BlockStar: H&R Block tax preparer Des Shaw has second career using lifelong skills
As a young father in 1984, Des Shaw moved his family from England for a career opportunity on Wall Street. He would spend years commuting to lower Manhattan to lead teams that developed web-based billing systems still running today.
“We had a lot of fun because now companies buy packages but then we were building everything from scratch. It was a software developer’s dream,” said Shaw.
Shaw felt retirement can make people old. He planned to keep busy by becoming a part-time financial planner. While attending the 14-month certified financial planner class, he also took the H&R Block Income Tax Course. His plan was to quickly get some experience working with financial clients by preparing their taxes, with the idea of learning more about different financial situations to help his future financial planning career.
Near the end of his financial planning certification, he learned that most financial planners his age had nearly all their money tied up in their businesses. To retire, they were focused on selling the business to liquidate their assets. He asked himself why he was trying to get into the business when all the people his age were getting out.
“I realized I was this little salmon swimming the other direction. My dream of being a very relaxed financial planner wasn’t going to work out,” said Shaw.
After completing the Income Tax Course with H&R Block, Shaw had become an H&R Block tax professional and had started working with clients on tax returns. He was enjoying the clients, applying the technical and lengthy tax code to people’s real-life situations and helping people.
Second career in taxes brings wealth of life lessons to clients
Shaw has a wealth of life experiences to tap into to help his clients. Shaw initially trained as an engineer in England, focusing on process control. This specialty took him into computers during the period of early adoption of computers and IT systems. In England, he managed an international project that required working with a technical team and software designers to configure system controls in a refining engineering company.
“There can be strong differences of opinions between engineers and software designers. I didn’t need much technical expertise as the manager, but I needed to be able to talk to both groups without people storming out,” Shaw said. “It was getting the two teams to understand each other’s needs.”
After he moved to the United States with his three young children, he never considered a will.
“I think back in horror about what would have happened to my three children if something happened to my wife and me. My children may have never been connected with our families in England and Ireland,” said Shaw.
Now when he meets with a young family that has a new baby, he suggests clients start writing a will so their wishes for their children are known in the event of an accident. He also reminds them it is time to consider life insurance. He can be met with hesitation from a young parent until Shaw asks, “If your spouse dies, will you need help with the children?”
“I can share pointers on this is a next step in life that I see my clients moving into,” said Shaw.
Helping clients in season and out, rain or shine
Now as an enrolled agent, Shaw can not only help his clients prepare their tax returns, but he can also represent them before the IRS. His first step is helping taxpayers understand any IRS letters they receive and find a remedy. One client with an IRS letter stands out in his mind.
“It was pouring rain and a young mother comes in with her baby. She’s holding papers that were wet,” said Shaw.
The IRS letter had some technical questions about the return, but the mother’s story told Shaw the real problem.
“She had gone to one of these shady guys and she had very little income. He had concocted a business for her to show she had made more money making her eligible for a larger earned income tax credit. Then the guy disappeared.”
The mother received a $5,000 refund from the credit, but then came the IRS letter.
“It said, ‘We’re excited about your business; can you tell us more about it,’” said Shaw.
IRS verification letters want to know how much income was made, how much was spent on materials, what bank was used and often a copy of bookkeeping records.
“I had to tell her that she didn’t have a leg to stand on. My advice was to throw herself on the mercy of the IRS,” said Shaw.
Shaw helps clients find the right payment option with the IRS. If a taxpayer can’t pay their tax bill all at once, they may qualify for one of several tax payment alternatives. For example, they can request a short-term extension to pay, make an installment agreement or even pay with a credit card. In some instances, the taxpayer may qualify for an offer-in-compromise.
Expert tax help from enrolled agents like Shaw means H&R Block has its clients’ backs – whether new to tax filing, parenthood or retirement. For retirees with a passion for helping people, keeping busy and learning every day, enrolling in the H&R Block Income Tax Course could be the start of a second career.
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