Never, ever use H&R Block, they hire incompetent tax monkeys

How’s that for an inflamatory title. But you know what, I’m pretty pissed.

Executive Summary: We have gone to H&R Block each of the last two years, and each time the “Tax Advisors” there have screwed up our taxes, such that I have had to come home and do basic research on the Internet, take that research back to H&R Block, and have my tax forms amended or changed. For the privilege of fixing my taxes for them, I have paid them several hundreds of dollars. We will pick a CPA blindly from the phonebook before we go back to H&R Block.

On to the admittedly long and ranting post:

Last year, we went to H&R Block to do our taxes. Yes, I know. Please refrain from comments like, “Well duh, you went to H&R Block, what do you expect!”

The Tax Advisor who helped us was deemed by the people at the office there as the “expert” and the best they had. We were even interrupted once or twice by other Tax Advisors so that he could answer their questions. But when confronted by my wife’s stipend (she’s a Post-Doc) he was flummoxed, and counted it as regular wages. I went home, having paid H&R Block their exorbitant, per-form fees, and chatted with one of my wife’s co-workers, and he said it should have been done a different way. I researched on the Internet, and armed with this information, I went back the next day. I was helped by a different Tax Advisor, who seemed surprised that our first guy had screwed up, and we filed an amended return. As a result we owed $4,919.00 (!) less in taxes last year.

We were pretty upset by this turn of events, especially given how much we paid H&R Block for their services. And we swore to never go back.

This Year

With all the interviewing and traveling and moving and whatnot, we only just now started to think about taxes, and I decided to go back to H&R Block. After all, nothing had really changed in our taxes, so what could there be that would be so complicated? I went armed with our taxes from last year (both original and amended).

It took this year’s tax monkey two hours, with me sitting there the whole time, to figure out our taxes. Let me tell you what they do at H&R Block. You come in at your appointed time. They sit you down with your “Tax Advisor” who fires up a computer with specialized H&R Block software on it. She takes your personal information, then starts asking questions. The computer prompts her with these questions. She fills in boxes on the screen with the numbers you present to her. Sometimes she deviates from script, because she has done this a lot, and knows that you need this document, or you probably had this deduction. But for the most part, she follows the prompts. At the end, the software checks for errors, and she has to actually solve a few problems: this box wasn’t filled in, this form isn’t really required, etc. Seems easy.

We bought a Toyota Prius last year, and get a tax break of some sort for doing that. I expected a box to pop up after something like “Do you have farm income” that might read “Did you buy a hybrid car last year?” But no. I had to bring it up. Fine. When I did, our Tax Advisor monkey had never heard of any sort of tax break for that. She suggested that maybe we just got the warm glow of a planet saved, or something. I insisted. So she looked through her computer and her book and came up with a “Qualified Electric Vehicle Credit” (IRS Form 8834). This must be it, she said, so we filled it out.

Taxes done, I signed over my fees (almost twice as much as last year!) and left with forms to be signed by my wife.

At home, not comfortable with what she had done, I did five minutes of research on the Internet, and came up with this, and this, and this.

Which means she deducted $2,400 from our taxes as a tax credit, when instead it should have been a $2,000 deduction from our taxable income on line 36 of the 1040. Which, I think, means that we will go from getting a decent refund to owing a ton of money.

My beef with H&R Block

Of course I am not happy that I am paying the government more tax. But that isn’t H&R Block’s problem. My problem with H&R Block is that I take my taxes to them because I do not understand some of the intricacies of our investments and whatnot. I take it to them because they are supposed to be the experts. I want the peace of mind that comes from having someone else sign the document and affirm that everything in there is correct.

But twice now, I have had to correct H&R Block. I have had to tell them that they completed my taxes incorrectly. I have had to make them fix my taxes. And as a reward for catching their mistakes, I have had to pay them upwards of $600 dollars.

This is the essence of bad business. I know their business model is built around filling out 1040 forms for people with uncomplicated taxes. But really.

Update after talking to the manager

We’re going back in tonight to fix it, and getting half of our preparation fee back. We’ll see how it goes.

White House Press Corps grows a pair

Of course, ironically, it was Helen Thomas:

“Your decision to invade Iraq has caused the deaths of thousands of Americans and Iraqis… Every reason given, publicly at least, turned out not to be true. My question is, why did you really want to go to war?”

He didn’t answer her question, instead posturing and acting offended that anyone would suggest that a U.S. President would want war. But the room seemed to get in the mood, asking him if Rumsfeld should resign, and whether his domestic wire-tapping plan was legal, and if troops would ever leave Iraq. At which point he admitted that that would be a decision for another President. So, no.


I hope Helen Thomas is still there when Jeb is President.


Bush appointees uber alles

So, on NPR this morning, there was a story about how career lawyers (meaning, people who got their jobs by applying for them) at the Justice Department, agreed unanimously that Tom DeLay’s redistricting of Texas voting districts was illegal, but they were overruled by a Bush administration apointee.

It caused me to wonder how many instances of this there have been, since Bush took office. I can think of a few off the top of my head, and Ken has supplied me with a few more, but I’d like other input, too.

But here’s what I got:

  1. Texas redistricting issue. Despite unanimous internal opinion that the redistricting plan violated the Voting Rights Act, Bush political appointees overruled that decison and the “Justice Department” ruled that the plan was not illegal. The matter of the legality of the redistricting is now before the Supreme Court.
    WaPo | NPR | NYTimes | Opposition view at the NRO

  2. Plan B “morning after” pill. In an unprecedented move, officials within the FDA ignored the opinions of an independent panel and in-house scientists and rejected an application to allow over-the-counter sales of a “morning after” birth control pill.
    NYTimes | WaPo

Keep in mind, I’m not talking about incompetent Bush appointees, but rather political appointees whose decisions seem to fly in the face of long-time or credentialed staff. Any other examples?