Slideshow The Worst Tax Clients in the World

  • November 22 2015, 5:14pm EST
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Identifying the Worst

They come in many forms, lugging countless overflowing shoeboxes and bearing screwy tax ideas, but all bad clients are equally capable of ruining your day.

In the end, though, what can you do? As CPA Al Giovetti noted, “We love problem clients because in most cases we bill them more to solve the problems. We learned years ago that if you have a worst-type client, you simply double the bill until you like working with them.” .

Here’s a look at some of the most popular (or unpopular, as the case may be) types, courtesy of members of the National Association of Enrolled Agents, the National Society of Accountants and the National Association of Tax Professionals

The Price Shopper

The ones who walk into your office seemingly only to say that they can walk into another office and get their taxes done for less money. “We tell price shoppers that we are expensive. If a client does not appreciate us by paying higher fees to do quality work, we cannot help them,” said CPA Al Giovetti.

Added Enrolled Agent Jeffrey Schneider, “If someone says to me, ‘I can have that done for $X,’ I tell them, ‘Thanks but no thanks’ and escort them out.”

And of all people to beseech for a price break by pleading lack of money, why would anyone pick their tax preparer? “They forget that I see their investment statements,” said EA Twila Midwood.

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The Shoeboxer

Fading receipts erupting from some kind of battered old container – what preparer Deana Parsick simply called “the mess” and EA James Berardi termed “the grocery bag of crap.”

“Half of it has nothing to do with their tax,” added prep administrative assistant Mandy Seymer.

The Disorganized

Maybe they don’t keep records. Maybe they lost them. Who knows – and, eventually, who can care with “a client who has such a large mess that they can’t afford to pay someone to have straightened out and likely doesn’t have the ability to fix it themselves,” said CPA Brian Thompson.

Added RIA Morris Armstrong, “When you go through all the records and mark what look like specific spending records, that info still needs to be verified with the client. And this client is a magician: They know how to turn a $350 [expense] into $1,000!”

The Second Chancer

This client provides all their information for the preparation of their tax returns and then doesn’t like the result – so they suddenly return with a “second” set of documents and want the return to be re-run. “Not only does the second set of documents provide a host of questions about their legitimacy,” noted EA Kelly Bender, “but they always expect that the price of preparation doesn’t change even though the work has to be done over again.” 

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The Confessor

Bless me, preparer, for I have sinned: “They know they’re not doing things the way they should – reporting all income, not exaggerating expenses – and they think that if they ask for your approval and blessing, they will be absolved from this guilt,” said EA Debra James. “Why don’t they believe me when I tell them that we do not have accountant/client privilege?”

The Outright Liar

What’s a little lie between friends? Except the IRS isn’t anybody’s friend. “I have disengaged more clients than I care to remember just for that reason,” said EA Jeffrey Schneider.

“A client who wants to lie to the IRS will likely lie to us as well,” added CPA Al Giovetti.

And remember, lies are like infesting pests: For every one you see … .

The DIYer

You should never let a child play with broken glass, and some clients are better kept away from prep software. “Even when I ask a simple question like, ‘Do you know the difference between a balance sheet item and an expense item?’ they don't accept the fact that accounting is not as simple as data entry in QuickBooks,” said EA Debra James.

Added EA Natasha Riley-Noah, “They gather the most absurd suggestions off the Internet or in get-rich-quick books about what should be a business expense … oh, and then they can’t prove a thing!”

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The Procrastinator

You beg and you plead and you pester -- and nothing. “They think that their busy schedule, which is way worse than yours, is an excuse to make you scramble,” said EA Debra James.

They forget the mortgage interest statement, charitable donation receipt, equipment purchase documentation and so on, added EA Helen Jackson, “then they call two weeks later pissed off because we’re taking so long to finish the return.”

The Gamer

You play one of two parts with this client: Either you’re the first preparer whom the Gamer quizzes for tax tips that may not apply to them, or you’re the second preparer and you’re engaged by the client to prepare a return based on false or misleading information they ginned up based on what they learned from the first tax preparer -- “to game the system, if you will,” said EA John Dundon. Easier on both you and your aspirin supply to just avoid this situation altogether.

The Know-It-All

This client knows every loophole and deduction in the code (or all the ones they read about on the Internet, at least), and wants to make sure you include them in their return. Given their obvious tax talents, why are they bothering you at all?

“The one that tells me, the Enrolled Agent, how to do taxes,” marvelled EA Kerry Freeman, “before we parted ways.”

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The Complainer

Everybody likes to crab – but you have to wonder about somebody who must pay you (or anyone else) a fee to listen. “Beware of clients who complain about their prior preparers,” said CPA Paul Kersten, “who work often with attorneys or have successfully sued people, or who constantly complain about how they have been wronged.”

The Missed Opportunities

It’s easy to blame all our previous bad clients’ behavior on their own greed, stupidity, thoughtlessness and bad parenting, but our last category of unfortunate clients is partially created by tax preparers themselves: “The ones we created by failing to make it easy for them to call us when they’re considering a major transaction,” said CPA Geni Whitehouse, “the people who don't see us as advisors and come to us only after the fact. There is no worse feeling as a tax preparer than finding out too late that a client structured a deal poorly and will owe additional tax as a result. We need to reach out regularly and connect with clients to avoid these situations.”