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?