Once upon a time, when I was a young tax preparer, I had a new client bring me his information for tax preparation. At the conclusion of our meeting, the client said, “Janet, I’m going to need you to get me back about $8k.”

My jaw hit the floor. I then had to explain to this new client that tax preparation didn’t work that way. You, as the client, do not assign a number and expect for me, the preparer, to deliver. As I tell my kids, “you get what you get and you don’t throw a fit.”

I thought for sure that I had lost the client. Why would anyone work with a preparer who did things ethically and correctly? Especially because my numbers for this new client came in significantly lower than his expected $8k refund.

I found out at a later date that the client’s last preparer had just been sentenced for preparing and filing FRAUDULENT returns! The prior preparer would adjust expenses to deliver the requested refund amounts. My new (still with me 10 years later) client also received the dreaded IRS notice on Christmas Eve demanding payment for an adjusted tax return for disallowed vehicle mileage and the old preparer was nowhere in sight (he was actually in a federal lock-up).

Here’s my point, no two tax preparers are the same. Unfortunately, with any industry, you’ve got good and bad. How much time has your preparer spent learning tax law and application? Can your preparer tell you why you owe or why your refund amount is less or more than last year? What software does your preparer use? Better yet, if you aren’t happy with your refund or balance due, what should you do for next year?

Like the photo industry, the tax industry is riddled with people who think that because they bought some software and equipment, they can prepare taxes. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Did you know, as an Enrolled Agent, I’ve had to pass a series of exams administered by the Internal Revenue Service? Did you know, I have a set of ethical rules that dictates how I prepare taxes? It’s called Circular 230.

Any good tax preparer will have read it and know it.

I have lost clients because they get better numbers with a box store or by filing online themselves. My question to you though: “is it right?”