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What You'll Learn In Today's Episode
  • When asking a client for their tax returns, you must explain to them why you need them. Steven offers two scripts an advisor could follow so that their reasoning is more than “Trust me, I need them”.
  • Use your meeting time to draw a clear parallel between topics you have already discussed with your clients and the value you can provide if you had access to their tax returns.
  • This goes without saying but make sure your system of receiving and storing their sensitive information is watertight.
  • Work on your tax return review abilities. Take a class, or sit down with a CPA to go over a tax return together. Knowing what to look for when reading a tax return will only increase the value you provide to your clients
  • As with everything else in life, practice makes perfect. It’s alright to make mistakes initially, as long as you learn in the process.

Executive Summary:

Welcome to the Retirement Tax Services Podcast! It’s Tax Q-and-A Friday again and Steven Jarvis is focused on client and prospect tax returns: Have you started requesting them yet?

If you’ve been putting it off, what are you going to do about it? Have you thought about how you’ll phrase it?

These things are important, but don’t panic. He has tips for asking (and explaining why you hadn’t earlier, if need be). In case you’re new to reviewing returns, he has hints for that and more, too.

The Big Question

You’ve probably heard Steven recommend getting client’s (and prospect’s) tax returns. This helps you and them, in the long run. However, some people may consider the subject extremely personal.

As a result, the idea of asking for client and prospect tax returns can be intimidating. You should establish an increasing level of trust overtime. Nevertheless, the sooner you have their return data, the better. Putting it off is a bad idea… so where do you begin?

Steven recommends focusing on the client’s or prospect’s value they will receive as a result of your having this information. This is what makes the difference in their mind. Be crystal clear about why you’re asking—and how it will benefit them. This isn’t, as he says, “A trust-me-I-need-it.”

Word It Wisely

Still not sure what you’ll say? No problem! Steven has scripts that you can base dialogues from. You may want to rephrase them, but they’re not copyrighted. You’re welcome to use them verbatim.

For example, “Mr. and Mrs. Client, I am always trying to learn new things and improve the value that I am providing for clients. I have spent a lot of time recently on retirement tax planning and there are a lot of potential opportunities that we can address while looking over your tax returns, so we are asking all of our clients to provide copies of their returns.”

Be prepared to give examples of how you can benefit them. Explain what you’ll be doing as transparently as possible. Politics aside, significant tax changes will likely happen in the future. When tax rules change, tax planning opportunities are created.

Use this as an incentive: 2021 could be a record year for the benefits of reviewing client and prospect tax returns carefully. If you’re already getting some of their returns, this is a good reason to request the rest.

Client and Prospect Tax Returns Await

Again, don’t get nervous. Headlines in the media may already have them receptive.

Just remember: First, this should never become a political discussion. Second, avoid attempts to predict the future. Your sole point must be the near certainty of tax rule changes.

What have you already discussed with them? Even if those things aren’t directly tax-related, focus on the potential impacts. Rule changes will probably affect them, too.

At the same time, don’t get ahead of yourself. If you’ve never brought up Roth IRAs before, this isn’t the time. Inspiring more questions won’t demonstrate more value based on what you’re already doing. Focus on helping them here and now.

Before you ask for returns, make sure you can receive them securely. This should be covered in your privacy policy, but verify it. Likewise, you want them stored safely, too.

Steven Jarvis has lots more in this edition of the Retirement Tax Services Podcast. If you enjoy it, please feel free to subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts or wherever you’re listening from.

Do you have suggestions? Would you like to share an experience on the podcast? Drop us a line at

Thank you for listening.


Hello everyone and welcome to the next episode of the Retirement Tax Services Podcast Financial Professionals Edition, I’m your host Steven Jarvis, CPA, and in this show I teach financial advisors how to deliver massive value to their clients through retirement tax planning.

This episode is once again a tax Q&A Friday and today we’re going to talk about two questions related to an action item I bring up on almost every episode: getting clients and prospects’ tax returns. So the first question we’re going to tackle, is how do I ask for tax returns if I’ve never done it before with the potential concern being if I’m asking clients to share tax returns because it’s so valuable, why wasn’t I doing it before, that’s head trash but we’ll talk about it and the second question is, great I got the tax return, now what? And on this one we’ll talk about what you can do if you are new to reviewing tax returns or if you want to up your game.

You Need to Do More Than Say “Just Trust Me” [1:25]

So on the first question, how do I ask for tax returns if I’ve never done this before, feel free to think about this however fits your current situation, if you already ask for tax returns maybe it’s, how do I get more clients to follow through on actually giving me their tax returns; or if you ask clients but not prospects’, how do I get someone I’d just met to share their tax return information with me?

Now if you’re an advisor that has this all on lockdown, gets returns from every client every year and you are already adding massive amounts of value to your clients through this process, please go ahead and send me an email at — with anything I don’t cover today. I always love to learn more and if you have success stories around this, I would love to have you on the show at some point to share those experiences. On this podcast we are all about what works in practice for successful advisors and hearing from successful advisors is the best way to ensure that that’s in fact what we are doing here.

Okay let’s answer the question. I am going to give a couple of scripts for how this conversation sounds with the client from talking to advisors, yours doesn’t need to be verbatim but make sure your focusing on the value to the client, and if this is new, go ahead and start verbatim, there’s no copyrights on these scripts, go ahead and use them, so we are focused on that value and whether it’s a client or a prospect, that is what is going to make the difference in their minds, there shouldn’t be any question on their mind — why you are asking and what the value is to them. It needs to be totally clear, this isn’t a “trust me I need it”

So one way to approach this is: “Mr. & Mrs. Clients, I’m always trying to learn new things and improve the value that I’m providing for clients, I have spent a lot of time recently on retirement tax planning and there are a lot of potential opportunities that we can address while looking over your tax returns, so we are asking all of our clients to provide copies of their returns.” Now I would recommend that you make sure you’re ready to give examples of things you plan on doing once you have their tax return and if you aren’t sure what to do with our tax return once you get it, we’ll cover that in a second question.

So an alternative might be: “Mr. & Mrs. Client, regardless of who any of us voted for, it seems pretty clear at this point that there will be significant tax changes in the near future, anytime there are changes in tax rules, there are tax planning opportunities and to make sure we are best positioned to help you with those opportunities we are asking all of our clients to provide copies of their tax returns.”

Get A Head Start So You Can Deliver More Value [3:44]

So 2021 might be the best year in the history of financial planning to start getting tax returns and incorporating them into your planning process or if you’re to get some of this is the perfect time to make sure now you’re getting all of them and if you have any head trash around asking for returns, you may never get a better reason that will instantly resonate with clients than all the talk in the media right now about upcoming changes now this is not and should not be a political discussion with your clients and it also should not be you trying to predict the future with a range of topics already being floated in spending bill discussions, changes are coming, I think we can all feel confident about that and you should be focused on the tax planning opportunities for your clients. There’s no need to get into whether they are the right changes. Now you may have that rare client who doesn’t think tax rates are going up in the future, that’s hardly the only tax discussion going on, but that’s usually the easiest one when we were talking about tax planning opportunities is: “do you have any concern that tax rates might be higher in the future than they are now” because then regardless of the details of how all this discussion finalizes at the political level, there are going to be opportunities for your clients, if you are proactively identifying and addressing them.

Now most recommendations you make as an advisor have the potential to have tax implications, so it should be really simple to draw connections between topics you have already discussed with your clients and the value of reviewing their tax returns. So more specifically when you’re having this conversation, you need to focus on the topics that you’ve already discussed with the client even if they’re not tax topics but focus on the potential tax implications of things you’re already doing the client. If you’ve never mentioned Roth conversions to a client before, this conversation shouldn’t be: “hey why don’t you give me your tax returns so that we can decide if Roth conversions are the right plan for you” — that’s going to bring up more questions for the client and that’s not demonstrating the value for them, based on what you’re already doing with them.

So, one other piece of advice on this before we move on — make sure that you have a system in place for securely receiving and storing their records. Now this type of information should probably already be covered in your privacy policy but this is a great opportunity to double check that you have all your i’s dotted and t’s crossed, to make sure again, you’re taking care of your client.

You Have To Practice In Order To Perfect Your Skills [5:55]

All right, let’s move on to question number two. So great, I got the tax return, now what? Similar to the first question, we’re going to focus on “what if I’ve never done this before” but similar concepts apply if you’re just looking to take your game to the next level and again you’re welcome to send me an email at if you have suggestions to add or an experience you’d to come on the podcast and share. So what if you are new to reviewing tax returns? First and foremost, you need to practice. I recently participated as an audience member in a webinar put on by the Perfect RIA and Micah Shilanski my guest from Monday’s episode of the podcast was one of the hosts, so while on the webinar, Michael was given a real 1040 that he had never seen before and in a matter of minutes he was making just a huge list of potential value adds, he as an advisor could offer this client and they range from simple things like verifying personal information and yes that does get messed up sometimes on returns to all the way on the other end, to potential tax planning strategies based on the types of income the taxpayer had showing on their tax return. Now Micah made it look really easy but I wish for the rest of us there existed a video of the first time he reviewed a return, whenever that might have been because I am positive it did not go as smoothly as it did on this webinar, I’ll have to have Micah back on at some point to defend himself if he was in fact a tax return prodigy right at the gate but from talking to him, I am confident he was able to do that live on a webinar only because of the hundreds if not thousands of returns he has reviewed at this point in his career. In professional services, I see it with CPA’s as well as with other financial advisors, there seems to be a stigma at times around practicing but everyone has to do it.

Okay, I should say everyone who wants to be really good at something has to practice. If this is a brand new, start simple, review your own 1040 and see what you can learn, get comfortable with the first several lines on page 1 of the 1040, so you know how clients are generating their income — what are the different sources and what are the tax implications of those different sources. Start a list of key forms and schedules you should be on the lookout for, so as you see a schedule D or schedule B attached to a tax return or if the return includes a form 8606 or 48915, you know what questions to be asking and what opportunities to be looking for, you don’t need to be the expert in all of these things but you need to be able to have a conversation with the client, know what questions to ask and then potentially just recommend working with them and their tax repairer to make sure that these things get answered correctly. So start reviewing tax returns of clients that you have and make sure you practice before they are in the room with you, that would be the next step in and how you get more comfortable with this process, it’s okay to practice out loud, in fact it’s really encouraged, do it in front of a mirror so you can see what it looks like as you’re doing it, this will help you get comfortable with the terminology and how to explain it in crammed to a client, now when I say explain it in crammed, this is not about dumbing it down, that should not be your goal, that should be what you need to do, the client is the one paying the taxes, if you can’t explain it in a way that makes sense to them, that is your problem, not theirs and something you need to work on.

Another approach that can really help with this is practicing with members of your team that aren’t advisors so that you’re not getting caught using jargon and assuming that people know what you’re talking about, being technically correct is really important but it’s not enough, it has to make sense to the client and you’re going to get better through practice. So to go next level on this one, it can be easy to convince yourself when you’re looking at a blank 1040 or 1040 you’ve already looked at before — that you have all this stuff down and it’s easy, so to add some accountability and to really see where you’re at, pick one of your clients and write down 5 things you expect to see on their return before you look at it and then see how accurate you were, made to look at their account summary or investment positions from the last year and write down what lines on page 1 of the 1040 you expect to see income on, should they have a form 8962 for the prior year, how about a schedule E, write these things down to have that accountability and then pull out the 1040 to see if you’re really as good at this as you think you are.

Call A CPA For Advice. Or Take A Class. [10:05]

If tax returns feel really foreign to you, if this is all really brand new, take a class, there are lots of great ones out there, Kitces actually puts out a really great one that’s specific for advisors and how financial advisors should be reviewing individual tax returns, highly recommend that one. If you really want to get to all star status as an advisor on this, call CPA you want to work with as a center of influence that you potentially want to get referrals from, and offer to pay for an hour of their time, so they can go through a tax return with you, ask them to offer their perspective on things you can focus on to add value to the client and what they wish advisors would look out for and communicate to the tax repairer about their clients.

Even if you are already reviewing tax returns, this still works, contact the CPA and say “Mrs. CPA, here are 5 things that I look for on every clients tax returns, from your experience, what should I add to my list?” That CPA probably looks at exponentially more returns than you do, so they’re going to have insight you can learn from and now you are the advisor at the top of their mind if a client ever needs help because the CPA has seen firsthand what you were doing to add value to the client.

Steven’s Actionable Advice For Financial Advisors [11:08]

Okay, so I always want to make sure that this information is actionable for advisors and even though this episode of our tax Q&A Friday has clearly been focused on action to route, let’s recap real quick: So the first action item of course is to get every client tax return every year, if you don’t already do this, set a specific time frame for implementing it and find someone to hold you accountable to that date, so that it doesn’t just keep getting kicked down the road, best time to start is now, don’t wait for the next tax season, don’t wait for tax law changes to take effect, start now. Now more specifically on this one, I would challenge you to write down what percentage of your clients you think you have tax returns for and then actually go check in your system to see how many you really do, it’s easy to convince ourselves we are better at something than we really are, if we don’t measure and check. So don’t listen to this episode thinking: I’ve got most of them. What percentage do you think that is? Write it down and go check.

So the next action item is to intentionally elevate your tax return review abilities, again get specific. When are you going to do this by? How much time are you going to spend on it? And what is your desired outcome? Make it clear so you can measure whether your goal is successful.

The next action item since this is tax Q&A Friday is to send your questions to , I would love to highlight your question on a future episode or potentially have you on the show to ask it. Whether it’s a question about the specific tax planning strategies, how to implement the various topics we discussed on this podcast already or questions you get from clients or other advisors, we love hearing the mall and having a chance to hear from advisors on the best ways to answer them.

All right that wraps it up for this week’s tax Q&A Friday, please take a minute to leave a review and 5 stars on whatever platform you use to listen to podcasts, really appreciate everyone listening today, good luck out there and remember to tip your servers, not the IRS.


The information on this site is for education only and should not be considered tax advice. Retirement Tax Services is not affiliated with Shilanski & Associates, Jarvis Financial Services or any other financial services firms.

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