Barbara Van Reed
Most of us can’t escape income tax season, and even when we try, it’s hard not to be reminded by the friendly wavers in Statue of Liberty costumes that it’s time to do our taxes.
The waving dancers on the sidewalks in many towns draw attention to Liberty Tax Service offices. “It helps us stand out,” said Eric Ngiem, who owns four Liberty franchises, including one in Webster. Mr. Ngiem says he gets lots of comments about the wavers. “Some people tell me that they’ve had a bad day, but when they see the costumed dancer, they can’t help but smile and wave back. Other people criticize me and say, it’s 10 degrees outside, how can you make the kids stand out there freezing? Moving and dancing keeps them warm I tell them.” He admits it’s a bit hokey, but it works.
More seriously, for people who find doing taxes too taxing a matter, there are many experienced tax preparers in our towns who can help make it easier. We spoke with several of them.
Mary Tolic founded Money Matters in Oxford 25 years ago, and worked for a large CPA firm before that. She is an Enrolled Agent, which means she is certified by the IRS to represent clients in tax matters. The IRS has instituted new requirements for tax preparers to be trained and certified to counter the many instances of fraudulent activity of “fly by night” tax preparers.
Mr. Ngiem said it’s been “The Wild West for a number of years with ID thefts and other fraud. Tax preparers deal with people’s private information and there were no requirements, not even a background check.” The new IRS regulations go into effect in 2013.
Why do people go to tax preparers? “To make sure they get the maximum refund,” Ms. Tolic said. “Sometimes people are reluctant to do certain things, take certain deductions, but they shouldn’t be afraid to take what the law allows.”
Most people deal with taxes only once a year and they don’t feel confident, and second-guess themselves, she said. “We deal with tax matters every day and have to go to seminars and conferences to keep up with the changes in the tax laws every year.”
Ms. Tolic said her company is more than just a tax preparer. “We don’t roll up the sidewalk when tax season is over.” she said. They are there year-round to help clients who need tax advice. “For example, someone may be thinking about taking a big distribution and we can help them determine the tax implications. People shouldn’t assume that everything will be OK. Once it’s done, it’s done and too late. It’s wise to make that phone call ahead of time.”
Alison L. Adams of Freedom Tax Service in Southbridge has been doing taxes since she was 16 years old. “My father was a bookkeeper and he wanted me to know how to do them.” And now she’s been doing them professionally for 44 years. Before opening her own office, she was the manager of the Liberty Tax Service office in Southbridge.
People come in for tax help for all kinds of reasons, she said. “Some people have no clue how to fill in a tax form, some don’t have confidence in their math ability. Others tried to do it online themselves and ran into a problem or didn’t think they got enough of a refund. Still others don’t want the IRS breathing down their neck if they do something wrong. Or they’ve had a major life change and aren’t sure how to account for it.”
It’s not as frightening as you think, she said, but there are intricacies involved and you might miss out on some good credits if you’re not up on the tax code.
She said a college student come in recently who didn’t know she was entitled to a tax credit for tuition payments. “The credit came to $600. Now we’ll probably go back and redo her returns for the last two years.”
Having your taxes done for you can be affordable. Mary Tolic charges $75 for simple federal and state tax returns, more if you have a Schedule C or stock trades. She charges a price per form and it might go up to $300.
Paul G. Dube in Dudley has been in the business for 47 years as a tax preparer and 32 as a tax planner. “When people call to ask what I charge, I ask them, what are you prepared to pay me if I can get you back $3,000? I haven’t met anybody yet who wouldn’t like to pay less in taxes and have more money after they pay their bills. That’s why they come to tax preparers. And if I can’t do a better job for them than last year, I’ll charge them the same as they paid the year before .”
Now that it’s March and the February filers, as Alison Adams calls them, are done, the more difficult cases will come in. The early filers believe they will get a refund and so file as soon as possible..
The more involved returns come later. People who believe they will have to pay often get an extension. Some think they’ll come up with something magically, she said. It’s also the time when small businesses, self-employed people, and partnerships come in to file or get extensions.
All the tax preparers we spoke with, busy as they are this time of year, made it a point to assure us that they are “ready to help with problem resolution and put out fires all year long,” as Mary Tolic put it.
- Wednesday, 07 March 2012
- Posted in Categories: : Letter From the Editor