Last week a woman came in to do her tax return for 2012 and 2013. She told our preparer that she still owed the IRS $711 for 2011. She had not done her 2012 return because she was afraid she would owe and she just could not deal with it.
She also told our preparer that her daughter and son-in-law had moved in with them over a year ago, and her husband was quite ill and had not worked much. All of this was putting a tremendous amount of stress on her.
Surprisingly, she and her husband were getting a $1300+ refund for 2013. She told our preparer that she could not afford to pay very much for each off these returns. She left to go to work at Dillard's across the street from our office.
Our preparer came to me to ask what we should do. I mulled the situation over and decided to do both returns for free. The 2013 refund would come very, very close to covering the 2011 and 2012 debt to the IRS, if not wiping it clean. That way, the stress of owing the IRS would not continue to hang over their heads. I called her at work and told her what we were going to do. She started crying, thanked me, and said she would be in after work.
When she came in she pulled me aside. She began thanking me again, crying, and then told me something that was gut wrenching. Their 4 month old granddaughter had died 3 weeks before. She told me that doing these taxes for free made her feel that maybe there was hope. That perhaps this was a sign that they all would survive and life would be okay one day.
When I made that decision to do both returns for free, I had two motivations. One was, of course, why we do free returns so that we gain a paying client next year and create raving fans. My much stronger motivation was just to help someone climb out of a hole with the IRS. At the time I made the call, I had no idea what this family had been through and how much a small act of kindness could mean. I think in the seven years we have been doing this, that was the BEST free return we have ever done!