Liberty Tax helps Northeast navigate changes to tax preparation

Abby Hoover
Managing Editor

Liberty Tax at 3414 Independence Avenue has been meeting the Northeast community’s tax needs, for nearly a decade.

Owner Thomas Henggeler, who grew up near Truman Road and attended St. Stephan’s Academy with his four siblings, moved back to his childhood neighborhood 10 years ago.

His first year as a tax expert was in 2007 with Liberty Tax in Blue Springs while finishing his accounting degree. After graduation, he lived abroad until 2009, when he moved back to Kansas City and returned to Liberty Tax, this time in Westport.

With guidance from his employer, in 2011 Henggeler had the opportunity to buy a struggling Liberty Tax office in his old neighborhood. Within a year, it was the No. 1 office in the Kansas City region. He’s since expanded to own four locations in the metro.

As part of the CARES Act passed December 2020, Congress gave the IRS authority to use 2019 income to calculate 2020 refunds, which Henggeler called a “game changer” for a lot of people.

“I think a lot of people didn’t work in 2020 and they didn’t realize they could use the prior year income,” Henggeler said, adding that the IRS is down 10 million returns this season nationwide.

Henggeler said there’s no reason people shouldn’t file their taxes this year if they usually do, and that now they should definitely want to file. A common occurrence this tax season, Henggeler said if people didn’t get their stimulus last year, it’s because they hadn’t filed their taxes in five years.

“The IRS doesn’t know you exist… you could be bussing tables, working for cash, but if you don’t file a return you weren’t getting a stimulus last year,” Henggeler said. “This was a prime example of ‘do things the right way the first time,’ and there’s no shortcuts in life.”

Henggeler said there’s a lot of misinformation out there, or ‘barber shop’ tax advice, that suggests business owners and the self employed don’t report their full earnings, that can come back to bite. But he never judges clients who are trying to straighten out their tax returns.

Another reason he advises filing taxes that might not be obvious is to qualify for Medicare when turning 65.

“There’s a chance you won’t qualify, so it’s a good housekeeping measure, just always file your taxes,” Henggeler said.

Liberty Tax offers free estimates for individuals who walk into the Independence Avenue office. They’ll go over paperwork provided, assessing the situation, and walk through what the potential client owes and could get back.

Both the IRS and the state of Missouri have extended tax filing deadlines for individuals to May 17, 2021. Henggeler said there is no penalty for taking advantage of this extra time, but to be sure to file for an extension if additional time is necessary or be subject to a 10% failure to file penalty.

“The most recent change is that the IRS made unemployment up to $10,500 non-taxable,” Henggeler said. “For people who had already filed it was taxable, but they changed it in March. There have been more changes this year than any year in history.”

COVID-19 has affected every aspect of the tax industry, from filing deadlines and methods to day-to-day office life. Your neighborhood Liberty Tax office spent nearly $3,000 on supplies to combat COVID-19 throughout the past year, stepping up their regular “flu season” precautions.

“We do have online and Virtual Tax Pro, where you can upload your documents via the portal and you can remote sign – we have clients who have never stepped foot in our office this year and we’re doing their taxes,” Henggeler said. “We adapted, we overcame. We’ve had this technology since 2019, but it really became a blessing.”

At the Independence Avenue office, when Henggeler spends the most time, he and his six staff speak six languages between them – Thai and two of its dialects, Spanish, French, and English.

“Just because there’s so many cultures represented [in Northeast], we can’t speak everyone’s language, but we can get by,” Henggeler said.

He’s looking forward to making connections with more local immigrant business owners – with the help of Northeast Kansas City Chamber of Commerce Business Outreach Coordinator Rol Deng – to help those who qualify for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and other federal programs.

“I think now people are seeing the importance of filing, especially now with the stimulus checks,” Henggeler said. “If you haven’t filed your taxes because your income was down last year, make an appointment… at no cost.”

Those in need of tax filing help can book an appointment online with Liberty Tax on Independence Avenue, and walk-ins are accepted.

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