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Paying Uncle Sam can be fun, one couple says

Tami and John Kelly, on a recent Blue Friday, stand in the office of their Kitsap Mall location of Liberty Tax Service. Known for the waving Statute of Liberty mascots, the Kellys recently purchased several Liberty Tax locations in the county. - Leslie Kelly/staff photo
Tami and John Kelly, on a recent Blue Friday, stand in the office of their Kitsap Mall location of Liberty Tax Service. Known for the waving Statute of Liberty mascots, the Kellys recently purchased several Liberty Tax locations in the county.
— image credit: Leslie Kelly/staff photo

Nobody likes paying taxes.

But if Tami and John Kelly have anything to say about it, doing taxes can be fun.

“We’re the place that has snacks and drinks and a play area for the kids,” said Tami. “We’re very family-oriented and we like to say that we make doing taxes fun.”

The longtime Bremerton couple own seven local offices of Liberty Tax Service, including those in east and west Bremerton, Silverdale and the Kitsap Mall locations. They also have offices in Port Orchard and Poulsbo. They purchased their franchise locations last September after working for the previous owner.

“Liberty Tax has been in Kitsap County for 17 years,” Tami said. “From the very beginning, my mother worked for them.”

Her mother, Edi Parker, is still a tax preparer, as is Tami, who has done tax work off and on for more than six years. John has had a career in marketing for insurance, mortgage and real estate companies and is now the marketing guy for their franchise of Liberty Tax Service.

“When we learned last summer that the business was for sale, we knew it was an opportunity we could not pass up,” John said.

They spent several months working with the previous owner and attending franchise meetings and training with the founder and CEO of the company, John Hewitt.

Liberty Tax Service started in Canada in September of 1997 when Hewitt acquired a Canadian tax franchisor, U&R Tax Depot. In 1998, the company became Liberty Tax Service and opened five offices in the United States.

Liberty Tax Service is headquartered in Virginia Beach, Virginia and continues to expand, offering personal income tax service and more in an ever-growing list of locations nationwide. There are over 4,500 Liberty Tax Service offices operating in the United States and Canada.

According to the Kellys, Hewitt, who began in the tax business with Jackson & Hewitt more than 40 years ago, had the idea of creating a tax company that was family-focused.

“He’s some guy,” Tami said. “He can be with a group of more than 100 people teaching and within hours he knows everyone and is calling them by name.”

And that’s the kind of business they want to have.

“We’re all about the local community,” she said. “We think people should do business locally. When you come in here, you’re dealing with neighbors, not some big corporation.”

As a part of that, their offices of Liberty Tax are offering $50 to anyone who comes in with their taxes through Feb. 16. It’s called “Cash in a Flash.”

And, anyone who gets their taxes done gets coupons to refer friends and families to Liberty.

“For each referral, they get a fifty dollar bill,” John said. “And the new client gets a discount.”

The program has creative uses that will help the local community, too.

“People can tell us that they want that money to go to a local charity,” Tami said. “Or they can pool their money and use it for something.”

For example, she said, one company had its employees have their taxes done at Liberty and pooled their money to have an employee holiday party.

But the Kellys know that taxes, while they can be fun, are a serious business. They offer a written guarantee of their work and if a client is audited, Liberty will send a representative to the audit.

Liberty will give the past year’s tax return a second look and submit forms to recover any refunds that are due to clients, at no cost to a client who is having their current year taxes done.

“Our retention rate is among the highest of all tax companies,” said John. “We are known for doing great work and for helping customers understand their taxes. We don’t sit at a desk with the computer screen turned toward us. We show the customer what we’re doing.”

Suggestions are made about possible deductions and ways of saving money, and customers are given information about how to save on taxes in the coming years, Tami said.

And computer programs like Turbo Tax don’t cut into their business, they said.

“It’s just a program,” John said. “It doesn’t really answer the questions that come up. We get people coming in with their last year’s taxes that they did on Turbo Tax and we find them money they left on the table.”

As for their mascot, the light blue Statute of Liberty who stands outside each location waving a sign, that’s been the company’s image since the very beginning. They are trained and they are supposed to “keep moving, waving, dancing,” Tami said.

“We get great comments,” John said. “People love them. They bring our wavers coffee and lunch. And if they’re not out, people come by and tell us they’re missing them.”

In all, they have 20 wavers and 45 tax preparers. Most begin at minimum wages and have incentives to make more. Many have worked for Liberty for several years, the Kellys said.

“Some of our tax preparers are accounting students,” John said. “Others have been in business or worked for other tax companies. A couple of them are our ‘tax junkies.’ When most people look forward to December for Christmas, they look forward to Jan. 2 because that’s when tax season starts.”

John and Tami keep one office open year round to help clients with such things as copies of taxes for student loans. They also offer bookkeeping services.

“We hope to get to the point where we have all our locations open year-round,” she said.

Find Liberty Tax at 9857 Silverdale Way NW in Silverdale, or call 360-698-1040. To locate other locations, go to www.libertytax.com.

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