My focus today covers professionals in all service industries. Below is my Top 7 list of reasons why I don't give free tax advice. I think it applies to all professional service providers.
- I have a family. Would you love being the child of a man that works long hours for free? Spouse? Walking into my office and demanding I drop everything to deal with an IRS letter resulting from your self-prepared tax return, sits poorly with me. If I say I'll fix it for $100, don't say, "That much!" Charging you $100 is already a gift; don't make me take it back. Also, if I offer to fix a problem you created, be flexible in scheduling. Saying you are only available after hours makes me more inclined to choose more family time over your issue.
- The IRS has a free hotline. Yes, I know the IRS hotline is wrong half the time. But it is free. Before I give advice, I need to know my client. Prescription before diagnosis is malpractice. Get it. If you have a tax question, I am more than happy to help you. Set an appointment where we can sit down and review your full tax situation. Without seeing a previous tax return, I cannot give accurate tax advice. And I do charge for my time. Hence the term, professional.
- Word travels. In the old days, when I was hungry for a client, any client, I answered tax questions rapid fire for anyone, anytime. I sounded like a radio call-in show. The advice was about as sound, too. Once I started giving free advice, word spread that I was the sucker to call for free tax help. Do-it-yourselfers loved the free, over the phone, tax preparation service: professional help without a fee. In short order I reviewed my policy and refused tax advice over the phone.
- Finals hurt. Remember final exams from your college days? You studied your heart out preparing for a full week of grueling tests. Accountants consider those the good 'ol days. I study every day, year round, to keep up with the changing tax climate. I spend around $20,000 per year training staff and myself, including research services. I field 15-20 tax-help requests a day, triple that on Monday; higher during tax season. I have people call me at home, some visit me at home, for an answer to a "quick question." All this for free, as if my time isn't valuable. My final exams extend year round. It does get exhausting.
- Liability. Answering the quick question for free leads to another dilemma: liability. If I answer a question without reviewing the involved documents, I am open to lawsuit for bad advice. Think about this for a moment. I get zero income and unlimited liability. Should you trust advice from someone dumb enough to take unlimited liability without any gain? This is why you must sit down with me. I must review all relevant documents before giving tax advice.
- I am not paid. By now you should see the underlying issue. I want to get paid for my time. That is why I spend twenty grand a year training and why I leave my family for 10-12 hours a day. I really want to be home with my wife and kids, I really do. I work to give them nice things. Then, I want to be at home with them, enjoying life together, as a real family.
- I choose who I work for pro bono. I help several people a year for free or nearly so, including tax preparation. Sometimes, a long-term client, now retired, is deserving of my gratitude, so I do their taxes gratis. I take a limited number of low-income people off the street and help them without a fee. Don't call me up and say, "You did mom and dad's return for ten bucks, why do I pay $***?" The answer: I would go broke if that is all I charged. Don't ask me to charge your parent's more. I've have this request several times over the years. I give back to the community, but I need to survive.
I like new clients; love them, in fact. They are the lifeblood of my company. Use the above information to see the world from the service providers perspective. I have a lot of clients that need work done by a deadline; they come first. I am selective in who I choose to serve. Respect my decision. At the end of the day, all I want to do is go home and hug my girls. No more quick questions. Set an appointment so I can really help you. I want to get paid for my effort and talents; same as you.