As the 5:30PM start time approached, only seven clients had shown up to have their tax returns prepared, and we had seven volunteers ready to go. Things looked very promising--if I received an easy return, I could conceivably be out the door before 6:30PM, smashing last week's personal record. Things looked even better when I was assigned my first client--a student, unmarried, no kids, with nothing more than a W-2. I figured a few more people were bound to show up, and I wasn't sure how to approach the situation. Should I sprint through the return and try escape before any more clients show up, or should I slow things down and try stick someone else with any stragglers who might show up? I decided to play it aggressively...
Another evening at the office, working hard for the money. Wait...I don't get paid for this...
I ripped through the return in less then twenty minutes and handed it over to the reviewers, far and away the first person to completed a return. Sure enough, by this time, a few more clients had trickled in. I was so far ahead of the pack, it didn't even phase me--I figured I could knock out another return and still get done before most of the other volunteers finished up their first round. Feeling bold, I asked the site manager to send over client number two.
This return looked a little more complicated--children, education expenses, mortgage interest, medical expenses, charitable contributions, and a property tax statement that we'd have to look up online...a challenge, but I still felt like I could pull it off quickly. I started ripping through the return, sprinting toward the finish line, my mind already out the door and driving home. Then I swerved into a ditch.
Glancing through the intake form, I noticed that the client had checked the box indicating that said she itemized deductions and received a state refund last year. I don't want to overstimulate my reading audience with all the delightful tax details, but that means that I needed to see a copy of her 2010 tax return. There was good news and bad news. Fortunately for her, she had a copy...unfortunately for me, that copy was at her house.
The site manager asked the client if she lived nearby. She said yes, and he sent her home to retrieve last year's tax return. My dreams of an early exit were evaporating before my eyes. As the other volunteers worked on their returns and piled them on the review table, I had to sit and wait for my client to return from her trip home. Perfect for blogging; less than perfect for any hope of a record-early exit.
I finished most of this blog post, took a break, walked around a little, and waited some more. Luckily, my client returned in a fairly reasonable time. But I'd lost a precious thirty minute head start, and the backlog of returns was already piled high on the reviewer table. Just like that, first to worst. Final time of departure this evening: 8:30PM--the last preparer to leave the site.
The lesson for taxpayers: always bring last year's return when someone is preparing your taxes for you. The lesson for me: don't try to be the hero of tax season. Tonight, I erred in my strategy; instead of sprinting through that first return, I should have stalled like a death row inmate eating his last meal. Why did I willingly ask to prepare a second return? Some other volunteer should have been working on a blog of their own while the return pile grew taller on the review table...
But hindsight is 20/20, and next Thursday promises to be another exciting night in tax season. Sometimes when you strive to be Superman, and you end up being Aqualad. But next week, redemption is mine.
Superpowers include clumsiness and success-repellent!