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?