If you are not comfortable with self-directed tax software and don’t want to employ the traditional pen-and-paper strategy, using a tax preparation service may be the next best choice, despite the fees. During income tax season in Milwaukee, advertisements for tax preparation services start to crop up everywhere. Once vacant storefronts suddenly light up, beckoning people with offers of easy, fast service. Despite the fact that tax preparers are obligated to sign off on the returns they prepare, there’s no doubting that some tax services are fly-by-night operations, often setting up shop in poorer neighborhoods where they can take advantage of the under-educated or those who do not speak English.
Ultimately, you as a taxpayer are responsible for the veracity of your income tax return, so finding a reputable firm is key. Consider choosing a nationally recognized “retail” tax preparation service with a convenient Milwaukee location. You’ll have the security of knowing that the chain is well-established and has some solid corporate standards for its income tax preparation service.
1. H & R Block (www.hrblock.com)
Ask someone on the street to name a company that will prepare your income tax return, and you are bound to hear H & R Block over and over again. The traditional in-office service allows you to meet directly with a tax professional so you can ask questions and have your return prepared on the spot. While they advertise that you can march into the office with no advance warning, you may want to make an appointment to reduce your wait time. If you are too busy to sit around while someone prepares your return or if your tax situation is not too complex, then you may want to use H & R Block’s drop-off service. Either way, H & R will electronically file your federal return on your behalf.
Because they know you want a larger refund, they will do whatever they can (legally, of course) to reduce your tax liability and make sure you take advantage of deductions. The rationale is that, if you are happy with the meatier check H & R Block secures for you, you’re more likely to come back and to refer friends, generating more business. The company even offers a guarantee stating that your preparation fee will be refunded if it turns out that they miscalculated your tax liability.
When it comes to receiving your income tax refund, H & R does offer refund anticipation loans if you need the cash right away. They have both a “classic” option (loan check pickup in 1-2 days) and an “instant” option (walk home with a check in hand). These loans can carry hefty fees, so if you can wait for the IRS to process your refund and deposit funds into your bank account, you’ll enjoy a bigger chunk of that change.
As an added benefit, H & R will give you a personalized “H & R Block Advantage” report that analyzes your tax data and makes financial recommendations for the future. If you want tax time to result in more than just a refund check, then this report may jump-start a review of your personal finances by highlighting areas for change.
Convenient H & R Block locations in Milwaukee:
1824 N. Farwell Ave., 414-319-0769
Use MCTS Route 30 or 15
2408 N. Martin Luther King Dr., 414-562-5047
Use MCTS Route 19 or 21
2955 N. Oakland Ave., 414-332-4713
Use MCTS Route 15 or 22
809 E Capitol Dr., 414-963-9499
Use MCTS Route 10 or 62
2197 S Kinnickinnic Ave., 414-483-7760
Use MCTS Route 15
2. Jackson Hewitt Tax Service (www.jacksonhewitt.com)
Jackson Hewitt is a huge name in income tax preparation and offers many of the same services H & R Block provides, usually with slightly different names. Using a special software called ProFiler, a Jackson Hewitt tax professional will conduct your tax “interview” and file your return electronically. They tout an error-checking process that happens both in the software and at their corporate headquarters (after the return is submitted).
If you’re concerned about fees, visit the company website and print off the coupon for $15 off the in-person service. Jackson Hewitt also offers a Refer-A-Friend program that offers a cash bonus for new customers you successfully recommend.
For short turnaround time on refunds, Jackson Hewitt (like H & R Block) offers two options: the refund anticipation loan with a 1-2 day wait and the “Money Now” loan with a 1-2 hour wait. Once again, these programs involve fees and will eat into your refund, so if you can wait two or three weeks for direct deposit by the IRS, do it.
One special note about Jackson Hewitt: Wisconsin residents are not eligible for the “Gold Guarantee” program that goes above and beyond the “Basic Guarantee” for liability. See the www.jacksonhewitt.com site for details.
Jackson Hewitt has fewer offices on the East Side of Milwaukee. Locations in Milwaukee include:
2539 N. Dr. Martin Luther King Dr. Use MCTS Route 19 or 21.
501 N. Mitchell St. Use MCTS Route 54 or 80.
2619 W Center St. Use MCTS Route 22 or 23.
3428 W. Vliet St. Use MCTS Route 11 or 35.
123 W. Capitol Dr. Use MCTS Route 62.
For details, call 262-513-5600.
3. Liberty Tax Service (www.libertytax.com)
If you have driven by some poor soul dressed in a green-blue frock and holding a fake torch, you may have seen Liberty Tax Service’s version of direct marketing. This company provides a tax preparation service with fewer frills and less name recognition than the other two big retail options, but they have been reliable and successful enough to grow a national chain. The general feel of a Liberty Tax office is a bit less less refined than that of its peers, thanks in part to its corny advertising. Still, it may be a better choice than a no-name service, and they have a number of Milwaukee locations (though none are on the East Side):
2236 Martin Luther King Dr., 414-264-7000. Use MCTS Route 19 or 21.
3183 S. 27th St., 414-643-8035. Use MCTS Route 27 or 51.
4806 W. Lisbon Ave., 414-264-7000, by appointment only. Use MCTS Route 21 or 57.