Who's Afraid of the IRS? Not DeafTax.com Clients

Posted by: Staff Writer on Feb. 5, 2014

If the thought of doing your taxes (again) makes you want to curl up into a fetal position, you're not alone. When business man Louis J. Schwarz began offering Income Tax Preparation Services for the Deaf in 1971, the Federal Tax Code was already roughly 16,500 pages long.

By 2011, the company had served thousands of clients and the tax code had grown to over 71,000 pages long. That's almost 50 times as long as "War and Peace". In this era of 140-letter tweets, who's got the time to become a self-styled tax expert?

Not most hearing Americans, and most certainly not most deaf, hard-of-hearing, and deaf-blind American taxpayers who face significant communication barriers. Just try slowly passing handwritten notes with a hearing CPA who bills +$200 hourly, or requesting an interpreter at HR Block. That, and "depreciation and amortization" already sounds like gobbledygook even if you're not struggling to speech read a fast-talking accountant.

Luckily, you don't have to do any of the above. If your time and sanity are priceless, it's time to reach out to the deaf-friendly tax pros at DeafTax.com.

This year, DeafTax.com is armed with three permanent and two part-time staffers who serve 300-500 clients annually. Serving the U.S. deaf community (including its interpreters), they relish using their up-to-date tax savviness to their clients’ advantage.

"Each year builds on the previous year, so when the tax laws are changed and updated, it's much easier to keep up on a year-to-year basis," said Joshua Beal, who founded DeafTax.com in 2007.

But for those outside the tax profession, knowing which changes are important or what to ignore isn't simple. That's why, in spite of the many "free-file" resources available out there for those under certain income limits, it often pays to have a deaf-friendly pro check your taxes with a fine-toothed comb.

Building, and keeping solid client relations

A large percentage of Deaf Tax clients are repeat clients, say Beal.

Just ask Mark Brudney, a satisfied DeafTax.com client for the past six years: "Over the years, Joshua created some very successful solutions that have had outstanding results both professionally and personally," said Brudney, an New Jersey-based regional sales manager.

"I've developed a good working relationship with (Beal) because the access to communication is more friendly, personable, and much more efficient," said Brudney, who self-identifies as deaf.

"When it comes down to asking questions, DeafTax.com is there to answer and that's where I'm comfortable with that." The California transplant has used services like H&R Block and Turbo Tax (online), prior to switching to DeafTax.com. Now, he says 95 percent of his tax communications are done via email and videophone.

According to the H&R Block "Get Your Billion Back" campaign, American taxpayers missed out on an estimated billion dollars taxpayers in their refunds last year. Brudney is confident he's not one of them: "In my six years with (DeafTax.com) I never doubted if they miscalculated my income tax report. As always, we go through every step one-by-one to make sure all the information is in place."

The winning equation: ASL-based communication, consultations

The DeafTax.com site proclaims its key advantage: "Using a CPA or Accountants can result in several hours of work while we can complete your income tax return quickly."

"ASL communication is really the key," said Beal. "Non-deaf tax preparers and tax preparation businesses usually are not willing to accommodate the Deaf tax preparer and still rely on oral/written methods which take up a lot more time."

All of its staffers, including two part-time tax staffers, are as well-versed in Deaf Culture as they are in the fine print of finances. That includes Abdul Ashraf, an RIT graduate with an MBA in Accounting who serves the Mid-West region. Gallaudet graduate Nathan Holmes has a BA in Business Administration, and works out of the Honolulu, HI office.

Thanks to technology like email and VP, there's no traffic, no parking wars, and no waiting for face-to-face appointments. Also, non-ASL fluent clients can communicate with ease via email.

Cracking down on identity theft: Top priority this year

"Identity theft and refund fraud is becoming a top priority for this year," said Louis J. Schwarz, who is a partner at DeafTax.com.  

Indeed, last year the IRS investigated 1,492 identity theft related criminal investigations - an increase of 66 percent from 2012. Along with using a paper shredder, buying a safe box, and changing your password frequently, another important thing is timing: Early birds give thieves much less time to copycat birthdays, W-2s, and SSNs.

Schwarz says that last year, just three out of 400 clients became identity theft victims because they filed late in the tax season. Though they ultimately, and belatedly, got their deserved refunds, he believes the situation could have been prevented by filing earlier:

"In order to reduce the chance of becoming a victim, file the tax return as early as possible if expecting the refund.  If expecting to pay the tax due, it can be filed late as April 15th."

Serving sign language interpreters, too!

"We serve a good number of interpreters and many are CODA, as they feel strongly about communicating in ASL and supporting Deaf-owned businesses," said Beal. "Being deaf consumers of interpreting services, we have an advantage in understanding the interpreting business."

Since many interpreters are self-employed, DeafTax.com also helps them navigate interpreting-specific deductions.

DeafTax.com's three-year partnership with the IRS and National Disability Institute through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program came to an end in 2011, and the lessons still stick. It "really made a huge difference in helping the IRS improve their VITA policies for the Deaf," said Beal.

DeafTax.com offers a wide range of pricing options, ranging from a $75 low-income tax service flat fee (for those earning $45,000 or less annually), to $225 an hour for individual/married returns. The hourly rate is a full-service package that includes responding to IRS letters, calculating next year’s tax liability, as well as year-round tax planning and education.

The clock is a-tickin': There are 69 days until the federal deadline. Want to get a head start this month? DeafTax.com is offering a 10% discount on the hourly rate (this includes consultations for non-profits and trusts) for new clients during 2014. Simply use the code “DEAFREVIEW” when contacting DeafTax.com.

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