I am in the middle of my 27th tax season and I see the same patterns today I saw back in 1982. Many people treat tax return preparation as a fast-food purchase when it really is serious surgery.
Below are the three things people do in my office that multiply the risk they overpay the government. I excluded the often repeated advice of keeping good records, etc. The points below focus on specific action taken when sitting in front of me; things that put your hard-earned cash at risk.
- 1.) Time is an important factor for an accountant during tax season. Feeding me tax documents one at a time and explaining to me what each W-2 is only wastes time. Soon, my eyes roll back in my head because my 15 hour workday will be even longer.
- The reason this puts your money at risk is because I will have no time left to share the latest changes to the tax code that can save you money. There are only so many hours in a day. Slowing down my work flow adds to my stress and leaves little to no time to put cash back into your pocket. Remember, tax preparation is only a small part of my job; tax planning is where the rubber meets the pavement. My value comes from knowledge and experience. If you force me to listen to a description of each document, I can’t share ideas.
- 2.) Turn off your cell phone before entering a tax preparer’s office. I want to focus on serving you. If your cell phone rings every few minutes (this happens more than you imagine), opportunities for mistakes and errors rise. The interruption might cause you to fail to inform me of an important bit of information. Few phone calls are worth overpaying your taxes or risking an audit. Put your cell phone on silent, not vibrate. It is your money. You do want to keep it, right?
- 3.) The most disruptive events in my office include young children. I can cut your tax bill in so many ways, but if I am constantly defending personal papers in my office, you are not being served well. Your income for an entire year is at risk. The number one reason I am required to amend a tax return is due to rushed parents chasing their children while in my office.
- I have a few suggestions. Have one parent sit with the children while the parent most familiar with the finances works with me to prepare an accurate return. Then we will have time to discuss opportunities to reduce your tax burden. Parents, and I confess, me too, want to end a meeting as fast as possible when young children are screaming and attacking other papers in my office. I hate it. I want to serve you. Ending a meeting to save my work space from disaster is a poor way to reconcile a full year of income and deductions.