Here is a “wish list” for my clients – things I wish they would all do:
(1) I wish that when a client receives a letter or notice from the Internal Revenue Service, or a state tax authority, about a tax return they would put it in the mail to me, fax it to me, or include it as a “pdf” format attachment in an email to me IMMEDIATELY.
I still have some clients who insist on trying to call me first to tell me that they got a notice from the IRS. This is a total waste of time. My telephone answering machine is turned off during the “regular” year – it is only on during the tax filing season (January 15 to April 15).
And what would happen if they did manage to reach me by telephone? They would tell me that they got a notice from the IRS or the NJ Division of Taxation or whoever and I would tell them to mail, fax or email it to me!
Here is an example. A client tried repeatedly to call me with no success. So he told his mother to try to call me, which she did for a week or so, again without success. The mother mailed me a note saying that her son was trying to get in touch with me. I mailed a note to the son, along with a self-addressed envelope, telling him to mail me the notice.
The notice, which was from the NJ Division of Taxation, was dated October 1st. I received the notice in the mail from the client, finally, on November 10th. Look at how much time was wasted!
(2) I wish clients would keep track of the cost basis of all their investments and give the information to me at tax time when they have sold investments.
Or at the very least tell - not ask – their brokers to provide them with – or send directly to me - a detailed Profit and Loss Statement showing dates of purchase and cost basis for every investment sold during the tax year.
Some clients do it right. They set up a file folder for each investment at purchase and put the original purchase confirmation in the file.
If they purchase real estate they put the Closing/Settlement Statement in the file along with any receipts for expenses involved in the purchase that were not paid through the closing. They also place any receipts for capital improvements in the file each year.
If they receive an investment (including real estate) by gift they ask the giver to provide them with the cost basis of the investment gifted. If they inherit an investment (including real estate) they ask the Executor of the estate to provide them with the market value or appraised value on the date of death that was used in filing the federal estate, if required, and/or state inheritance tax return or filing.
When the investment is sold they put the sale confirmation, or Closing Statement, in the file and give me the file folder with their tax “stuff”.
To be honest, I would prefer a complete and accurate Profit and Loss Statement from the broker, to save me the time of actually determining the gain or loss on each investment. However, the individual file folder system discussed above would provide more complete, and verifiable, information – and I do not always trust that the broker-provided statement is always totally accurate (sometimes a broker will state that a stock was purchased for “25 3/8 per share” on a certain date, and not give me the actual net dollar amount that includes all commissions and fees).
Under the new “Don’t Call It a Bailout” Act this problem will eventually be dealt with to a great degree, at least with stock, bond and mutual fund investments if not real estate – but not completely.
(3) I wish clients would provide me with specific numbers for deductions they are claiming – instead of telling me “claim the maximum” or “whatever I am allowed” or “same as last year”.
The maximum is what you actually paid. You are allowed what you actually paid. It is very rare that an expense or number of miles driven for an activity is exactly the same as it was the previous year.
Each year I include in my January client mailing worksheets that apply to specific clients’ individual situations – for medical expenses, charitable contributions, rental income and expenses, employee business expenses, etc. I wish clients would fill them out completely and accurately – or provide me with a detailed listing of your deductions in any other format.
When clients do not give me the proper information and I have to email or write to you this wastes valuable time and delays the completion of the return.
I want to make sure my clients take advantage of all the deductions and credits to which they are entitled – but I can only do this if I am given complete and accurate information.
(4) I wish clients would make and keep a photocopy of all their Form W-2s for the year before sending me their “stuff” – as I clearly instruct in my annual January client mailing.
Each year during the season I get two or three frantic calls or emails asking me to fax photocopies of the W-2s to a bank, mortgage company or to the client. This is not a big thing, but anything that takes time away from actual 1040 preparation during this time is bad.
(5) My invoices all clearly state “payment due upon receipt”. This means once you receive the invoice and not “30 days net”. I wish my clients would sit down and write my check, and put it in the mail, as soon as they have finished reviewing the finished returns
This is only the beginnings of my client “wish list”. I could probably fill several more posts - and may just do that.
I hope that my clients read this post and take heed. As for the rest of you – I know you will make your own individual tax preparers a lot happier if you make these wishes come true for them as well.