We asked three CPAs how they handle requests for personal favours around tax time

Free tax advice should be given with caution. Three accountants share their responses.

Zeeshan Jamshid, CPA, CMA

Senior financial analyst, business development at Irving Oil, marketing, retail transformational programs, Saint John, NB

Zeeshan Jamshid, CPA, CMA“I develop and assess business models and financial models for marketing programs. I do a few tax returns other than my own, but I get a fair number of questions. The moment people hear you’re an accountant, they think you can provide tax advice. I get calls from family, friends and former schoolmates. People often ask about things like notices of assessment, unused tax credits or fixing past mistakes. I’m not a tax expert, so I refer them to the CRA website or tell them to call into its helpline, tap into my network or point people to the professionals. That way, I learn something too. But there are things people often don’t consider, such as medical and moving expenses. Those are important credits.”

Anna Harder, CPA, CGA

Anna A. Harder, Professional Corporation, Camrose, Alta.

Anna Harder, CPA, CGA“My firm offers corporate, agricultural and personal accounting services, including tax returns. I sometimes get requests for free tax advice in casual conversations at parties or from people I meet. Usually I shut down those information gatherers. Not that I’m trying to be rude, but I say, ‘That sounds like a really interesting problem. It’s better if you call me at the office so we can discuss it more thoroughly.’ It brings people back to reality and reminds them that’s what I do for a living. People don’t intend to get something for nothing, but sometimes they need a gentle reminder. In a small town, you can’t afford to offend anyone, but you also can’t afford to get a reputation that you do things for free or you’ll be out of business!”

Jameel Savani, CPA, CA

Regional leader, Aboriginal services team, MNP, Nanaimo, BC

Jameel Savani, CPA, CA“A part of what we do is similar to a traditional assurance practice. We spend up to 50% of our time on audits for First Nations’ communities and the rest on business advisory and consulting. We help people start and grow their businesses and get involved in economic development. Personal tax isn’t my expertise, but people assume that if you’re a CPA, you know how. Family and friends ask, ‘Can you do my taxes for me?’ Often, my response is, ‘You know what? I don’t even do my own!’ [Sayani’s mom does his taxes. She’s a CPA too.] I get questions about tax credits and RRSPs, but I don’t keep up with those things; for simple returns I usually suggest online tax software or refer people to a seasonal personal tax shop. The way the accounting profession is these days, you’ve got to figure out your specialty and become an expert. Because of all the different CPA ads now being run, people are starting to understand that we have different specialties.”