Thursday, December 12, 2013


You really can’t reach me by telephone during the year.  I know it is weird, but it’s just one of my trademark “eccentricities”.  I do not have a cell phone, and if I did I would use it for auto emergencies only and would not give anyone the number, and my land line is unplugged most of the year (except for January 15 through April 15). 
As a result, a client with a tax question will sometimes send me the following email –
“I have a tax question.  Please call me at 123-456-7890.”
I do not want clients to do this.  I really, really, really want clients to ask the question, and provide all the details, in the body of the email.
For one thing, clients who do this will get a much quicker answer from me.  I often find myself at my desk between 6-7 AM, and the first thing I do each morning is check my “in-box”.  I obviously am not going to pick up the phone and call a client at 6:30 AM or even 7:30 AM.  It is much easier for me to send a reply, or do some quick research and send a reply, immediately at that hour of the morning.
I am bad at returning calls.  If I do actually decide to call the client it could be many days later.  Sometimes the answer is needed promptly.
But the main reason I want the client to put the question in “writing”, with all the pertinent details, in the body of an email is so that we both will have a written documentation of the question and, as I will provide my answer by return email, my answer, so there is no confusion about what was asked and what was answered in the future.  I also think it helps the person asking to see his question in text.
Unfortunately, due to the world we live in, I feel it is important to have a written documentation of both the question and the answer to cover both of our arses.  Not that I anticipate the client will do this, but it prevents him or her from saying, “you told me to do this” if the return is questioned when I actually told the client to do that.  And I cannot say to the client, “but you asked me that” when he or she actually asked me this.
I also get emails that say –
“I got a notice from the IRS.  Call me at 123-456-7890”.
Again this is a total waste of time.  As I say in the memo I include with each finished tax return –
If you receive correspondence from any of your “uncles” (or “aunt”) during the year relating to a tax return I have prepared send it directly to me immediately.  DO NOT CALL FIRST.”
If I did call the client in response to the email the first thing I would say is “mail me the notice”.  And that is exactly what I say to the client in my responding email.  I cannot do one damned thing until after I have actually read the notice.  And I will need to send a copy of the notice in any response I may make directly to the IRS or state tax agency.
So if you have a tax question you want to ask your preparer, instead of picking up the phone submit the question in an email, with all the pertinent facts.  And if you receive a notice from the IRS or your state, mail it to your tax pro immediately.
I hope my clients read this post.
Fellow tax pros, what do you think?

1 comment:

Peter Reilly CPA said...

This is really good advice Bob, but I would make some qualifications.

People should send a copy of the notice. I never want to have the only copy of anything.

Also there are let us say "special situations" where verbal advice might be better than written advice.

Here is an example where a client was harmed by extensive written advice

It is unusual, but I think some reflection should be made before you create extensive discoverable paper trails.