By Arthur Vidro
It’s tax season. Federal income-tax returns, normally due April 15, this year are due May 17.
Early in 2020, I filed my 2019 tax return. While it was in the mail, the country shut down. My return got sent to a warehouse where it sat, unopened, for five or six months. Only then did it get processed and my refund sent out.
I didn’t want to repeat that experience this year. The IRS is still short-handed because of the pandemic, at least when it comes to processing paper tax returns. (For reasons not worth getting into, filing electronically from home is not an option for me.)
So last month I had what I thought was a great idea – bring my completed federal tax return to a pro and have them (for a fee) file the return with the IRS.
In my mind, I had done all the difficult work and merely wanted a pro to apply the finishing touch – the electronic transmission.
I first tried a professional accountant in the heart of Claremont. No dice, I was told. If the fellow ended up filing the return, he’d have to charge me the full price for completing a return from scratch.
Then I dialed the number listed in a phone book ad for H&R Block’s Claremont office, explained what I wanted done, and asked if that was a service they could provide.
The answer was: “I don’t know. You would have to make an appointment and speak to somebody who can tell you.”
“Fine,” I said. “Give me an appointment.”
“For what office?”
“For the local office I just called and that you’re sitting in.”
“No, sir, you have reached a calling center. Which H&R Block office do you want to visit?”
“Claremont.” I paused, then not wanting to risk an appointment in California, added, “New Hampshire.”
So the appointment was made for last week.
It feels strange to dial a number purportedly for a local business and get put through to a place that isn’t within a hundred miles of that place of business.
Because of the reliance on a calling center, one’s phone call to H&R Block will be answered by a person not trained in tax laws or tax preparation. It will be answered by a person trained to answer telephones and schedule appointments.
Somehow, this is considered “progress.”
Anyway, I met this past Monday with Phyllis Gagnon, senior tax analyst at the Claremont branch of H&R Block.
I have no quibbles with Ms. Gagnon. She answered all my questions thoroughly, patiently, and professionally.
However, I was on a wild-goose chase. The service I wanted – electronic filing of the 2020 federal return I had already prepared – could not be done. They could not just file the return; they would have to redo it from scratch.
“So it makes no difference that I’ve already completed the tax return, and it’s perfectly typed and signed and ready to go?”
I asked why that answer wasn’t explained to me over the phone when I was given the appointment.
She apologized and explained the call-center approach.
“Well, fine, let’s not waste my visit. About how much would it cost to have H&R Block file my return, even if they have to redo it from scratch, despite the fact that the return is 100% complete, neatly typed, and on the table in front of us?”
She went to a rate sheet and checked all the forms in the return: a 1040 (which is what everyone has to submit), plus a Schedule 1, a Schedule 2, a Schedule B, a Schedule C, a Schedule SE, and a form 8962.
Never mind that many of these forms contained only one or two lines of information, with the remaining lines filled with zeros. If a form had to be filed, H&R Block would charge a set rate for that form, regardless of how much or how little time it took to complete.
I had entered hoping to pay $50 or so to have my completed return scanned and filed directly with the IRS.
I exited with an estimate of $539 to redo the perfectly done return, which needed no changes.
And that’s a return where I took the standard deduction. The convoluted Schedule A, used to take the itemized deduction, did not apply.
Instead of paying H&R Block, I posted the return, and postal “tracking” says it was delivered. Now I will wait however many months it may take for the IRS to get around to opening their real (not electronic) mail before the refund can get sent.
Still, I’m grateful for the visit with Ms. Gagnon. I never knew how much I was saving by completing my tax returns myself.
So remember, if you haven’t already taken care of your 2020 federal tax return, the deadline is May 17.
And if you go to a pro, don’t bother working on the return yourself ahead of time. Just bring your receipts and stubs in a shoe box and dump it on the pro’s desk. For whether your return is already fully prepared, partially prepared, or totally unprepared, the price will be the same.
Arthur Vidro’s “EQMM Goes to College” appears in the May/June 2021 issue of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine.