October 2011. There I was staring at Craigslist searching for roles, projects, gigs and jobs that I could use to supplement the income from tax work that would soon begin with our new office. One role in particular struck me; one where you would be giving tax advice remotely during tax season. This sounded right up my alley but I was skeptical. “This is on Craigslist? Is this legit? What company is this for?” Long story short – it was legit and it was being offered by the fine folks at Intuit, the same company behind the TurboTax brand. So now what?
I applied for the role and shortly after Christmas I got the call that they would like to speak to me. After what I’ll call a “challenging” computer assessment (which I thought I crashed and burned in) I got the call inviting me to join the team. I happily accepted and got ready for a month of training and then a month of working on the floor taking calls and chats from customers. Boy, was the fun just about to begin!
Our training cohort (Wave 7) had about 30+ individuals in it from all walks of life, geographic locals and disciplines (Attorneys, CPAs and Enrolled Agents). Some were like me who were “relatively” new to the tax game while others were battle tested veterans who had been in the industry for 20+ years. Want to talk about feeling like a rookie? I can say that I truly appreciated learning some things from the people who had seen it all, knew the specifics of the IRC regulations and could rattle off IRS publications and forms as easily as someone who is fluent in a second language.
Training flew bye with the blink of an eye and before I knew it, it was time to jump into the pool and either sink or swim. The first few days were a little stressful as I became acclimated to how the phone and computer interface operated with my equipment (in particular my headset). Yet after a few days, taking calls was pretty seamless and that’s when I began to really experience what the role had to offer.
When it comes to operating a tax practice, every office is a unique animal. What I mean by this is that the nature of the clientele AND the preparer are usually interlinked. If you are a newer preparer such as myself, the chances of your client base containing a significant amount of retirees is probably not high. Thus, the number of returns that I would work on that would involve retiree topics (e.g. annuity payments, required minimum distributions, IRA to Roth conversions, etc) would be limited. But what happens when you are connected to taxpayers who have questions from all over the country, across varying social economic groups and from all ages? You learn!
During my time on the floor, I handled numerous questions ever single night. Some would come in that I had an “expert” working knowledge of while others made me want to scream in terror as I had no idea how I was even going to tackle it. Yet, the questions that terrorized me in my initial discussions with customers proved to be my biggest learning moments. I remember the question about an individual who had bartering income and needed some help figuring out where to report it. There was the question from a New Jersey taxpayer on why their Federal NOL wasn’t showing up on their state return. And then there was the one about the mixed use property and a Section 208A ordering of expenses.
In each one of those interactions I had to learn something in a short amount of time. Sometimes I was learning about the tax law, sometimes tax forms, sometimes the software itself. In addition to learning, I had to ensure that the guidance I provided to the taxpayer was sound and grounded in fact. Lastly (but certainly not least) I had to ensure that the taxpayer understood what I was conveying and agreed that I had actually solved their issue. Individually none of those things are complicated nor stressful. However, when you combine them all and repeat the process several times within a few hours, let’s just say that you have to stay on your toes!
As I write this post, April 17th 2012 is coming to a close and the clock is swiftly ticking towards the deadline to file on time. Over the next few days I will begin to transition out of the Ask A Tax Expert role as well as wind down the office for the offseason. Yet in looking back, I think I have to admit that I was fortunate to find that ad on Craigslist that one October day. Through this experience I had the opportunity to meet some really nice professionals, challenge my tax knowledge and learn about things I might not have touched for years to come. And just like the work I do in my practice, I had the opportunity to really and truly help make a difference in the lives of several individuals.
The work I did was not life or death surgery. Yet if you ask the callers whom I helped resolve their issues, you might get a different take on what they think I did! To all my ATE colleagues, it was a pleasure working with you and I hope our paths cross again in the future. To all the folks at Intuit, thanks for allowing me the opportunity to participate.
Until next time.