freshest first”.
Here’s how “freshest first” works. At the end of day, I work in reverse order, starting on each complete file going backwards in time. I start with today (the last appointment) and go to yesterday, etc., and I only work on a tax return I can complete.
So, somebody who came in today who’s complete gets done first. Likewise, somebody else who had one item missing today but went home and dug it up and sent it to me also gets finished. Then I go on to yesterday, looking for clients that are now complete and so on. I do this pattern every single day — going backwards in time, in reverse order, the “freshest first.” This results in my best work for the most people in the fastest time.
Do you see what happens if you wait a couple of weeks to get me your info? My system forces you to end of the line, actually worse. It’s like being at some weird deli counter where anyone who walks in the door complete gets to cut in the line in front of you.
So there’s a message here. “Try not to show up incomplete.” It doesn’t serve you or me in any way. You are better off rescheduling. My little head can only hold so much info and it’s so much better for you to come later but complete, rather than earlier and incomplete. And carve out the time to follow up with my information request. Don’t come in here the day you go on a two week vacation.
Okay, let me put it this way: If you made an appointment on Feb 10th and didn’t supply me with the information till March 5th, your taxes might not get done until March 28th. On the other hand, if you had simply come in on March 6th with all the information, your taxes would go out to you on March 7th. Got it?
Honestly, I am not trying to be mean or difficult. I am working flat out and used to do this unconsciously and then there was this zen-like moment of clarity (cue sound of angelic choir harmonizing in background) where I figured out what I was doing and well, you may not like it, but at least I can explain it to everyone. I am going to repeat myself: My method results in my best work for the most people in the fastest time. I make no apologies for it and it is consistently applied.
You know on second thought I think I might go somewhere else.
First off for the record, that’s a statement not an FAQ. And secondly, good for you, if there’s nothing here for you, then just move along, move along.
Are there any businesses that you do not prepare taxes for?
Yes, there are. The following businesses have enough particularities to them that I do not feel comfortable preparing your taxes if you have the following occupations: Clergy, Farmers, Day Traders who’ve made a “mark to market” election, and MLM (multi-level marketing, such as Mary Kay, Amway, etc.) . In each case, you should be able to find accountants that actually specialize in these fields, and I would advise that you seek them out.
In addition, we do not prepare S corporation tax returns (1120S) for profitable S corporations where the owners are taking distributions but not paying themselves salaries via payroll. This means paying payroll taxes on the the owner’s salary amounts and issuing W-2s, etc.
First off, please be aware that we are expecting that you will come to your tax appointment “ready to go.” If you’ve never worked with a tax preparer before this can be a bit of a challenge. (Don’t worry, we’re great with first timers.) You should bring:
(1) The prior year’s state and federal tax returns (this is critical).
(2) The last three years state and federal tax returns (optional, but helpful).
(3) The following tax documents for the current tax year:
W-2’s from all jobs (wages) and Form 3922 regarding Employee Stock Sales
Form 1095-A. 1095-B. 1095-C – These are CRITICAL if you bought health insurance through the Health Connector or other health exchange.
Mass health insurance Form 1099-HC (Mass residents only—if you have health insurance)
1099’s from interest, dividends, stock sales, IRA withdrawals and non-employee compensation
1098’s from mortgages, student loans, higher education expenses, and used car (or boat) donations.
K-1’s from Partnerships, S Corps, LLC’s that you own.
Student Account Printouts from all colleges and universities (you must request these!)
Signed IRS Form 8821.
Form 5498 from IRA’s and Roth IRAs. (Only if you have, we do not need 401(k) and 403(b) info.)
(4) If you have a business, I do not want your receipts. You should add them up into a “profit and loss” statement for the past year. This should be prepared into a simple single page that can be used.
(5) If you mail information in, we recommend that you make a copy of everything and only send in copies. This is for your protection. We don’t guarantee the mails. (We do scan everything here at the office before we return.) If you visit us, we will ask that you leave your documents with us and we will scan them and return them to you via traceable delivery. We will not scan them while you wait. If you prefer not to surrender your only copy, then please bring copies to the appointment as we will not have the time to stop and copy your documents at the time of appointment.
If you have questions about this call me in advance of your appointment and we can discuss.
So how much are your fees?
I price by the complexity of the return and the forms involved. I also assume that everyone is giving me information in wonderfully organized form. I simply don’t have time to add up receipts during tax season. If you’ve enjoyed reading this website and my incredibly entertaining and witty style, show up my office with a box of receipts that you expect me to add up (even if you expect to sit there and add them up in front of me) and watch my charming disposition disappear immediately. Go ahead, I dare you.
“The fees, Charles?” Oh, yeah. I can normally estimate my fees based on where you went last year. As I have stated elsewhere, if you went to H&R Block® and look at last year’s price and add 25%, I doubt I would be any more than that—now that’s on an apples-to-apples basis. A lot of people will say they have no idea how much H&R Block® is and I will get to that in a second. If you went to small accounting firm, I would probably be comparable or less. For those of you who don’t know, some accounting firms charge $750 or more to prepare taxes, and I would come in under that. There are exceptions to every rule; for example, last year it took me so much work to get a new client’s taxes up and given that I wound up charging her the same amount as her prior year CPA firm. But I want to be clear, that my goal here is not to undercut or be cheaper than my CPA competition. I am not premium pricing either, just not getting into bidding wars or anything like that.
Here are some ballpark estimates: For a very simple return, with nothing more than a Schedule A, I can happily do that $275 and would love to do those all tax season, but that is about the minimum fee. (I have a few elderly clients that I do for less.) For a family with kids where one or both spouses work, who own their own home with investments: $375-$475. For a self-employed person with an office in home, deducts car mileage, owns their own home, kids: $475-$575. A complex return would include a return where there is more than one thing going on such as rental property and self-employment, $500 to $600. All of the above prices assume NO OBAMACARE issues. Note that there are income levels where the income level itself will trigger extra forms (8960, 8959, etc.) and the fee just goes up. So, yes, in a way, when your adjusted gross income is higher, there is slight bias higher on all of the above fees. There is a creeping complexity that you probably don’t appreciate.
That means everyone has health insurance for the full year and you did not utilize the healthcare exchange, and receive premium tax care credits. If there is an Obamacare issue then the fees go up accordingly.
You are always free to send me a pdf of your last year’s return (you can redact your personal info if you want) and how much you paid for it, I will happily tell you whether my fees are higher, lower or comparable to what you’ve been paying. That is always the best approach. That avoids any unpleasant surprises.
I have just re-written this paragraph as of early 2018. I have received a number of phone calls so far this season from prospective clients, and it seems the first words out of their mouths are “How much?”. First off, I totally appreciate that you want to know what you are getting in to. On the other hand, I find that question just a wee bit demeaning although I know you all mean nothing by asking it. It is reasonable want to know what you are getting into, but I honestly can’t possibly answer that question right off the bat. If it helps you at all, my billing rate is $275-$350 an hour, but that’s not how I price during tax season (it’s too hard to keep track of my time), but perhaps you can keep that in mind. But so far, I will say that for every really fee conscious shopper, I have not gotten a single one for a client, nor do I really aspire to. So, if you really want to price shop, and get those tax prep fees down, I am probably not the best match for you, I am just not at that point in my career.
How do you take your coffee?
First time clients, just skip to the next question, but I self-medicate in a big way with caffeine. (My desk can get littered with empty coffee cups and diet coke cans). A few of my long standing clients will bring me coffee to the appointment and it is always welcome. I drink any of the following: Iced Coffee with milk (no sweetener) from Dunkin’ or Starbucks, Hot medium with cream and one splenda from Dunkin’, Iced Macchiato with milk no flavor or sugar from Dunkin, Hot dark roast with cream one splenda from Starbucks.
So what is the impact of Obamacare on my taxes?
For about 75 to 85% of taxpayers, Obamacare will have no impact at all. This is because they had health insurance for everyone in their family for the full year. You also did not use a healthcare marketplace (in Massachusetts we call it the Healthcare Connector). (Note that we need to include their kids in college that filed a tax return.) BUT, if you did not have health insurance for the full year, you need to either pay the penalty in the most favorable calculation or come up with an exemption, and there are a bunch of them that you may not know about especially in this first year.
In order to claim the “Premium Tax Credit,” you have to had purchased insurance from the “Healthcare Marketplace.” In Massachusetts, that means the “Health Connector.” So unless you paid the health connector for health insurance, you cannot get a premium tax credit.
Why do you have such an early deadline for receipt of tax information to get taxes done?
Each year, I establish a cutoff date. In 2017, the deadline will be March 25th. This is a deadline that I need complete tax submissions or you need to have met with me in person for us to complete your taxes by April 17th. You might wander “Why is this date so early?” First off, I assure you, the cut off date is based on past experience, and I try to make it as late as possible. Also, while the tax deadline is April 17th. Nobody wants to get their taxes around the deadline. It gets them stressed out. So I really have to shoot for a date more like April 7th to get things done by. So this first deadline is the deadline by which we pretty much guarantee that we will get your taxes done, and they should be done comfortably before April 15th. What happens next is kind of interesting.
As soon as the date (the 25th) comes and goes, every new return that arrives goes into a holding bin. AND they will not get worked on, until every return in the “pre-cut off” batch is finished. So the ones post deadline, definitely risk going on extension (especially if they are missing information). So now those unfortunate souls (and they are warned) may get their taxes shortly before the deadline, but generally they are pleased to get them at all before the deadline.
This process greatly enhances the sanity and structure around here.
So, what’s the deal with you and people who used TurboTax® last year?
Well, it all depends on where you are coming from. If you feel that you want to switch to a tax professional from here on out, then I welcome you to my practice and forget all my whining about this. A lot of TurboTax® people are simply do-it-yourselfers who I have found (in their heart of hearts) still want to do it themselves. They have a hard time letting go, and they tend to want to “micro-manage” the process. They are constantly calling me. (“When am I going to get my taxes?” “When am I going to get my refund?”) Please rest assured that we have a business model and 400 other clients and it works quite well. (“Mr./Ms. Do-it-yourselfer, are you sure you’re ready to let go?”) Also, I have found they tend to procrastinate in doing their taxes because they are used to getting their taxes done at the last minute. We don’t do that. Finally, they really think they know the tax code because they read it on the internet or in the TurboTax help section. Well, guess what? They really don’t know it. I will spend a little time educating them, but preparing their taxes does not include a 30 minute debate disabusing them of all the things they think they think they figured out reading the internet. I hope you can appreciate that. I realize this is a bit rough, but it is simply based on past experience.
Any more do’s and don’t’s?
I’m just getting started. When you snap a photo on an iPhone and text or email it to me, THIS IS NOT A SCAN. Occasionally, for one or two pages, okay, fine. I’ll begrudgingly work with this, but when did everyone get the idea that snapping photos of 20-30 page documents into 20-30 iPhone photos (which by the way typically look like, well, crap) but it means on my end, I have to print them out so I can read them, and guess what?, it’s very tedious. So, we don’t do Iphone photos. A 20-30 page snapfest might mean a staff member has to take 30-45 minutes and stop to print them out. Now, if you had just faxed them to us at 781-659-6610 (I know, nobody has fax machines any more) or snail mailed them to us at PO Box 628, Norwell, MA 02061 (I know, nobody knows where the nearest mailbox is). I am really not a big fan and sending your confidential stuff via the internet. Anyway, please cut it out with the Iphone photos and stop with all the emailing of the large pdfs.
I called and tried to leave a voicemail–and your mailbox was full!
Seriously, my phone system is a little wonky, and I have no way of telling when it gets filled up with voicemails–unless someone tells me. So if you here that my voicemail is full, PLEASE send me an email telling me this. I will be of so grateful. Sometimes it has gone for a week or two, and I did not notice it was not saving voicemails. Uber-embarrassing.
Didn’t you used to have a Scituate office?
Yes, in fact, at one time it was my only office, but I got tired of the grueling 15 minute commute from my home in Norwell (can you imagine?). So I opted for the 5 minute door to door commute and moved to Norwell. Until very recently, I maintained both offices. I made the decision to close the Scituate office effective 2015.