The question is not can you, but should you?

I often answer calls from potential clients (often referrals from existing clients) who have 1099 (independent contractor/self employed) income. Sometimes they call because they “ran into problems with Turbo Tax.” More often it’s someone’s first time getting a 1099 instead of a W2 and s/he doesn’t know what to do. As always with potential clients who are self employed one of my first questions is “Are you aware of New Mexico’s Gross Receipts Tax and your filing requirements?” The answer is usually “No.” My response is a version of the following: “Well, this is separate from income tax and it is important to remain in compliance. I can help you with that too but GRT compliance consulting is a separate engagement from return preparation.” Sometimes after talking with them for a while I realize they may have filing requirements in other states. Being self-employed is not for the faint of heart. I can practically hear the panic on the other end of the line.

Often I am then asked about my charges and I provide the basics and some of the information about how I add value and reference this post as well. I tell the callers to think about it and to call me back if they would like me to send them an organizer (our preliminary paperwork packet). I remind them my job is to make sure that they are in filing compliance and are paying the correct amount of tax (no more, no less). Usually that’s the last time I talk to them. Frankly, I am usually surprised when a caller like this calls back. And that is OK. I would rather know early on that they won’t be a client than have them come on board and then end up arguing with them about the return results and having them refusing to pay for the work. That situation happened a couple of times last year and has resulted in a pre-payment policy for new clients coming in during tax season. These callers may find another #taxpro. Or they may go ahead and do their returns themselves and hope for the best.  I have a colleague who makes probably half of his annual income representing clients before the IRS for mistakes they made because they tried to do their returns themselves. Remember this meme?

It goes hand in hand with my mantra “The rep rates are three times the prep rates.” You may see my prices and think “way too expensive.”  But what I charge for preparing an accurate return is about one-third of my rates for representing clients in front of the IRS or a state taxing authority. My return preparation charges are in line with national and regional averages. Representation, however, is pretty much “lawyer work” and my rates are similar to what a lawyer will charge. And that’s a “regular” lawyer. Not a tax attorney.

In the end, the decision to do your own taxes is up to you but if you are self-employed (especially here in New Mexico) it may be a “false economy.” The amount of time and money you may have to spend to fix your mistakes could be more than just hiring the right #taxpro in the first place.