One generation of client you’ve known for years, and still they blame you for every change in the tax law. The other generation of client thinks they know it all but at least they can open your e-mail. Are younger or older clients generally tougher?

“Definitely the younger clients!” said Michele Knight, owner of Knight Accounting & Technology in Keystone, Colo. “I’m 35 but started my own practice at 25, so when I work with 20-to-30-year-olds who still have to call their parents to get their W-2s, I’m just floored.”

“The younger generation just doesn’t seem to have the willingness to pay attention to their finances,” she added. “Many of them have great ideas and are starting small businesses, often on their parents’ dime, but when you ask them for any record-keeping, they’re shocked. I’ve never seen this with older small-business owners.”

“Younger clients tend to expect more for less. They search for coupons [and] take longer hours [for me] to explain the tax system,” added Mike Habib, an Enrolled Agent in Whittier, Calif.

“Younger clients … seem indifferent to the massive size and strength of the government as it relates to most everything from getting amended returns processed to penalties for inaccurate filing,” said Jim Loperfido with JGL Management Consulting, in Auburn, N.Y. “They want everything done ASAP and, if they have a refund coming, they have the money spent before the return is complete.”

“Older clients, definitely: more details, more questions, more tax planning,” said EA Tracey Hennessey of Tracey’s Team in Elkhorn, Wisc.

“They don’t have the social media skills and may take more time to understand changes,” added Helen O’Planick, an EA with Heljan Associates in Manchester, Pa. “It’s the ‘We’ve always done it this way’ thought process.”  

Birgit “Bibi” Rudestedt, an EA with Jobi Accounting & Tax Services in Spring Hill, Fla., also finds older clients tougher. “They have a hard time understanding that our prices go up like everything else and sometimes they don’t understand why they have to pay tax on their investment income,” she said.

Specific difference

Technology is the biggest difference between generations. “Some older clients are averse to e-filing, direct deposit, or working with computers, for that matter,” said Brian Thompson, CPA, of Bailey & Thompson Tax & Accounting in Little Rock, Ark. “Sometimes we send e-mail with an attachment that requires the client to sign forms and send back. Some older clients don’t even have e-mail or a computer, much less being tech-savvy enough to print attachments and then scan documents.”

Younger clients are also “no walk in the park,” Thompson said. “You have to be on your toes working with the younger crowd, as information comes from everywhere. They also want to know information much sooner compared with some older clients.”

“Younger clients ask so many questions and feel like they can do just as well on the computer themselves,” said Ann Waller, an EA at Ann Waller Tax Service, Moss Point, Miss. “Then they come back after they screw things up.”

Failure to communicate

Both generations seem to offer more than enough distinct challenges – and rewards – for preparers. “Older folks tend to have more complicated issues and, if they are really getting on in years, tend to get confused easily,” said EA Sherril Diamond at The Tax Stop in Cherry Hill, N.J. “The young ones don’t know enough to fight with me over tax law.”

Younger clients tend to ask more questions, said EA Carlos Lopez, in Salinas, Calif. “When will they get their refund? What do we base our fees on? Can we give them an estimate?  Older clients ask more complex questions,” he said, “such as how much will an IRA or 401(k) affect their taxes, what if they sell stocks and bonds, can they retire, or how will Social Security affect their taxes.”

“For the most part, my older clients need more hand-holding as the years go on,” said Alan Pinck, an EA with A. Pinck & Associates in San Jose and San Ramon, Calif. “They can forget about accounts they have and need to be followed up with a lot more.”

“Generally the younger clients are more tech-savvy and believe they don’t need assistance. They also usually find that they do need help,” said Delmar Gillette, an RTRP with Economic Planning Services, in Newport News, Va. “Older clients are more trusting and they realize that they need the help – but resist because they don’t want to admit that they may be losing it.”

“Younger people can indeed have complex taxes, but seniors really have tougher problems to sort out in my experience,” said Rachel Presser, an EA with New York-based Jeff Lewis & Associates. “For one, it can be harder to communicate with them because many don’t have e-mail addresses, let alone understand the technological aspects of how taxes are filed and audit matters handled today.”

Seniors also face different tax issues than working young adults, Presser added, such as the taxability of retirement income, required minimum distribution formulas, long-term care premium phase-outs and estate-sorting issues. “Our senior clients are wonderful but [have tax situations that are] more difficult to figure out, especially since pensions get different tax treatments at the federal and state levels.”

Not so bad all-around

“My younger clients tend to be more cost-conscious, my older clients are more value-conscious,” said Joel Grandon, an EA and LPA with Joel Grandon Accounting Services in Marion, Iowa. “I don’t find a particular age group difficult to deal with so much as personalities.”

“The clients under 30 are not so difficult to deal with,” said Bruce McFarland, a senior tax specialist in Belton, Mo. “For the most part, their returns are simple enough, it’s easy to get from them [the information] we need and, because they’re new to filing returns, they seem eager to understand the whys and what-for’s. Clients over 65 are also easy to deal with, as they have been there and done that and feel they know what they need to know.

“Clients between 30 and 65 seem to be the most challenging,” McFarland said. “They have had things change in their lives, buying a home, thinking about retirement, making investments, finishing graduate studies and paying back the school loans, basically wanting to know more detail about how to get by with paying less.”

Age doesn’t define a client’s difficulties, McFarland claimed, but the amount of detail in the returns. “The more information to provide, the more difficult the client,” he said.