Now at the tail end of another tax season, you may wonder as you file your return: Has my tax preparer served me well?
Before you judge, consider whether you are doing everything you can to help your accountant to your advantage.
Several tax professionals who write for Matthew Bender tax publications were asked: What truly bugs you about clients? The professionals, all members of the American Institute of Public Accountants, unanimously voice concern about the completeness and accuracy of records taxpayers presented to them.
"Some clients don't know what they need," says Frederick D. Lugar, CPA, of Venice, Fla. "For example, people who sell or buy their homes in a tax year need closing statements and 1099 forms, yet many do not know that. When you buy or sell something, ask your salespeople, lawyers or brokers what you need for tax preparation."
The IRS has implemented tough new computerized matching systems to catch errors. Accountants must be careful about where and how they fill in every number on tax returns, Lugar says. "We must verify every item on every return, and report every single bank account, every cent of interest, any annuity, any rollover, every record. Taxpayers must reveal everything to us -- no holds barred -- or it can come back to haunt us and them."
"Without memorizing current tax law, taxpayers should ask questions in order to build a plan with their tax professional," says Ron Dubrow, CPA, Cherry Hill, N.J. "The dumbest question you can have is the one you did not ask. I see many clients in a financial bind because they have not planned properly. While tax planning may seem too time consuming, it is far cheaper to plan ahead than to go back to correct mistakes. Lack of tax planning literally can put small businesses out of business.
"Some clients make the mistake of being overconfident about tax tactics they would like employed and are angry or disappointed when we advise them differently," says Dubrow.
Dallas attorney and CPA Kevin Bryant, co-author of Bender's Tax Return Manual and Depreciation Handbook, also wonders about clients with preconceived notions. "Some clients do not believe you have done everything that you can to generate the best possible legal tax return for them. When their taxes are higher than they had projected, they tell us, 'Cousin Sally deducted her child care, why can't I? Uncle Billy says his car is fully deductible; why is his and not mine?'
"Everyone has an Uncle Billy or Cousin Sally with a good tax story. The problem is many of the laws have changed radically since that story was first told.
"As accountants, we are frustrated when clients will not accept the law. . . ."
"When clients are frustrated and unaccepting of the facts that you tell them, we CPAs are usually in store for some hard-core emotional bashing," says Denver-based CPA Suzanne Clark-James, contributing editor to Bender's Accountant's Workbook Series. "When they don't like the message, they take it out on the messenger."
Clark-James has theories about the pitfalls and perils of her profession. "When you deal with people and money, emotions frequently arise. Money is more than money. It's a reflection of someone's personal values, and many people have not made their peace with money issues. That's why so many people are stressed out during tax season."
"When marriages fail because of quarrels over money, psychologists treat patients; accountants are not involved. Accounting and psychology professionals should get together to design programs that help people deal with irrationality about money."