Changes to make for ‘interesting tax season’

Laura Strombom, proprietor of All About Numbers Inc., mentors her employees to put the client first and to think about their “big picture” when doing tax returns. Photo by Keith Michaud

Laura Strombom, proprietor of All About Numbers Inc., mentors her employees to put the client first and to think about their “big picture” when doing tax returns. Photo by Keith Michaud

Changes to make for ‘interesting tax season’

Central Valley Business Journal, January 2012

By KEITH MICHAUD/Business Journal Editor

Laura Strombom’s business seems, well, not quite by the numbers.

Oh, sure, All About Numbers Inc. offers a variety of personal finance and business services – income tax preparation, bookkeeping, payroll, accounting, accounting software support, business consulting.

But her business philosophy – or, perhaps more accurately, her life philosophy – seems a bit more personal than columns of ledger entries.

“A lot of it is taking the time to see the client as a person and not just a dollar figure,” Strombom said from her Feather River Drive office not far from the drone of Interstate 5. Her office has a cluttered, but organized look – neat stacks of papers and binders – with statuettes and images of horses on the shelves and hung on the wall, and a friendly 18-month-old Rottweiler named Berry Pie eager to lick a stranger’s hand when she is not bedded down behind Strombom’s desk.

“I love what I do,” said Strombom. “Every (tax) return is a puzzle. The challenge of the puzzle is to offer value to the client, pay the least tax possible, and stay in compliance of the law. I love puzzles. … That makes my job fun.”

Strombom, who has a bachelor’s degree in animal science from the University of California, Davis, and a master’s degree in business administration from Golden Gate University, started her business in 1995. She is an enrolled agent, which authorizes her to represent clients before the Internal Revenue Service. Named 2004 Business Person of the Year by the Greater Stockton Chamber of Commerce, Strombom has taught accounting in the past and teaches a basic tax course that allows those who pass the opportunity to become certified tax preparers.

She is “passionate” about mentoring her nine employees – some will work for Strombom for three to four years before she feels they are ready to prepare tax returns for clients. She wants them to be ever watchful of the details, while keeping the “big picture” for the client in mind. That and the hours upon hours of annual continuing education enrolled agents must endure reflects the dedication Strombom has to her profession and her clients.

“Our business is cyclical,” said Strombom. “January through April is extremely busy, with May to August steady.” There’s also a “mini-rush” in October for those clients who have filed extensions.

“This year has been busier than normal,” Strombom said of a November and December surge in business. “We’re dealing with a lot more audits.”

The Internal Revenue Service and the agencies responsible for collecting the state’s share of taxes and fees are taking far more aggressive stands than before on discrepancies in tax returns with some taxpayers paying fines for infractions that might have been overlooked when government coffers were closer to being flush.

“We get a lot more volume of fishing expeditions,” Strombom said.

It is not that the IRS is charging more penalties, said Strombom, but that the federal agency seems less willing to abate those penalties it might have in the past.

But the IRS still seems willing to work out payment plans.

“They are still reasonable in that department,” she said. “The IRS will work with you on a payment plan. The state of California will not.”

Many times, said Strombom, taxpayers make mistakes – such as making rushed decisions and not thinking through how to handle depreciations – that hurt them for years to come. The after effects of home foreclosures continue to cause havoc for some taxpayers, said Strombom.

Changes in the tax code, additional forms, and a more aggressive attitude from the taxman will makes for a “very interesting tax season.”

“Even within the IRS there are different interpretations of the rules and this is a huge, huge mess,” said Strombom.

Taxpayers should seek help in dealing with complicated tax issues before they get overwhelmed.

“I receive phone calls after the fact,” said Stombom. “They really should call before (a major financial change). … There are a lot of people who will get bad information from the wrong people. ‘My cousin said this. My hairdresser said that.’”

And taxpayers should not feel uncomfortable in getting a second opinion on a tax return, whether they did it themselves or hired a tax preparer.

“Absolutely get a second opinion,” she said. “Before you file the wrong information, have it checked out.”

Visit http://www.allaboutnumbers.com for more information about All About Numbers.

Contact the author about this and other stories at kmichaud@cvbizjournal.com.

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