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H&R Block’s shady ads do more than dis CPAs — they deceive the public

Posted By: Bill Sheridan on March 18, 2016 in Taxation

Here we go again.

Like clockwork, the folks at H&R Block have released their annual tax season ad dissing the CPA profession. This year’s is sadder and more pathetic than usual.

“Did you know many CPAs don’t even specialize in preparing tax returns? Think about that,” the ad states. "You may want to ask your CPA’s office a few questions. Who actually prepares your return? Can you sit with them or drop your taxes off as you like? What’s with all this paperwork to fill out every year, and most importantly, will they be able to stand behind the work if the IRS comes knocking?”

An MACPA member alerted us to the ad last week and we immediately contacted the AICPA. In turn, AICPA President and CEO Barry Melancon sent a letter to H&R Block CEO William Cobb in which he said the ad “grossly misrepresents the CPA profession” and asked that it be removed from Block’s tax season rotation. Cobb responded sarcastically by not only refusing to remove the ad but by actually increasing spending for the spot and dropping prices to compete directly with CPAs. 

Sigh … where to begin?

Let’s start by answering Block’s deceptive questions about CPA-prepared returns.

  • Did you know many CPAs don’t even specialize in preparing tax returns? True … but many do. We don’t expect every attorney to specialize in every aspect of the law, and we don’t expect every CPA to specialize in every area of accounting and finance. But rest assured, your tax return is being prepared by a CPA who does specialize in tax.
     
  • Who actually prepares your return? A CPA — the most experienced, knowledgeable, ethical, and best-trained tax professional and business advisor on the planet. Even if a CPA doesn’t prepare the return, a CPA reviews and signs the return and is ultimately responsible for the work, as required by the profession’s Code of Professional Conduct. Can Block say the same? In a word: No.

  • Can you sit with them or drop your taxes off as you like? Of course you can. Clients are always welcome to meet directly with their CPAs and discuss their returns in person. In fact, CPAs encourage them to do so. This profession is all about relationships, and CPAs will do everything they can to better understand their clients and their unique tax situations.
     
  • What’s with all this paperwork to fill out every year? Many CPAs like to send their clients “organizers” each year to help guide them as they compile their tax information. It’s designed to make the process of preparing for tax season as painless as possible for clients. You don’t have to help your clients in this way, but many CPAs find that (a) clients appreciate this type of guidance, and (b) it helps produce a more complete and accurate tax return.
     
  • Will they be able to stand behind the work if the IRS comes knocking? You bet. In fact, should the IRS come knocking, your CPA will speak to regulators on your behalf. No tax advisor around is better prepared to do so than a CPA.

Now, while we’re all in an inquisitive frame of mind, I have a few questions of my own.

  1. Do you really want to trust your tax return to an organization that uses misrepresentations and outright falsehoods to advertise its services?
     
  2. If Block is so desperate for your business that they’re willing to slash prices just to get you in the door, what does that say about the quality of their work? We’re not talking about mattresses or used cars here — we’re talking about your personal finances, and when it comes to that type of service, you get what you pay for.
     
  3. Block itself proudly boasts that its own Tax Institute is “staffed primarily by CPAs, Enrolled Agents, tax attorneys and former IRS agents.” Block obviously thinks highly of the work CPAs do … so why do they insist on bashing that work?
     
  4. In 2008, Maryland’s General Assembly passed the “Maryland Individual Tax Preparers Act,” which requires all registered tax preparers in the state to pass an exam and obtain 16 hours of relevant education every two years — with four of those hours related to Maryland individual returns. The idea is to protect the public by requiring preparers who aren’t CPAs to maintain a certain level of tax-related competence — just as CPAs must do to keep their licenses. So why did H&R Block fight so hard in opposition to the bill when it was proposed?

Perhaps the most important question of all: If you want the most thorough, compliant, and personally advantageous tax return possible, why would you consider hiring anyone other than a CPA — the most trusted, experienced and knowledgeable preparer on the planet?

We’re all for good, healthy competition; it strengthens our markets and empowers consumers.

What we do not endorse are shady marketing tactics that intentionally deceive the public and sully the good names and reputations of America’s CPAs — the most trusted business advisors in the land.

CPAs encouraged to respond
If you have questions of your own, we encourage you to respond as well. The MACPA has drafted a response to H&R Block, and interested CPAs can send their own letters to the following address:

Mr. William C. Cobb
President and CEO
H&R Block, Inc.
One H&R Block Way
Kansas City, MO 64105

If you need a good starting point, the AICPA has released a sample letter that CPAs can use to help draft their own responses. Download the sample letter here.

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