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CPA secrets: Accountants charge higher prices for difficult clients

A tax return form.

CPA Michele Knight and her family

Very few people in this world wake up in the morning excited to go do tax returns. After 10 years in this job -- and I'm only 34, so I guess I've been doing this now a third of my life -- I actually do wake up every morning excited to go to work. And the reason is, I'm truly helping people.

Of course there are bad days. The phone calls when I have to tell someone they owe $60,000 and they pass out, but there's so many good days. I make most of my income April of each year, so the rest of the year I get to stay home with my kids and have a good time. It really is a great profession.

So tax return pricing -- I personally have a price list. It's per form. So if you have a Schedule C, I'm going to tell you that is going to cost between $85 and $175.

Whether we state this or not, accountants have little extra charges they throw in for the people who make their lives more difficult. So if somebody arrives with everything tied out in a nice, neat pile -- the price is going to be cheaper than somebody that arrives with a shoebox. We might not put that in writing. We might not state that out front. However, jokingly in the industry it's called a PITA fee -- Pain In The (fill in the blank). If you make our life more difficult, if you end up calling a month later and say, 'Oh whoops, I forgot these three things,' then we are going to call it the remailing fee or the reprinting fee.

The more easy you make your accountant's life, the cheaper your price will be. I did actually have for the first time this year somebody that called and said that their dog ate their 1099. So I honestly didn't charge for that excuse because that just cracked me up. So if you also make me smile, sometimes your price is a little cheaper as well.

There's always some pretty memorable clients. For instance, someone works in a hair salon that insists they get to deduct their hair and nails because they're in the industry. And they would talk to the other girls in the shop and everybody would say they are taking the deductions. Well I looked at a couple of returns and I found out that no one was taking the deduction.

What accountants sort of do is shake our heads and smile and nod and say, 'Sure, no problem. We'll take that.' And then we never put it on the return because, of course we don't want to get our clients upset, but we also don't want them doing anything illegal.

About the author

Certified Public Accountant Michele Knight is co-owner of Knight Accounting & Technology with her husband, Dave in Keystone, Colo.

CPA Michele Knight and her family

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