Tips for conducting an effective tax client interview

A correct tax return might be the main reason your clients come to you, but they should expect much more. The service you provide should extend beyond the numbers and connect directly with the people you’re helping. It doesn’t matter if they’re a first-time client or you’ve worked with them for years — being professional, friendly and consistent in your work is paramount.

Your job might be to minimize your client’s tax liability, but the relationship you build as you work with them to accomplish that end is just as meaningful. You can add significant value to the relationships you build by following a few tips as part of the work and as business acquaintances. 

Before the tax client appointment 

Before you and your client sit down to discuss their taxes, send a friendly message reintroducing yourself and that it’s time for taxes again. If you haven’t set a firm time to meet, provide some options and mention that you’ve attached a questionnaire they should complete before they arrive. The questions inside should cover the basics: 

  • Total income 
  • Changes in employment 
  • Marital status 
  • Updates to dependents 
  • Other easy-to-answer queries that will help you get started before the client arrives 

A smile goes a long way

When your client comes through the door, ensure to greet them with a warm smile and a cordial greeting. Working with them on their taxes might not be a night out on the town, but a friendly face and the positive energy you provide can only benefit the work you’re about to do. 

Review their personal information 

You’ve already collected a lot of the necessary information, but at the beginning of your in-person session, take the time to briefly review all the basics. How will they be filing? What exemptions, credits and dependents will they be claiming? You’ll be determining their filing status based on these essential pieces of information. Now that you have your client in the office, you can ask for or clarify any additional information and documentation, including: 

  • Photo IDs 
  • Social Security cards 
  • Any additional names 
  • Primary and secondary addresses 
  • Their dates of birth 
  • All occupations producing taxable income 
  • Dependents (children and any others that may qualify) 
  • Contact information, including emergency contacts 

Ask for all sources of income, not just W-2s 

Depending on the complexity of your client’s finances, there might be additional sources of income they don’t know need reporting. All such sources will have associated documentation, but if the client isn’t immediately aware of its necessity, they might have overlooked it. Five commonly missed income sources include: 

  • State refunds (when taxable) 
  • Social Security 
  • Investments 
  • Unemployment benefits 
  • Jury duty 

If your client doesn’t have immediate access to the necessary documents, make sure they know that they need to find them as soon as possible. While the tax season isn’t short, neither is it long enough to allow for significant filing delays, and neither you nor your client wants to be stuck with a last-minute rush to get everything in on time. 

Identify all adjustments to income 

Make sure to ask about all possible adjustments to income your client might have. These are tax deductions that someone can take for income earned that can’t be taxed and include educator expenses, interest on student loans, alimony payments or retirement account contributions. While not always the most comfortable to discuss, all of these items are necessary for a properly prepared tax return. 

Determine whether to use standard or itemized deductions 

Once the income and adjustments are complete — a step you should double and triple check with the client — it’s time to decide about deductions. Bear in mind that their AGI (Adjusted Gross Income) can be affected by medical and employment expenses. With everything accounted for, consider which deduction will save your client more money. As a rule of thumb, if the standard deduction is less than the itemized deduction, itemize. More complicated financial situations will require more thought, but the decision will be pretty cut and dry for most people you assist. 

If you’re uncertain about which deduction to use, complete Schedule A for a bit of guidance, and be sure to cover every possible deduction there. If the taxpayer you’re helping has qualified work-related education expenses, check all areas where that might be used for their benefit. Repeat as necessary. 

Determine if there are any tax credits 

There are many credits for which a client could qualify. It’s all about asking the right questions. If a taxpayer has tuition and fees, check other areas where the qualifying expenses can be used, such as education credit, to determine where the most favorable result will be gained. 

Ask about possible estimated payments 

Self-employed and retired clients generally need to make estimated tax payments, as does anyone who expects to owe more than $1,000 on their filed return. After you finish working through all of the steps listed above, work with the client to decide whether they’ll need to make estimated payments and, if so, how and when they’d like to do so. 

Review results and answer questions 

When you have everything filled out, collect all of the information you’ve gathered and run through it with the client. Even if they were with you from beginning to end, there might be some choices or questions they don’t quite understand, so now is the time to explain all the work you did and provide clarity where it’s needed. 

Review last year’s tax return and discuss tax planning 

You aren’t quite done once you’ve finished the current year’s return. You can take a couple of additional steps to make future tax seasons go smoother. First, review the previous year’s return to ensure there weren’t any errors or missed opportunities. Check against their Adjusted Gross Income, comparing the current and prior years’ returns. 

Secondly, ask if your client expects any changes to their financial situation in the next year so you can get ahead of the coming year’s taxes. If they owe taxes this year, discuss their withholdings and estimated payments to help them see a refund next year. Do one final review of the current return and see if there are any changes you can project based on known or assumed changes. 

Final steps 

Before you and your client part ways, review any guarantees, benefits, or additional services your company provides. As the conversation winds down, ask if you can do anything else for the client and thank them for taking the time to meet with you. Assure them you’ll be available to support their tax filing needs next year. 

Be sure to stay in contact with your clients if anything comes up during the filing process and make sure they know your available to answer any of their tax-related questions. There are lots of options for tax prep assistance, and your clients chose you, so make sure they know how much you appreciate their business.  

Surgent Income Tax School can help you stay compliant and up-to-date on all your CPE/CE course needs. Register today to learn how Surgent can help grow your business.