Discussion:Sit-down tax prep

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Discussion Forum Index --> Business Growth Community --> Sit-down tax prep

HWCPA (talk|edits) said:

28 October 2013
Took over a tax practice some years ago where a number of individual clients sit down and get there tax returns prepared right in the office. I want to get away from this practice since it's getting to be unmanageable at this point in terms of workload during the tax season.

Love the clients - that's why we're all in business! But, in terms of efficiency it gets very difficult. My employees help with data input on dropped off returns but they don't handle interviews.

Other reasons for moving away from this type of preparation:

1. Review process - mistakes can be made while preparing the returns in front of the client without time for a thorough review. 2. Inefficiencies - time spent discussing other non tax matters results in lots of lost time 3. Fees - clients see what you're charging for sometimes fairly quick, straightforward returns.

Understandably, clients may have certain issues from year to year that need to be discussed and would ALWAYS make time for these types of interviews.

Any practitioners out there run into this issue?

Pink Pearl (talk|edits) said:

October 28, 2013
You may find that the client does not really want to sit down for the time it takes to prepare the return on the spot. When appointments are running late and they have to sit for twenty or thirty minutes to see you they may really like the concept of dropping off the return info and having an assistant review for minor questions/documents and having a phone call from you after the fact to clarify any questions. I only see around 100 or so clients in person each year and the other 800 are serviced by staff to pre-review prior to passing the return to me for completion. I don't believe I have done a return on the spot in over 20 years and have had zero problems...or you could just say NO!

Fsteincpa (talk|edits) said:

28 October 2013
I have seen a suggestion that I would like to try out with my group of sit down and watch clients but still not sure how they will like it.

Someone suggested that the clients schedule their pick up time instead of drop off time and that they can come in and have their stuff at that time ready to be gone over.

Still trying to figure out how to word that. The other piece is that I always let them know we don't file right then and there but that another secondary review is done and that mistakes sometimes get made, especially when someone is sitting there watching you. So, they may get a call letting them know something had to change.

Also, since my fees are so low, I was thinking of instituting a sit and watch fee for those desiring instant gratification. Would still be cheaper the HRB.

CathysTaxes (talk|edits) said:

28 October 2013
I only have two clients (one also brings her daughter's return) that sit and wait and that's because it takes them 30 minutes to get here. Everyone else drops off their stuff.

TaxDude (talk|edits) said:

28 October 2013
It's funny, I experienced a big increase in drop offs this past tax season; and also had several clients ask if they could just send me their stuff rather than come in for the sit down, though I didn't do anything to prompt this - of course, I responded with an enthusiastic: yes of course!

I too have been thinking about how to transition my practice to be a majority of drop-offs, so much more efficient. I'd like to hear some more thoughts on this topic as well. Hopefully others will chime in...

Tax Writer (talk|edits) said:

28 October 2013
I posted about this before, but a few years back, my office mate sent out a coupon with her organizer that offered a 20% discount for people who dropped off their stuff before March 1st. A lot of people took advantage, and I remember that year being a very smooth season for her because the last minute tax filers were much fewer.

And a lot of the drop offs simply remained drop-offs.

Joanmcq (talk|edits) said:

29 October 2013
One of my former HRB clients were quite happy when I told them of my policy of not doing returns while they wait. They hated taking hours out of their day off to do taxes, and like my drop-off interview & pick up later policy. If clients are local I do like to meet with them at least once to go over their stuff & look at the prior year returns. Many of my longer-term clients ask if they have to come in, can't they just drop the stuff off?

HWCPA (talk|edits) said:

29 October 2013
For many clients having their taxes done right then and there is very appealing because it's over and done in a reasonable amount of time for them and any refund for them can be started once they pay me and I push the button to start the e-file transmission. It's the instant gratification society we're living in. Transitioning to a more drop off policy is just one of the challenges a practitioner has to face I guess which is why these forums are so great to bounce ideas off of!

Fsteincpa - I've thought the same thing and in much the same situation as you. Maybe charge an additional fee for sitting down while they wait? But then, some clients may gladly pay the extra fee (my fees are low enough too and the additional fee may not be enough of a deterrent) and there goes my plan for transitioning to a more drop off policy :) I like your idea of the secondary review and that they don't get filed right away. Unfortunately for me, many of the clients want leave with the taxes after my office manager processes them. Certainly not my preferred way of doing things but that's what they were used to......

Also need to figure out where to draw the line because some people do travel a distance to come and get their taxes done (i.e. in CathysTaxes example). And some elderly clients come in with drivers, etc. Can't see making exceptions for some (i.e. long travelers) while shutting out local clients. Could be a tough one....

Hard to tell clients that have been doing that for years that my policy is changing but maybe scheduling a pick up time rather than a sit down and wait is better.

In short, thinking of drafting a letter that explains in order to keep costs down and provide continued value (i.e. no mistakes on rushed returns) that the policy is changing. Not sure if many clients would leave either. With a reasonable cost and good relationship I would think that most would stay rather than go to HRB and there aren't many practitioners in the area that do sit-downs either.

HWCPA (talk|edits) said:

29 October 2013
Joanmcq - Exactly what I want to shift to! Meet with them to go over the information & look at prior year returns and then pick up later. Many of my longer term clients have transitioned a bit to drop off but do have some die hards that have to have the sit-down. Any NEW clients are strictly an interview and then pick up later.

Fsteincpa (talk|edits) said:

29 October 2013
HW, should be easy enough to do for all new clients. As for the established ones, it becomes a process of education and weaning.

And, as they say, raise your fees 25% and if you lose less than that, you ahead of the game.

NE EA (talk|edits) said:

29 October 2013
We sent out post cards to all clients telling them we were not scheduling sit down meetings unless specifically requested and encouraged them to drop off data at their earliest convenience and by an large that worked. We still have a few sit downs but that is way down from the old way.

Death&Taxes (talk|edits) said:

30 October 2013
Through the filing season for 1997 (winter-spring 1998) I saw clients every hour on the hour Monday-Saturday, and three or four lengthy returns on Sunday. Not every return was completed at that sitting but many were, despite the problems that would occur when computers froze, or DOS systems lost the return and it had to be found in TEMP files, but it worked to a certain degree. As years went by, more clients moved and mailed in their stuff, or dropped it off over the transom so that finishing all returns was impossible, even with the help of a woman who still does work for me.

The summer of 1998 I drove the Taconic Parkway through Dutchess and Columbia County, New York, fell in love with it, used the Internet to look at real estate and found I could buy a house for 100K on three acres atop a hill in Kinderhook Township. My late wife and I moved there in December of that year, notified clients I would only see people on 12-14 days in person, and that they had to mail their stuff (or fax....this was prior to everyone having a scanner etc).....we gambled but 85-90% stayed with me and most of the ones who went elsewhere were people I did not care to see anyway. Kinderhook was 250 miles from Philadelphia, a four plus hour drive. I would leave Sunday morning at 5-6 am, seeing my first client at 11am and staying overnight thru Monday, when I would depart about 9 or 10pm.

I have never gone back, though after my wife died, I met Pam and we now live 65 miles from Philadelphia. I have a number of clients who drive here but I only see people 12 days in Philadelphia. It works, and gives you the time to review and think....by the way, until three years ago I did not have a printer in Philadelphia so even if someone wanted to file, they had to wait for the forms.

Graycoast (talk|edits) said:

31 October 2013
This is always a tough one, when that is what clients are used to doing. Although some will jump at the chance to drop off/mail if offered. But the last two firms I worked at I inherited clients from preparers that did about 90% of their returns while folks were sitting at the desk. Very hard to get them away from that, although a few were happy to get out of there when I suggested it.

I make errors when watched, and I always knew when I started my practice that I wasn't going to do it that way. So in my first year on my own, I just didn't put info in the computer while they were there, we did an interview, walked through stuff and I did it after they left. This gave me a chance for review, instead of those phone calls to change results. The only big mess up I had was a walk in client on the 15th, who sat there the whole time. So I will stick to my guns.

HWCPA (talk|edits) said:

1 November 2013
And another big reason for my shift towards non sit-downs is that the time it was taking to prepare, review & move out the door the returns for the people that were dropping off is starting to exceed my threshold. I try for about a week or so turn around but when some start getting to two weeks and a little beyond that, the drop off people get itchy. And who can blame them...

If two or three drop offs start to get unhappy vs. one happy sit-down client, well, the ratio isn't good.

Taxaway (talk|edits) said:

1 November 2013
I prefer drop-offs especially when the return is a bit involved; it's a bit distracting when the client is trying to engage in small talk while you're concentrating, and you either have to hush them or ignore them. When you do need to research or doublecheck a topic, you don't want pressure from them, or when a danged diagnostic occurs, the client isn't panicking "what's wrong?!" During the initial or wrap-up meeting is time for the chatting.

You also have to allot your available time to the drop-offs and not get 'greedy' else you will develop the problem of unhappy drop-off clients. I block off time in my appointment book to work on them, though usually after hours.

And as we know, in a few months, the term 'after-hours' will become just a meaningless phrase.

AgwmTax (talk|edits) said:

1 November 2013
I think it depends on your client type and complexity of their returns. I will not do business returns while the taxpayer is waiting in front of me, unless it is a simple (1099-misc and needs a Sch C-EZ).I have many clients who prefer to get their return done in one trip and if I asked them to drop off and come back later they would leave me. I can generally get a typical 1040 with Sch A done in 1 hour (existing clients).

For new clients I allow an additional 30 to 45 minutes because I have to review their prior returns (at least the previous year but prefer 3 yrs).

I try to do the sit down returns during the weekend and evenings. Most of my sit down clients are retirees.

Fsteincpa (talk|edits) said:

1 November 2013
I agree with agwm. Nothing more than a simple schedule A, maybe some misc itemized deductions, if more than that, I let them know they aren't walking out with it and that we are simply interviewing and they can pick it up the next day or 2, depending on complexity.

An old farmer used to sit down while his Sch F was prepared, he got crotchety when I told him no. I said fine, here is price for sit down and walk out, here is price for drop off. Was a $200 difference. He dropped off.

CathysTaxes (talk|edits) said:

1 November 2013
What I've been doing is asking the sit down people to email or fax their information to me, so I can get it all done before they get here. Sometimes they do. I only have a few who are sit down. It makes me very nervous having clients sitting next to me while I do their returns.

Gazoo (talk|edits) said:

2 November 2013
This year I am helping a young tax entrepreneur develop a drive-thru service he will run out of a fleet of vans. The information is dropped off on the driver's side and by the time the TP gets to the passenger side, the return is done and ready to Efile. Fortunately, I was able to get a big fat grant from a large "non-profit" foundation to help the man with his rollout.

Because of the childish nature of most TPs today (the government is dumb and I don't owe no taxes), we are painting the trucks in bright colors to resemble the old icecream trucks and we will top each truck with a genuine brass bell. Strangely enough, I have advised my entrepreneur to avoid individual returns and concentrate on fast turnaround of business returns by trolling the office parks with his vans.

Greenjas (talk|edits) said:

12 November 2013
As someone who has just went full-time with my practice, I established right from the beginning that I do not want a tax practice where there are people waiting to get their tax returns completed nor do I want a tax practice where people watch me do their tax return nor do I want a tax practice that is a store-front tax shop. I have spent the last 5 years managing tax sites where people wait to have their taxes completed and hover over the computer screen watching every keystroke that is made. I've had client stop me in the middle of completing a tax return and demand that I give them back their documents because they didn't like the refund amount that was showing on the screen. I've managed tax sites where as soon as I walked up to the door, the line was already formed and fights would break out if someone thought you were taking them ahead of the other person. Other taxpayers would wait to see if their refund amount decreased or increased and if they didn't like it, they just took their documents, told me I didn't know what I was doing and walked out before even letting me complete the return. And, I dare not forget the clients that went to other tax preparers and only came to my tax site to see if they would get a higher refund than what they already received from the tax shops down the street. I actually had a client pull out her tax return and show me her refund amount from another tax shop and question me why I wasn't getting the same numbers. So, when I went full-time, I made the decision that no tax returns are done while clients sit and watch me work.

Now with that being said, I do have a few clients that I have prepared their taxes while they wait. This will change this tax season. If I no longer have them as my client, I understand and they are free to find someone else. The lessons that I have learned is that you have to establish your policies early because once your clients become accustomed to your procedures, its difficult it not impossible without losing a few clients to change procedures later down the line.

PDXTaxman (talk|edits) said:

14 November 2013
Pretty much what Greenjas says above. I would say that we occasionally make an exception -- especially on the last day or two of the season -- for very simple returns (W2s and little else). But we STILL make the client sign an engagement letter beforehand, and pay the retainer or entire anticipated amount of the return. If we put in time, we expect to get paid, and we're clear as a bell about that. We will also make an occasional exception for clients who must drive long distances, but I think at this point we're down to just one such and I'm not encouraging anyone else to expect that kind of service.

When I first started out I worked at Block, and the while-you-wait model was in full force (presumably still is). I didn't like it much then, and it actually got worse while I was there (the first couple of years we were able to position our monitors as we wished, so I could prevent clients from peering over my shoulder. Then Block Corporate took over the multi-state franchise that had previously controlled the Pacific Northwest, and promptly installed their own uniform corporate-approved desks that practically invited clients to participate in tax prep).

Still, it was only later when I'd gone into business on my own did I see the truly pernicious nature of while-you-wait. It makes review all but impossible. It encourages even good preparers to make mistakes. Worse, it absolutely encourages pushing work out ASAP even if the client would be dramatically better served by bringing in additional documents and accepting that the task just can't be done the same day.

Southparkcpa (talk|edits) said:

19 November 2013
GAZOO... LOVE IT!!!!! I joke about it all the time. A McTax drive thru. return is ready at the pick up window with a coke and fries.

Bottom Line (talk|edits) said:

20 November 2013
I love it!!! Do you want cheese on it?

MRPLOW (talk|edits) said:

25 November 2013
I use a modified system.

I complete the vast majority of there return while the client sits there (I keep the computer screen hidden from the T/P's view). Sometimes I'm 100% done except for pressing print, about 50% of the time I'm missing some items though. This takes from about :30-1:00 depending on complexity. I then have client come back to pick up the completed return in a couple of days. Works for me.

I hate doing complicated returns by drop-off. Way to many questions and back and forth emails and phone calls, I prefer to hammer it all out at 1 appointment.

I've done it this way for over a decade, so I'm not nervous it all about working with the client across from me. I also like the socializing aspect of this way.

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