Tax preparer becomes WV's first smart tax franchisee - WOWK 13 Charleston, Huntington WV News, Weather, Sports

Tax preparer becomes WV's first smart tax franchisee

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Brenda and Barry Shilling recently moved their tax preparation business to South Charleston. They opened the Eagle Tax franchise in 2011. Smart Tax has acquired Eagle Tax, and the official transition will happen this summer. Brenda and Barry Shilling recently moved their tax preparation business to South Charleston. They opened the Eagle Tax franchise in 2011. Smart Tax has acquired Eagle Tax, and the official transition will happen this summer.

Smart Tax CEO Nick Rizzi may be based in Brooklyn, but he has had his eye on West Virginia.

"We've been trying to expand on the east coast and the mid-Atlantic region and when we acquired Eagle Tax in Jan. 2014, Barry and Brenda Shilling were a part of that. 

"We were fortunate enough to have them join us."

The Shillings recently moved their tax preparation business from Charleston to South Charleston, at 320 2nd Ave.

They opened up an Eagle Tax franchise in 2011. In November 2013, Smart Tax and Eagle Tax merged, so the office will officially transition to Smart Tax at the end of the current fiscal year, beginning July 1.

It will become the first Smart Tax franchise in West Virginia.

"(The Shillings) definitely fit the bill for us," said Rizzi. "They're local, and from the area. They've been there and have a business that we're hoping to grow with them. We're looking to expand.

"The larger our system grows, the better we can service our customers. We can get our brand out, the happier our franchisees are."

Rizzi said the idea behind Smart Tax is to offer affordable, efficient and competent tax preparation services to customers.

"We do it by only dealing with great people," he said. "We only offer franchises to people that are existing tax preparers, CPAs or EAs. We don't try to take someone that is not a tax preparer and try to get them in the business of tax preparation. 

"For us, that doesn't work. It doesn't send a good message. We want our brand to be associated with professional experience." 

One-on-one customer service is especially pleasing for Brenda Shilling, she said. 

"We're very customer-focused," Shilling said. "You should be able to bring your children here while we do your taxes. We started making friends with the people I prepare taxes for. I enjoy that. It's very fulfilling. 

"We even pray for our clients, because we get to know them on a personal level."

With plenty of options for folks to do their own taxes, including computer software and websites, there's no replacement for the consultation that a personal preparer can give, Shilling said. 

"We've had people come to us that have done their taxes online or with software off the shelf," she said. "We offer a free look. We will take a look at your taxes and see if they were done right. Several times, we have found more money for (the client). 

"A lot of the programs are interview driven, so when you go though the list of questions, it plugs information in. But if you're not sure about something, there's no one to ask."

Shilling said a professional tax preparer can provide peace of mind. 

"We get a lot of amended returns in the off season," she added. "Last year, we had a lot of people asking about (amended returns) for the alternative fuel vehicle tax credits." 

Shilling is a graduate of North Carolina State University, with a degree in industrial engineering. She served seven years of active duty in the U.S. Air Force as an industrial engineer and civil engineer. She also served 13 years as a reserve. 

Union Carbide brought the North Carolina native to West Virginia, where she worked for the chemical company almost five years. She also worked for the U.S. Postal Service 14 years after being laid off at Carbide. Retired from the postal service, she began doing tax service.

When weighing whether to be an independent tax preparer versus being a part of a franchise, Rizzi said he found there are benefits for franchise owners.

"Especially in software and support," he said. "They can call us at any time and ask us a tax question. We'll do the return with them. We have a roomful of EAs and preparers ready to help them. 

"With a small, independent office, you may not have a tech guy or access to those people, so you're struggling to make all those things work together."

Rizzi said the extra marketing dollars also help.

"We collectively are able to buy ads on the internet, television, radio or newspapers," he said. "They're ready to go, using a common name and a common brand. 

"There's a whole organization behind them. And we don't charge a franchise fee. The caveat to that is you must be a preparer. You can't just want to get into the business.

Shilling says the Smart Tax relationship will be a key to her success.

"We have access to Nick Rizzo any time that we want, and that's nice," she said. "He always gets right back to us. Having access to the CEO is nice because he can give us advice. We've talked marketing with him. 

"It's nice to bounce ideas off someone."