Monday, April 24, 2017

A Taxing Experience

But also an enjoyable and rewarding one.

A little over a year ago, pondering what the hell I could do to earn some money without getting laid off every two or three years, I walked into my local tax office. Way back in ’15, the lady who regularly did our tax returns noted my interest in the software she used and what qualified for a deduction or credit, why certain deductions or credits phased out, and how I could better adjust my family finances tax-wise. She said, “Why don’t you consider going on this side of the desk,” referring to her chair and implying that I might find doing other people’s taxes fulfilling.

The idea intrigued me but I let it lay dormant until necessity demanded otherwise.

I signed up for a course on the federal income tax in the Fall, attended the dozen or so classes, passed the mid-term and the final (90 percent and 98 percent), and aced the interview with the company’s district manager for a part-time evening position. December was hectic with classes on the company’s products and the selling of them thereof, as well as a pair of advanced classes. I did a lot of virtual learning online in my basement while the family enjoyed traditional Christmas-season festivities.

They started me early January in one of the higher-earning offices in our district. Thus, a lot of highly experienced tax preparers operated there, a dozen older men and women with 15, 20, even 30 years’ experience, client bases in the multiple-hundreds, and not a heck of a lot of incentive to mentor a newbie. In fact, there was none. I spent my evenings working on case studies and learning the appointment software. I became quickly discouraged and stopped showing up for two consecutive Mondays. No one noticed.

I did my first return three weeks later. A blue-collar dad brought his blue-collar son in for the youngster’s first tax return. Simple and straightforward. Yet it took me close to an hour. I was uncertain in responding to their questions. I did not know how to move from screen to screen with the software. I didn’t know how to assemble the return once everything was printed out. I didn’t know how to take payment. I sweated it out but survived. Then, nothing again for ten days.

Another office had an unexpected emergency opening, so they moved me there. I had three clients in three days. Then, the lead there started giving me more complicated returns to work on. These were drop-offs of previous years’ returns where we’d search for either higher refunds or lower liabilities via overlooked or incorrect deductions and credits. There were only five of us at this office, so I also got a lot of walk-ins.

I soon decided that instead of mere survival, my personal goal would be 26 clients and $5,000 worth of business. 26 was the number of clients one of the guys I worked with managed to attain his rookie year, five years ago. $5,000 just seemed a nice even target. To my surprise, I finished tax season with 44 clients and $8,464 business.  And as you might have guessed, the business is definitely exponential, culminating the week leading up to April 18. I did about 25 clients in the eleven weeks leading up to April, and 19 in the 16 days I worked in April. The last two nights I had three clients each night.

Turns out I really enjoyed the experience. I was kinda sad to leave the office Tuesday night. I said to one of my co-workers, “Once I actually figured out what I was doing [computer-wise and technique-wise, not tax-wise], I actually got excited to sit with a new client.”

Next season I go on commission instead of straight salary. That’ll be the test whether I stick with this. The pay plan is a bit complicated. It’s based on your skill level; we range from levels 1-6. I was a 1 for this first year, though I did some returns that probably fell in the 2 or 3 category. Skill level depends on your tax education level, i.e., the courses you’ve taken and passed in the off-season. That determines how much you’re paid per return plus the percentage of what a client is charged (which is based on the forms used, not on the refund received or client’s income level). And you get a few dollars for every product you sell and there’s a good survey bonus of some sort.

Goal next year is 75-80 clients (based on a 75 percent retention rate plus new clients from a retiring tax pro there plus walk-ins) and $20,000 brought in.

We’ll see ….

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