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Review my startup: sanetax.com - A real Tax Professional prepares your taxes (sanetax.com)
47 points by SriniK on April 7, 2011 | hide | past | favorite | 47 comments

The value proposition is extremely compelling (especially for someone like me who is still procrastinating filing...). Take a picture and have a professional do the work?! Yes, please.

That being said, I need to know more before committing. Who are these professionals? How much will it cost me? Am I guaranteed the max allowable refund? I applaud you for bringing simplicity to a field as complicated as taxes, but the devil is still in the details.

Overall looks great though! Let me know if I can help test at all, emails in my profile.

Thanks for the feedback.

Yes most of the last few months I have spent on is getting tax agents to sign up.

. Tax Agents currently using the Sanetax are independent tax professionals and EAs(Enrolled agents). Some have 14yrs of experience in the industry.

. Depending on how complicated your tax filing tax agents tend to charge anywhere from $40 to $200. Again, this is between tax agent and customer to agree upfront.

. As a customer you can talk to them and feel comfortable before agreeing to go forward - just like what you would do for any purchase. At any stage, customer can back off from the agent if he/she is not satisfied. We can assign a new agent.

You might want to pitch some distilled form of this summary on your page.

It's also the first question that popped into my head when I looked at your site (which otherwise, is pretty good).

Thanks. I will have that included on the site.

Couple more thoughts:

1. The first thing a user does should not be to register. I should at least be able to see how many tax preparers are in my area and their profiles before registering. Do the preparers have a linkedin or yelp page with endorsements? Is there someone in my FB network that has used this person or liked their services? Nothing compels me to enroll.

2. I think the key to all this is helping tax preparers find new customers by leveraging their existing customer base. Tax prep is a word of mouth business and your goal should be to digitize the word of mouth to maximize reach of potential new customers. For example, make it easy for customers to endorse tax preparers by "liking" their sanetax profile,etc.

Your sales pitch needs to be: "By using SaneTax, you can leverage your existing customer's social network to find new customers." or something like that.

We already have #1 implemented in the code, just that we haven't enabled it. We will be adding this once we have considerable number of tax agents on the system.

I was solving my own problem with running around the tax professional. Thanks for the pitch.

SaneTax is a good idea, yes. But remote accountants do exist.

I have an accountant who handles everything remotely. I live in Los Angeles and he lives in small-town, Nebraska. I met him once when he did a tour of the country to meet clients and drum up new business.

Here's my process:

1) I download a PDF worksheet from his website.

2) I scan all my documents and fill out the worksheet.

3) I send it over https to his LeapFile account.

4) We talk on the phone for a few minutes. He asks a few questions to make sure we're "on the same page."

5) He e-files for me.

6) If I have a refund coming, I get it direct deposited. If not, then I pay with EFTPS and CA web pay.

If I want tax advice, I can ask him. If I want to start a business, he can help out. If I get audited, he can defend me. All without me being there.

Another nice project would be to make a directory of accountants who can handle the whole tax process remotely.

Your accountant sounds great. Now how would I have known about him?

SaneTax aims to be this marketplace between tax preparers and accountants. It's a good model.

Now, the question that I have is, how are the accountants verified and how do I know I (as a preparer) am dealing with someone I can trust?

Now how would I have known about him?

Right. That's why I said, another nice project would be to make a directory of accountants who can handle the whole tax process remotely.

But maybe there's no business model in that. Enter SaneTax.

Eventually, we will open up the tax professional directory. So that you as a customer can choose your own agent. We already have the code in place for it.

I'd recommend looking at how ServiceMagic does it. They choose and list 3 professionals (which are chosen by area, which adds an artificial funnel to a natural one). If I want more, I can request more, but often 3 is just right to compare prices/rates and professional knowledge/fit.

I would strongly recommend this approach if you aren't already doing it (have yet to sign up).

We actually call tax professionals and spend 30-45mins with them to go over our questionnaire starting from their experience, tax knowledge to the current prep software setup they have.

IRS has manadated new PTIN requirements http://www.irs.gov/taxpros/article/0,,id=218611,00.html we need to have their PTIN to even talk to us.

As I said in other comments, customer can call and make sure they are comfortable with the tax agent we assign. If you are not comfortable, let us know, we will assign a different agent.

Remote accountants do exist but with http://sanetax.com what we want to achieve is simplifying the whole process.

From above mentioned steps, you can do all 1 to 3 right from your iphone/android phone. What we have seen as trend on http://sanetax.com/ is that more more people are logging and using the service solely from their mobile phones.

Rapport and support is the same thing that you have with your accountant. We only connect customers and tax professionals. It is the work tax professional and his/her service to make sure they treat you well to receive repeated business(next year).

As an accountant and tax lawyer who works 100% remotely with clients, I'd like to chime in. I definitely think that there is a place for a service that can help people find accountants and lawyers. The average person has no way of knowing how to choose -- what makes a good preparer/counselor? How much should they cost? How available should they be? This is the obvious part of what could make Sanetax very helpful.

The less obvious part to folks who aren't in the "industry" is that accountants and lawyers really struggle with technology issues. Technology is not their primary skill and yet tax preparation has become very tech intensive. Add to this all the issues around privacy. There aren't any good solutions that have been widely adopted in these communities for handling confidential material online--i.e. your social security number.

Speaking for myself, I use Magic Vortex where I can for file transfer, but have only recently transitioned to using encrypted pdf's in emails and have had considerable problems with client confusion with the files. I cannot imagine the extra technical support that I might have to provide while trying to use encrypted email, even though it's totally warranted. Perhaps Sanetax can help with these issues.

I would also like to strongly agree fully with fourply's post. The entire industry is not as simple as it might appear from the outside. Like most things we live with these days, regulations are multiplying even as we speak, and they vary widely from state to state. Accountants and lawyers have to meet restrictive federal and state regulations, including around how we get clients in the first place. Hopefully Sanetax will find ways to work with all these rules.

Thanks for comments.

Yes it is so true about how inconvenient it is with the whole pdf encryption and complicated technology in general. Speaking of attachments, we are also the makers of http://www.getdropandlock.com - which did fine but still lot of inconvenience with remembering passwords and everything.

If you attended IRS Live March 30th session, it was clear from the session that we are going to get more regulations. However, we also expect regulations should improve IRS efforts in protecting consumers.

With the Sanetax, we would like to fix the convenience part of taking an expert's advice in taxes.

as a tax attorney and someone with 4 years experience as a volunteer at an IRS VITA site, i am not sure that i'm entirely comfortable with the idea - but maybe i am missing something.

first of all, there are preparer regulations that require - well, lots of things. this system could run afoul of those quickly and easily.

secondly, the interview process is crucial for me. it can be driven by a form, but it's extremely important to talk with folks about what happened during the taxable year to identify not only potential pitfalls and ensure that everything gets the right treatment, but also to talk about planning opportunities that can save them big $$$ down the road.

for people that are foolish enough to go to H & R Block anyway, maybe this would be a valuable thing - but it's not a cookie-cutter process and treating it as such can result in serious fines and/or jail time for taxpayers and preparers.

my thoughts: make sure you find yourself a tax law badass to make sure you're doing things right. it will be complicated, and costly - but if you don't get it right out of the gate it's not even worth doing.

Could you expand on or quickly summarize why going to H&R Block is foolish?

(I don't use them. Just curious).

They hire folks with no education or experience, train them for a week, and turn them loose - generally paying $9/hr plus a percentage of fees they generate. The majority of their business comes from taking advantage of poor people - they prepare a return that takes me 6-9 minutes, offer a 'refund anticipation loan' that gets people instant gratification, and charge them $200-$400. Eff everything about that. I am thrilled to see the RAL on the way out and look for VITA sites to become much more heavily utilized soon!

fourply, let me invite you to the site as tax professional and then see if our background check is good enough.

Value proposition for tax professional is: We are connecting you to your customer. That's it. You can choose to have a call or interview or messaging to get to the final return.

Value proposition to customers is: Whole process of sending tax documents, messaging and paying fee is simplified.

I think a major value proposition you could offer (eventually) is ratings of tax professionals. More than just rating though. For example, if someone owns several rental properties, certain Tax Preparers specialize in that, whereas most would be out of their element. So a Tagging system might come in handy. You could tag your return with "Real Estate", or "Home office", or "Moved several times", etc. Perhaps, if sanetax has access to the completed returns, this tagging could be automated. Even if not automated, you can easily restrict the tagging/voting to people who actually used the Tax Preparer, thereby mitigating the problem of fake reviews.

The end result is real, reliable information about which Tax Preparers specialize in what I need. That would be awesome.

Great suggestion. We will open up the directory once considerable number of agents are part of the network. We should add specialties part of the individual tax agent page/blurb. We could automate the whole rating system as well.

Is anybody aware of a similar service for finding (traffic) lawyers? Searching for such is unpleasant (especially in a different locality).

Edit: I've now signed up to the service, as I've procrastinated equally with my taxes, however- I still don't know what to do. I appreciate the goal is to match taxed/preparer, but I'm not sure what forms are appropriate, which makes uploading them difficult.

I see there is a progress indicator to communicate how far along the preparer is with the submitted paperwork, maybe a similar guide for what to submit, and what might be missing? (Also possibly augmented by the preparer if the site doesn't want to become a guide?)

Great! Our support person should have sent you an email. If you haven't received an email from us feel free to send a message to srini -at- sanetax.com

I like the concept, but the domain is a bet iffy. I read it as "sanitax", which might be misconstrued. Other than than, I like the idea. I would use an actual tax preparer if it wasn't for calling and/or driving.

:) Supposed to be "sane tax" - Bringing back sanity in taxes. Signup as a customer or send an email(email in profile) if you like to discuss.

Just as a data point, I think it sounds like a feminine hygiene or household cleaning product.

I signed up, and was expecting a very different workflow.

IMO, asking me to upload my tax documents without having chosen a tax professional feels backwards. I want to know who is going to be looking at my tax documents. The way things work now, it feels like I'm sending my docs up for bidding. I'm sure that's not what is going on, but that's the perception.

Perhaps some general questions up front to help properly route the customer to the right tax professional, then allow for a match, and then finally, once the customer is paired with a tax professional, present the rest of the features.

Yea, please don't upload until tax agent is finalized and you feel good to go.

Coding point of view, we should have created a wizard kinda flow. Will fix it in next revision. Thanks.

Is this service for the 85-90% of people who have simple returns consisting of a W-2, a few 1099s, and a 1098? My question is how it'll handle issues like multi-state tax returns, oodles of K-1s, and tracking the basis for those, and figuring out stuff like foreign tax credits? Would the designated Preparer know to ask such questions and wholly handle everything on their end?

(I'm guessing that for those complex issues, you'd still stick to a live accountant, and this service isn't geared towards that particular segment of the population.)

Thanks for the comment.

There are two models a customer can use.

1. Stick with your existing tax professional:

Ask your tax professional to signup as an agent. Free for him/her and then you can work with them through the app. For their own customers, agents can start using the service immediately.

2. Let us assign a tax agent:

Tell us more about your requirements, we can assign agents who is suitable for you.

All agents are mandated to list their PTIN number and phone numbers so that you can call and talk to them.

So anytime, if you are not satisfied, we can drop you from the customer list of a particular tax professional.

Hope above answered your concerns.

Is this only for personal taxes, or can my very simple corporation benefit from this? Right now I have an accountant in my home state handling my corporate taxes, but he's not very internet-savvy so things like secure file transfers and even timely email replies are beyond him. I'm looking for a remote accountant for my state that can handle my very simple corporate return--but it looks like Sanetax is only for personal returns? Please correct me if I'm wrong.

Sure. You can use Sanetax for any type of tax situation. You can request your agent to signup https://app.sanetax.com/agentsignup.

If he can use email, he should be able to use http://sanetax.com without any problems.

If you share your state, I can see if any one of our existing tax agents can help you out.

My corporation is based in IL. Ideally I'm looking to simply change agents, as while mine is competent, he's expensive and not good at remoting. I work exclusively from remote locations so it's essential that my accountant be comfortable with that. How would I go about getting a price quote for a basic S-Corp return in IL via Sanetax?

Can you email your contact info srini -at- sanetax.com

If you are already signed up at sanetax.com our support person should be contacting you soon.

I can see why tax professionals could be threatened/worried by this.

Effectively someone like myself living in a state with a high Cost of living can outsource to someone in say, IL (who may have CA tax knowledge but now lives elswhere) who would charge much less than the CA-based local accountant.

It's also a killer business plan for the marketplace vendor (ie, SaneTax). Who would have known that Amazon could have become such a giant by selling books online?

Thanks a lot for kind words. Well, we think that we are a great asset to tax professionals. They can use SaneTax as the CRM/support service and improve the customer satisfaction and get new customers.

Have you looked at Snap Tax? http://turbotax.intuit.com/snaptax/mobile

If I'm doing a simple filing, what is the value proposition of paying $100s for a tax professional using sanetax when I can use snaptax for $20 and submit right on my phone?

Great question. We get this many times.

Two things: 1. Who does the taxes? With snaptax, you still have to file your own taxes. Go through the questionnaire, go through the numbers and select right options.

With sanetax, you are letting an expert handle your taxes. Regardless how simple or how complicated are your taxes.

2. Expenses: With sanetax if you have simple returns, I have seen agents charging the customer $40. With snaptax, you need to spend both ~$20 and your time to complete taxes.

That only works on the 1040EZ which many people are not eligible for. I'd imagine the majority of people on this site for instance cannot use it.

Typo in the first Agent FAQ: "How can Sanetax help my bussiness?"


Thanks. Fixed.

The "Take a picture, upload, tax agent files your returns" sold me. Too bad I already filed my taxes.

Well may be your friends or next year :)

I got Access Restricted page What is mean exactly? Yes, I can fill captcha for access but page dont looks friendly, specially I sure that my machine clean from viruses.

Sanetax is a service where a real Tax Professional prepares your taxes with the convenience of online interaction.

Kudos to sanetax, but my earnest hope is that tax reform will abolish the use case for such a service.

I love it. Time to disrupt the status quo.

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