It’s that time of year again where we break out the W2s and other various tax forms and prepare to file our taxes. Some like to wait until the last possible minute to pay the government and others try and get their tax return as soon as possible to spend it on various stuff. With this time of year come the choice of taking it to a pro or doing it yourself online.
For those of us that choose to do it ourselves we would still like to have a person to be able to ask questions and for me I was met with that this year. I had a few questions about whether to itemize or take the standard deduction and what would classify as a valid deduction.
When you go to a tax prep place like H&R Block you will pay about $250 (depending on the number of forms you use to file, especially if you add in your state tax returns). Meanwhile the exact same H&R Block company has their online software that will charge you $80 to do them both (state and federal), and unlike going into the prep place where the rep have to manually peck everything into the forms, the H&R Block software makes it quicker by allowing you to type in your company’s ESN and your investment company’s information to automatically import and fill out the blocks saving you time and headache.
The problem with the H&R Block software (at the time of me writing this article) is that if you need a little help you can elect to go with the H&R Block Tax Pro Review where you can pay an extra $50, but the person looking at your taxes is at a remote location where you are asking questions via email. But because that person is likely answering other client’s questions during this time of year, it can be days before you get a response and the person can “finish up your return and file it for you”.
My problem with that is, one it is less personal and less efficient. If I am able to use the software I don’t need anyone to click the right block for me. I have a simple question that I need answered so I can decide which block to click myself.
The problem with going into the H&R Block office is that many of them are familiar with filling out the software program on their computer, which is different than what you are filling out online. So if you go into the office with questions many of the prepare specialists are clueless to what the online software details, unless they have used it to file their own returns. And there lies the problem. There seems to be a disconnect between the software at the offices and online. Then you have to take into account that not all H&R Block offices are the same. You have your franchise stores and your corporate offices. The corporate offices are more likely going to be of help because they work there year round verses the franchise store that are seasonal.
The problem I ran into when filing my taxes was that I was capable of doing them online but wanted some professional help, and not the person behind the curtain clicking selections for me. I wanted to understand why or why I shouldn’t click the option and what the tax law said about it.
Unfortunately the problem started with the home office in Kansas City. To their credit they were very helpful managing getting people paired to the right location to get their questions answered and to make sure the customer had a satisfactory experience. Where the problem lied for me was in the hole in their options.
For me I was wanting a different location than what was in their choice of “Pro Preview”, as there pro location was 30-45 mins away depending on traffic. Meanwhile there was a corporate store only 5-10 mins away. So after talking to Kansas City the day before, they assured me I could go to the corporate store 5 mins from me and I could just do my online prep and just pay the rep for their time.
So the next day I went to the store and started doing just that. I had my Chromebook tethered to my Pixel 2XL asking questions about the different tax laws. But though the professional was very knowledgeable about the tax code, they were lost on the online software I was using. As a result there were awkward moments where she was telling me to click on something because she thought it was saying one thing when it was actually saying something else.
Thankfully I was attentive of the situation but could imagine the problems arising from audits as a result of an unaware person clicking what a corporate store professional thought was needing to be selected versus what should have been selected.
After I was done with filing my taxes and paid my 79 bucks online, I was looking to try and pay the professional. Though I was not trying to pay $250, I was more than willing to pay $30 bucks (the cost of the “Second Look” a few years ago) for their time. Unfortunately there was no way to pay the professional, as H&R Block changed their policy to offer second looks for free now. This left me in an awkward situation because I did not want to go without paying something. So I was trying to come up with all kinds of ways to pay from asking them to ring me up for a second look (which I did not realize at the time was now free), to offering to pay the person cash under the table, to even offering to just buy the office lunch. But because of concerns about getting terminated if they received funds under table, the rep begged me to just take it as a free counseling as was instructed by their Kansas City office.
This left me distraught because here was a person who worked for the company 30 plus years and had a son older than me. Someone who took a hour of the day dealing with my questions, as I was clicking through the software, and was not getting paid. I know if I was in their shoes I would have been put off that technology was allowing a person to ask questions and breeze through a software service that cost about a third less than what I would have had to charge them to do it in the store. Meanwhile corporate was mandating that those same reps would be available for tax questions for free.
Now I know some would read, why would I be upset about paying less or feel like “if you really wanted to take care of that person then just pay the 250 bucks for them to prepare your taxes”. But this is where I think their should be a better medium than that. The reason why I chose the online software was I wanted to go the cheaper option. But the cheaper option do not mean that I was wanting something for free.
This is where I would like to petition the H&R Block home office in Kansas City. In the future it would be nice to have a set up with the corporate stores (and participating franchise locations), where a person choosing to want to file their taxes themselves online, would be able to choose any H&R Block corporate store that they want to help them with tax questions. And allow where a (reasonable) fee of around 20-30 bucks per session can be paid to the professional providing assistance. This will allow the professional providing tax questions to be paid for their time, while allowing the customer to still be able to use the online software themselves. As the online software provide so many awesome tools to make the process quicker than having someone peck through each key in the store, but do not help in situations where you need that one on one help. And the current solution of someone behind the curtain staring and having access to a person’s information is not fitting for everyone.
A happy medium of being able to sit down with my Chromebook, tablet, laptop, or iPad and be able to go through the process myself while having the ability to ask if I am allowed to deduct this or that is more fitting. If the customer is allowed to choose the corporate office of their choosing and professional, this can provide more options and build a professional client relationship. If I can go to the same tax professional year after year they will be familiar with how we filed in the past and why certain choices were made. This will help cut down on time and allow H&R Block to still be able to bridge the millennial clients with the seasoned old school tax professional in a way where they both do not feel cheated.