Monday, November 26, 2007


I prepare 1040s. That is what I do for a living. I have been preparing 1040s for 35 years. Each year I attend between 20 and 60 hours of continuing education on 1040s to keep up-to-date on new developments.

Over the years clients have asked me to fill out, or at least help them fill out, all kinds of non-tax forms and applications - mortgage or loan applications, census forms, college financial aid applications, prescription drug or utility discount program applications, immigration forms, etc, etc, etc.

I do not prepare these forms for a living. I do not have any special training or experience in filling out these types of forms or applications. For the most part I do not even fill them out for myself.

I do not know why clients expect that I know how to complete these things. I suppose because 1040s have to do with numbers and so do these forms and applications then I should be able to complete them just like that. Or perhaps it is that most of these forms are for some kind of government program or reporting, and if I know the Tax Code I must also know every other federal and state government code, regulation, etc.

I do not like to fill out these forms, and, for the most part, do not want to fill out these forms. Especially during the tax filing season, when I barely have time to relieve myself let alone deal with non-1040 items. When asked to prepare such a form I do exactly what the client would have to do – read the instructions and attempt to answer the questions as best I can. I have no special insight to reading and understanding instructions.

I can, and do, happily provide specific answers for the part of the student college financial aid form that deals with the information reported on the parents’ and student’s tax returns. I can understand clients asking me this specific information, and have no problem providing it. However, I do not want to fill out the entire form.

And, while technically not tax forms, I also do prepare the NJ property tax rebate application for clients – at it is easy to do online and requires certain information reported on the NJ-1040. I will also prepare the PTR-1 or PTR-2 “senior freeze” application, although, to be perfectly honest, I would actually prefer not to.

How do I charge for doing something I know nothing about? Often clients will give me $10.00 or $20.00 for filling out the form as a “tip”. Perhaps I should apply my hourly rate in these situations and charge clients a minimum of $50.00 per form or application for taking up my valuable time – maybe this would stop them from asking me to fill out non-tax forms.

I do know that some tax professionals attempt to build up a sideline income by preparing financial aid and other such forms – but they actually have some training and experience in the area. This is not something that I want to do.

So clients - take a hint and do not bring such forms and applications to me along with your 1040s!

And fellow tax professionals – how do you feel about this issue?



Nichole Parker said...

I hear you!

I get lots of requests from clients to do things that have absolutely nothing to do with taxes. Frequently this happens because I'm a native English speaker working in Italy so when people need help with anything that has to be done in English, they come to me.

I try to take it as a compliment figuring that people ask me to do these things because I'm smart. However, it holds the potential for being a huge waste of time so I've started charging for it at full rates unless the client sends me a critical mass of work each year.

Deep down it bothers me because I don't feel like non-tax work, even if well-paid, takes away from my professional identity. For this reason I've been considering the idea of saying no to anything that isn't on my list of services.

Kathleen Webb said...

We are in the "Just Say NO!" camp.

We prepare household employment tax returns - state unemployment, state withholding, Schedule H, W2 and 3. That's it folks. We don't do 1040's of any persuasion, and MOST ESPECIALLY not 1040NR returns used by our revolving door of NGO staff members.

We don't provide worker's compensation insurance, or even consult on when needed in what state beyond a link to the US Department of Labor's survey. We don't respond to unemployment claims - the nanny did not work for us and we don't know or want to know why she left.

I equate getting involved with these extraneous issues to trying to walk across quick sand. We are not insurance agents. We are not income tax return preparers, we are household employment payroll tax specialists. In the United States, not Canada, the UK, or Austria (recent requests that come to mind).

No thank you, we will point those clients in the right direction and just walk away.

Robert D Flach said...

Thanks for the supportive comments!

Many, many years ago, very early in my career, I thought about adding insurance, brokerage services, real estate, etc to my “repertoire” – so I would not lose 1040 clients to members of these non-tax professions. But a wise old Southern lesbian gave me some good advice. She told me that “only Sherwin Williams can cover the world”.

I since learned that it is best to be very good at one thing - 1040s - and not try to be a “jack of all trades” and end up the inevitable “master of none”. I am satisfied being a master of tax returns.