By Daniel Silliman
When the thick keys on the calculator go "clunk clunk, clunk-clunk-clunk," the paper spool starts to turn. It spills out a column of gray, five-digit numbers. Bobby Reynolds' fingers hit the heavy plastic keys and the curled paper unfurls, falling from the calculator to the Formica desk.
If Reynolds keeps punching numbers into the machine, the paper will spill off the desk and spiral down to the floor. He stops and he looks at the tax documents spread out on his desk.
"A lot of people don't know what deductions they can take on a return. Half of them don't have their documents with them," he says.
Tax season has begun at Townsend Income Tax and Accounting in Stockbridge.
Reynolds and the other tax preparers are punching at their calculators, talking about itemized deductions and earned income tax credits, W-2s and 1099s, Form 4868 extensions and Form 8883 asset allocation statements.
The real rush hasn't begun, yet.
The tax season starts at the beginning of the year, but the rush comes between February and the April 15 deadline. In the next few months, the Stockbridge office will hire on three part-time tax preparers and file about 2,000 tax returns. The 3523 Ga. Highway 138 office, however, already looks cluttered with paperwork.
"Some people," Reynolds says, "aren't going to come in, because they know they owe. They're going to wait until April."
Julia Cox, the office's other full-time tax preparer, says most people don't want to do their taxes and, more than that, they don't even want to think about their taxes.
"People wouldn't do a tax return if they didn't have to," she says. "They don't deal with this until tax time, because it's not a priority. Baseball games for the kids is a priority, in their life. Income taxes isn't a priority."
This, of course, is exactly where Townsend Income Tax and Accounting comes in. Reynolds wants to see the files of taxpayers and look for deductions they did not know they had coming. Cox wants to think about whether someone should file a 1040 or a 1040-EZ. He wants to look through documents. She wants to do the math.
"That's our job," Cox says. "They don't want to deal with it. They want us to deal with it."
Cox has been professionally preparing tax returns for 38 years. Reynolds attends several seminars every year, to keep up with tax laws.
"All of us have been in the business a long time," Reynolds says. "We know what types of questions to ask ... Sometimes, though, people think they know more than the tax preparer." He pitches his voice an octave higher than normal, imitating someone who just found out he's going to have send the government money this year.
"Why can't I get this deduction?" he asks. "Why can't I get that deduction? How come my taxes aren't the same as they were last year."
He laughs, and then rests his hand on the edge of the calculator.
"I don't think they understand how complicated it is," Cox said. "Then they get letters from the IRS."