Q.: Travis, first IRS help firm Roni Deutch goes under, now JK Harris. What is it about these large firms that get them in so much trouble?
A.: They make promises they can’t keep… chains like JK Harris are not picky about the cases they take, but instead take every case that walks through the door…eager to pocket the funds to pay for their expensive advertising costs. Over-promising, and under-delivering, usually.
As a result, JK Harris has about 20 state attorneys general after it for consumer fraud, as well as a $6 million class-action settlement, and a $1.2 million dollar settlement it owes the Texas State Attorney General.
Harris just converted its reorganization bankruptcy to one for total liquidation. That’s trouble for folks that were promised an offer in compromise or some other relief. These folks will have to stand in line with any of Harris’ other unsecured creditors, and there is not going to be enough funds at the end of the day to pay them their retainers back. And, they will still face their IRS problems to boot.
Now, Harris’ former clients are going to have to pay new lawyers to finish their cases or go it alone. Harris has released his former employees from their non-compete agreements, allowing those former employees to reach out to Harris’ clients to help them. But, who wants to jump right back in with former employees of that outfit?
Q.: It seems national chains like JK Harris have created a stigma for tax professionals like yourself. I think everyone wants to know how are you different than these national chains?
A.: I have been a licensed attorney for over 13 years. As a native Oklahoman, licensed by the Oklahoma Bar Association, I have a reputation to uphold both professionally and in the community. Therefore, I feel the responsibility to take care of my fellow Oklahomans who put their trust in me to resolve their tax problem.
My practice is also different, because we are a local, small office…located only in Oklahoma. Our main office is in Oklahoma City, and one office Tulsa. I have dedicated my law practice full-time to Oklahomans who are struggling with a tax problem.
Lastly, I am selective about the cases I take. I do not take every case that walks through the door. That means that I am able to dedicate the time that your case deserves.
Q.: What can consumers do to protect themselves from predatory tax firms?
A.: Beware an out of state salesman. I have never understood why an Oklahoman would hire someone in California, Colorado, Texas or some place outside of Oklahoma to talk to an IRS revenue officer in Oklahoma City, but it happens. You should hire a local, licensed lawyer to represent you at this rough patch in your life. These out of state guys are tricky, though. IRS problem cases are lucrative for them. They have been known to fly in from out of state and rent one of those pay-by-the-hour office suites to give the appearance that they reside here in your own back yard--they don't! Do your homework on these outfits!
2. Check their credentials. These outfits talk about former IRS agents and tax professionals. Well, what does that really mean? The majority of the employees of these outfits charged with the responsibility of taking calls and making sales pitches and promises are salesmen, not tax professionals. If you are going to hire someone else to help you with your tax problem, you need a local, licensed lawyer to handle it. A great source for finding a lawyer in this specific niche (and it is a niche practice) is a lawyer ratings service, such as Martindale Hubbell. Make sure the lawyer is peer-reviewed and "AV-Rated," which means that the lawyer has the distinction of preeminence among his fellow lawyers. Make sure that lawyer is going to charge you a flat rate (i.e. not by the hour) to see your problem through from start to finish. Also, check your local Better Business Bureau ratings to make sure the lawyer is rated and has an A rating. JK Harris was not even accredited with the Better Business Bureau, but it managed to attain an “F” rating with them anyway!
3. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Look, not everyone is an offer-in-compromise candidate, and not every case is one where the taxpayer can settle for pennies on the dollar. If they tell you that you are a likely candidate without seeing the professionals' financial analysis of your situation, you are being mislead.
Q.: These are some good suggestions. Do you have any final comments on the JK Harris bankruptcy?
A.: I want consumers to know that I understand what they are going through. I talk to people everyday who have been run over by national chains. It is like pouring salt in a wound to place your trust in representation when you are vulnerable, only to have them take your hard-earned, honest money and run. Folks that hired Harris to resolve their tax problem will have to stand in line with other unsecured creditors to get their money back. Then, they still have to deal with their IRS debt.
Now, Harris’ former clients are going to have to pay new lawyers to finish their cases or go it alone. I don’t think that’s fair. Banks and car companies get bailouts in this economy, so why not these people? So, I’m offering these customers a bailout!
Here is the criteria:
- You must have an open case with the now defunct JK Harris;
- You must owe more than $75,000 to the IRS.
H: Wow, that is really great. Travis, thank you for taking the time to talk with me today. For more information or for a free tax consultation with Travis Watkins, call 405-607-1192 or 918-877-2794. Thanks for tuning in.