Operation CPA eases tax burdens for Ohio military families

March 10, 2012

Military families have a lot of responsibility to juggle, especially when a family member is deployed. To help lessen the burden on the soldiers and their families, The Ohio Society of CPAs partnered with the Ohio National Guard to create Operation CPA, a program that matches Ohio military families with local CPAs to provide free tax preparation services each tax season.

Now in its seventh year, Operation CPA has helped over 400 military families that are permanent residents of Ohio and currently deployed outside of the state.

This program is made possible thanks to the generous time donated by OSCPA member volunteers. One such volunteer, Elizabeth Kroll, CPA of Pease & Associates, Inc. in the Cleveland area saw an ad in CPA Voice seeking volunteers.

“I thought that these families, not just the soldiers, give so much to protect me and my home. I don’t have much time or talents to offer so this is something I can do to repay their generosity,” she said of making the decision to help.

OSCPA matched Kroll with the Shugrue family. After a news story appeared on WKYC in Cleveland, Marisa Shugrue decided to take advantage of the free help.

“Earlier that day I had been thinking, ‘I need to figure out our tax situation soon,’ so it was perfect timing, Marisa said. “I sent an email to the Society right away. It’s great that it’s just one less thing for me to worry about.”

Marisa’s husband, Staff Sergeant Mike Shugrue is currently on his third deployment with a unit based out of Lima, Ohio. “The most difficult thing, of course, is the separation for me and my daughters from my husband. But it’s also difficult to do everything on my own or to have to rely on family and friends for so much. We’re lucky that as a National Guard family we’re close to our extended family, but the downside is we don’t necessarily have access to the traditional military services and support.”

So why is it helpful to have a CPA prepare military tax returns as opposed to using tax software or doing them on your own?

“There are many deductions that are offered to military personnel that they may not be aware of,” Kroll warns. “Also, portions of their pay may be non-taxable.”

After connecting with Kroll, Marisa describes her experience as very seamless.

“I received a response nearly immediately from the Society and heard from a CPA within a day or two,” Marisa remembers. “She and I set up a convenient time to meet, and everything has gone well from there. We are meeting one more time in a few days to go over the return, and I anticipate it will wrap-up smoothly.”

“I have both done the taxes myself and used a CPA in the past. Going through Operation CPA offers both peace of mind that our taxes were done properly and saves us a lot of money, which is obviously very helpful.”

The reasons that OSCPA volunteers feel it’s important to give back through Operation CPA vary, but for Kroll, it’s all about helping where her specialties lie. “If I can help them make one area of their life less stressful then I have done my job.”

The Shugrue family now has at least one weight lifted off their shoulders until they’re all united again. “With my husband gone I feel like I’m juggling so many things, and Operation CPA has taken one of those off my hands. I’m very grateful for that. I have already recommended Operation CPA to other military families.”

SSG Mike Shugrue, Sadie (2), Paige (then four months, now 9 months), Marisa Shugrue

If you have had an experience with Operation CPA either as a volunteer or as a military family needing tax preparation assistance, please share your story below!

Learn more about volunteering for Operation CPA, or how to be matched with a CPA in your area.


2011: What Got Done, What Didn’t, Now What ? « E. Lynn Nichols, CPA

January 9, 2012

Tax expert, E. Lynn Nichols, CPA reflects back on legislative processes and progress in 2011.

2011 is history, but reverberations will continue until after Congressional elections in November 2012. Let’s start with what got done in 2011. Obviously the payroll tax cut and it’s heavily debated extension would be fresh in our memory. The most significant failure, of course, was the descent into partisan bickering of the so-called “super committee.” That was the last hope for meaningful action on over 100 various tax provisions; some now expired, some really creative new proposals, but all doomed to perish in the quagmire of political posturing.

Read more: 2011: What Got Done, What Didn’t, Now What ? « E. Lynn Nichols, CPA.

Thoughts on IRS’ controversial letter campaign

December 19, 2011

By James D. Gottfried, CPA, Chair, The Ohio Society of CPAs

As 2012 PTIN renewals begin, Forbes.com contributor Kelly Phillips Erb (aka TaxGirl) wrote a scathing reproach of the IRS for its Notice 4809 letters, previously known as the “10,000 letter initiative.”

A few thoughts jumped out when I read the Forbes.com article. First, those with concerns and frustrations regarding the so called “10,000 letter initiative,” PTIN, and other IRS tax preparer changes are joining OSCPA by becoming more vocal. Frustration with quiet acquiescence is no longer the norm.

Second, although I did not personally receive the letter from the IRS, from what I have seen I understand the confusion (and for some the anger) as to how to interpret the letter. Not only has the distribution appeared to increase over the previous years, but the scope of the Notice also has broadened.

If the intent was to say to certain tax preparers there may be a visit starting in November, then it should have just addressed this. It also should have made clear that the intent is only to visit 2,100 out of the 21,000 notified. If the intent was to alert certain tax preparers to correct errors or misinterpretations of law, then it should have been specific about those issues.

I agree with the CPA from California that we don’t need to be reminded of our general obligations as tax preparers. Whether CPAs are associated with tax returns containing “entries far beyond average ranges” or not, we understand our obligations and take these obligations very seriously.

Third, and probably the most troubling, it appears the IRS does not distinguish among the types of tax preparers targeted in the campaign. Whether it is the Notice 4809 initiative or the fraudulent earned income credits issue, the IRS wants to lump CPAs and non-CPAs together as a group. I may be biased, but my assumption is there are distinctions between issues resulting from CPA preparers versus non-CPA preparers. The issues the IRS has discussed so far are much more prevalent with non-CPA preparers. To some extent the IRS even acknowledged this in previous discussions regarding earned income fraud issues. Yet CPA preparers continue to be subject to all of the tax preparer changes aimed at non-CPAs, as if we are just as much of the problem. If the IRS has information that indicates my assumption is wrong, they should disclose it.

As a profession, we are very good at addressing issues and resolving problems. Provide more detail as to the issues and, as a profession, we can help solve them. However, if my assumption is correct, then the IRS needs to change its approach and distinguish between CPA tax preparers and non-CPA tax preparers.

Fourth, the note on the IRS website acknowledging the issues addressed in the blog article not only shows the IRS hears the comments, but it gives hope they will act to address the concerns. Being more vocal has its benefits. I had the opportunity to be one of OSCPA’s representatives when we met with IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman and staff last spring. When we discussed these matters, they did appear interested in the issues we identified and our concerns about the impact on CPA tax practitioners, including making a commitment to move the firm visits out of tax season and better communicate the results of the visit. But there is still more to be done. Obviously, the tone of Notice 4809 is not a step forward.

We need to continue to address these concerns and Society leadership will continue to do so. If you want to help, or if you have specific facts or examples that we should raise with the IRS and Ohio’s Congressional delegation, please let us know. Share your thoughts below, or send them to cpavoice@ohio-cpa.com.

Tax Season is over, but keep blowing your horn

April 17, 2009

CPAs everywhere are doing a happy dance. Tax season is over and it was an undeniably tough one. Time to take a deep breath and rejuvenate.

CPAs aren’t the only ones who collectively sigh on tax day. The rest of the public is celebrating because what is a dreaded annual event for many has come and gone. And after April 15, the media doesn’t call as often to speak to members because there’s still a perception that CPAs are the professionals you call only for tax advice.

We’re working hard to change that. Because some of the biggest opportunities lie in what CPAs do for their clients the rest of the year.

CPA. Those three letters make a huge difference when it comes to long-term results and OSCPA is committed to helping the public make that important distinction. CPAs can also get better at tooting their own horns.

Here are a few ways we can jointly promote the role and work of CPAs even before the ink is dry on the tax forms:

April is Financial Literacy Month and a good springboard for building year-round client relationships. Pick up the phone and schedule an appointment to help clients tweak or overhaul their business or personal financial plan.

One silver lining in the recession may be that Americans are quickly changing their spending habits. In a recent AP survey, 54% of taxpayers expecting a refund said they plan to use it to pay bills or reduce debt. Consider sending clients an e-mail with these money-stretching tips for investing their refunds.

At the same time, you can introduce them to the Society’s Financial Fitness Ohio Web site. It includes a wealth of resources for consumers in various stages of life.

Now is a tough time for college graduates entering the workforce. In the latest OSCPA podcast series, “Navigate your Finances in a Turbulent Economy” OSCPA chair-elect Matt Yuskewich, CPA, covers part-time employment options, developing a savings strategy and other important lessons to start graduates off on a solid financial footing.

Changing public perception takes time. But together, we can all help to move the needle. More consumer advocacy groups are demanding that states license and regulate tax preparers. If there’s a movement in Ohio, OSCPA will be in the forefront to ensure that CPAs are NOT subject to any additional levels of regulation or registration.

Therefore, it’s critical that we keep educating the public about why hiring a CPA is really the best year-round financial insurance plan available.

H&R Block ads present more opportunity than challenge

February 5, 2009

Lots of CPAs are upset by H & R Block’s current advertising campaign. In a few ads, they take blatant pot shots at CPAs’ accuracy in preparing tax returns.

These ads upset me too. I’ve spent most of my career working with CPAs and advocating for the value, knowledge & insights CPAs provide, as well as CPAs’ tremendous public service.

The AICPA has asked H & R Block to pull the ads and we’re told H&R Block has responded that they’ll reevaluate the ad series. But we can also use this as an opportunity to boost the public’s already high opinion of CPAs.

In national surveys, CPAs have consistently ranked among the most trusted and respected financial professionals. So we don’t have to defend CPAs’ credentials so much as reinforce why a CPA is the best professional for the job.

An Akron Beacon Journal reporter nailed it two years ago when she pointed out the advantages she gained in using a CPA for her own taxes. She also did them herself, and used H & R Block for comparison.

Her experience with the CPA was the least expensive and required less time, yielding the largest return. The CPA found more qualifying credits and an additional $800 she could claim through amended prior-year returns. She summarized the experience as a “good checkup that put her on the right path.”

Her experience with H & R Block? Not so good.

The preparer didn’t ask the right questions for her situation. The fees were higher, her federal refund was lower, she ended up owing on her state return, and the process required more visits to the H&R Block office. Although she was paying for expert advice, she didn’t feel she received it.

At The Ohio Society of CPAs, our goal is to steer the public toward developing a year-round relationship with a CPA, not just at tax time. The benefits of looking on financial management as a year-round necessity, not just a tax-time task, are more important today than they’ve ever been. We reinforce this in all of our consumer communications. And the media recognizes the CPA profession’s expertise because they call on us to provide CPAs for interviews and to answer consumer tax questions, not the other guys.

Visit our Tax Headquarters to see how we’re positioning CPAs to the public. And e-mail Amy Johnson at the OSCPA for talking points you can use to encourage everyone you know to use a CPA rather than a preparer who isn’t licensed, receives minimal training, and is paid an hourly wage to prepare returns just four months out of the year.

If you want a first-hand view of the training and compensation for H & R Block tax preparers, see this blog series from The Virtual CFO. It was written by a CPA who considered working there before he earned his CPA.

The proof is in the returns.

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