Video conferencing can be a useful addition to a tax prep practice. H&R Block’s Block Live, for example, offers consumers the chance to use video conferencing to have their returns prepared.
Preparers should, however, know how to use such services before they sign up.
“It’s not hard. Pick it up and play with it for a couple hours on the weekend,” said EA Lynn Schmidt of Lynco Financial & Tax Services Inc., in Winter Haven, Fla., who’s been using Skype in her practice for about four years.
Skype, to cite what’s probably the first video-conferencing service to come to preparers’ minds, starts at about $3 to $8 per month for domestic U.S. use. Other services, such as Oovoo (http://www.oovoo.com/buy.aspx), start at about $30 a year or $3 a month. Connection details can vary among Skype's competitors in video conferencing. To participate in a free video conference using Tokbox, for instance, all users have to have the provider’s link. Skype conversations also require Skype to be loaded on both computers.
Skype users need a computer with a fast online connection (the higher the speed of the connection, the less choppy the video image during the call), a cam, and a computer-based microphone (a headset with microphone is recommended, said Schmidt). After loading the Skype program users must create a Skype account, then search for clients who use Skype.
Here's a selection of tips for using Skype and other video-conferencing services:
- Check your computer’s speaker volume before the call.
- Establish a network of users among your clients. Contacts can be added in Skype by sending an invitation to a Skype username.
- Consider purchasing a WiFi phone for Skype that allows users to access their Skype account using a hotspot.
- Change the font on Skype to a larger size by going to “Tools – Options” and then going to IM and SMS. There should be an area for IM Appearance and within this a Change Font button.
- There’s also a video on how to use Skype.
- Shut the door, said Schmidt -- if you’re talking confidential tax matters with a client, you don’t want the whole office hearing. This can cause thorny liability issues.