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Tax Day looms
Accountants, preparers on home stretch

Monday, April 14, 2014

By SAM JACKSON - Bulletin Staff Writer

Asking a certified public accountant whether he or she is busy on the Friday before April 15 is similar to asking a florist if Valentine’s Day is a long day.

In the case of many accountants and tax preparers, however, the rush begins after Jan. 1 and continues through mid-April.

“It’s a hectic four months followed by a lot of downtime the rest of the year,” said Jim Sells of Sells Hogg & Associates.

Sells was one of the few accountants who were available to talk about their businesses Friday, four days before the April 15 filing deadline. Most either were not able to be reached or declined comment.

Sells said that while nothing significant had changed with the federal or state tax codes in 2013, this tax season has been “probably more complicated than usual.”

“The IRS (Internal Revenue Service) wants more details on capital gains taxes, (and) there are a lot of investment transactions,” he said. “It’s the same things it always is, just more of them.”

Cordelia Holland of Holland Accounting and Tax Services said she hasn’t seen much of a change in business, partially because many clients like the security of working with an accountant.

“Even with the changes and free (preparation) options the IRS is offering, a lot of customers feel more secure” seeing their accountants, Holland said.

One issue Sells said his office had encountered was frequent work stoppages due to bad weather during the winter.

“There was one day where we had 15 people who didn’t come to work,” he said. “If you lose a whole day of work, that throws you way behind.”

Holland said her office lost a day or so of productivity as well.

“I do think the snow days hurt us a little bit, because a lot people wanted to stay home and enjoy (the weather),” Holland said.

Though she said any impact the weather had on business was made up by a couple of late nights, another issue that affected her office on Fayette Street has been the construction of the New College Institute’s new building nearby.

“The New College (building) has been a major hindrance to me, because a lot of customers ... couldn’t determine whether we were open or closed,” Holland said.

Though businesses have to submit their returns by March 15, Sells said individual tax preparation often doesn’t heat up until then, making the final month a mad dash.

“It takes about a month for everybody to get their information together” because interest statements and W-2 forms don’t arrive in the mail until then, Sells said.

“The more complicated (the returns) are, the later they are coming in. Everybody’s working twice as hard — we’ve added extra help,” he added.

Pam Hairston of Pam Hairston Tax Service said she has added more clients this year compared to last — mostly of the last-minute variety.

“More people are filing late ... they just didn’t feel like filing on time,” she said.

However, Hairston added that she does have several clients who were out of the country for reasons such as military service and could not be here to file.

Sells said some clients who have filed their Virginia tax returns have complained about the debit cards the state issued beginning last year, rather than cutting checks.

“In years past, the state would mail you a refund check,” Sells said. “Now, they won’t. They’ll deposit your refund in the bank or they’ll give you a debit card, and the cards have all sorts of snags with them.”

Joel Davison, communications director with the Virginia Department of Taxation, said the debit cards were mandated by the General Assembly in 2012. “Some people are still getting checks ... but you can’t request one.”

Holland said some customers — particularly the elderly — have complained about having to go online to activate the state debit cards or do so at a retailer. Many clients come to her office to have theirs activated, she said.

“My customers really don’t like it. Most customers choose direct deposit,” she added.

Davison admitted there were some problems with the cards during last year’s rollout, but he said those mostly have been resolved.

“Any time you have a huge program that’s completely different than what was offered before, there are going to be a couple minor snags,” he said. For example, a few people might be charged bank fees on their cards. “Those (get) resolved pretty quickly,” he said.

Davison said issuing debit cards or direct deposit for refunds saves the state about $200,000 a year, but Sells and Holland were skeptical.

“There’s no way they can convince me it’s cheaper to give out a plastic debit card than it is to cut a check,” he said.

“They say that it’s cheaper to make those, and I guess I haven’t completely wrapped my head around that,” Holland added. “Paper is cheaper than plastic,” she said.

Davison advised taxpayers who receive state refunds to opt for direct deposit, however, because most people receive their state refunds into their bank account within six days.

“It’s your money,” he said. “Why not get it as quickly as you can, safely to your bank account?


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