As almost all of you may know, H&R Block is the largest tax preparation chain in the country. If you have ever seen any of their recent commercials, you undoubtedly know that it likes to mention it’s “people” in it’s numerous ad campaigns. You may also be aware that the company offers a tax preparation course (albeit a brief one compared to the ones that formally educated prepares must go through), and some of you may even know that it hires some of the better performing “graduates” to work at the company’s many franchise stores upon completion of the course. However, you should be warned that these “people” may not be very qualified to prepare many tax returns. In fact, many of the “people” may have never even seen a tax return in their lives before they took the H&R Block tax preparation course.
Now, I have nothing against the people who take the course to benefit themselves and who are interested in getting a basic understanding of the tax system, however, unless you have a simple tax return which includes a basic 1040, the standard deduction and some interest you can be taking a large risk by allowing them to prepare your tax return. In fact, the basic course is only 69 hours long, which is the equivalent of approzimately a single semester’s worth of time in one college level course.
Further, I have come across ads placed on CareerBuilder.com and other sites that H&R Block placed for tax preparers which state that it is looking for people who are interested in earning additional seasonal income to employ during the tax season, including students, retirees, and stay-at-home mothers. I have personally been brought many returns that were prepared by H&R Block that contained over-sights, as well as errors that would have been caught by peoperly educated, experienced professionals. Of course, even CPA’s do make mistakes, but the chances are far greater that an inexperienced person will file an incomplete or erroneous tax return.
As an example, the document below was taken from a client who went to H&R Block for a few years to prepare her taxes. Just to make it clean, she is in her late 50’s and had filed every year for decades. The reason that is so important to point out is that the person who prepared her taxes in 2007, the first year with them, failed to obtain her prior-year 1040 which is why the 2006 column is all zeros. Why is this important? Because she had significant long-term capital loss carryovers from prior years. This egregious oversight cost her an offset to her income of $3,000 in both 2007 and 2008, plus the costs of preparing the amended tax returns (I had to get paid for my work after all!).
Frankly, I am not saying that the people who are employed by H&R Block are incompetent, but that you may want to ask for qualifications and experience histories of any person you bring your tax return to. This is perhaps the most important document that you will need to prepare each year, so wouldn’t it make you rest easier knowing that a properly educated and trained professional is entrusted with it?
Have you ever had an experience like this with one of these tax preparation chains? What made you go there to begin with? Did you assume it would be cheaper than a real tax accountant or CPA? Maybe you were pressed for time and they offered quick service? Whatever the reason, I would love to hear your experiences both good and bad!