Here's How to Get the Right Kind of Tax-Time Help

By Block, Julian | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), January 23, 1995 | Go to article overview

Here's How to Get the Right Kind of Tax-Time Help


Block, Julian, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


Most individuals who seek paid help at filing time use commercial return-preparation services. Some of these firms do business only on a local basis, whereas others maintain offices throughout the country - the best-known being H&R Block (with which I have no connection, despite the same last name). Before you go that route, however, here are some points to keep in mind.

Every year, consumer protection agencies are inundated with complaints from victimized taxpayers about their frustrating experiences with commercial preparers. Predictably, the key complaints are always the same - dishonest advertising that conceals hidden charges so that clients wind up shelling out more than they save in taxes, and slipshod work by self-designated "experts" that leaves taxpayers in trouble and in debt to the tax collectors.

What if something goes wrong with your return? At a minimum, you will be involved in some correspondence with the IRS; at the worst, you might be hauled in by the IRS for an audit and asked to justify certain facts and figures on your return. More often than not, an audit means extra taxes; interest charges that, like other kinds of consumer interest payments, are nondeductible; and perhaps penalties, also nondeductible, notes Brian J. Hickey, an attorney with the Chicago law firm of Cassiday, Schade & Gloor.

Tip: To spare yourself some unnecessary grief, here are some reminders on how to deal with commercial preparers:

Read the company's advertisement carefully. Will the firm actually fill out your return or, as some do, just charge you a consultation fee for tax advice?

Watch out for "low ball" operators who attract customers with minimum price advertisements that quote a fee of, say, "$20 and up. …

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