By Amit Noor
Gowrob Basak wants to take some of the stress and inconvenience out of filing tax returns for his clients in Woodside, Queens. During the wee hours of the morning and late at night, in rain and snowstorms, he is an accountant who makes house calls.
Basak provides a “very reliable service for quite a reasonable price and best of all, he came to my house on a Sunday evening on my day off,” says Shellina Begum, a sales representative in Queens and one of Basak’s first clients.
A Bangladeshi immigrant and 26-year-old graduate of Queens College, Basak’s service is among a growing number of small tax-preparation businesses, many of them owned by immigrants, in the New York area. He is trying to differentiate GB Tax Inc. amid a crowded market for tax-service businesses with the slogan, “We’ll come to you!”
Basak, who opened his tax business in January, hopes to attract customers, especially among the South Asian immigrant community in Woodside, who find it difficult to juggle family, school and work responsibilities and find time to travel to a tax preparer. Especially during his first year in business, Basak was banking on people who scramble, at the last minute, to find reliable low-cost tax services.
For both employees and business owners, filing taxes can be confusing and stressful. Yet, most employees and business owners, whether working full time or part time, including students and teenagers, are required to file federal tax returns. Most states also require individuals to file state tax returns. During the off-season — only proprietary businesses and the self-employed need to file taxes on a quarterly basis — Basak works full-time as an emergency radio dispatcher for the security firm AFA Protective Systems on Long Island to help support himself and his business.
Basak, who immigrated to New York in 1999 when he was 15 years old, spent his adolescence in Woodside, a quiet, multicultural neighborhood that is known for having the largest Irish-American community in Queens, but that also has attracted, since the 1990s, growing numbers of Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis. Basak began to work after high school as a part-time busboy and waiter to help support his family; his father works for a car service, driving his own livery cars, and his mother is a factory worker. “I have been working to support my family ever since I graduated from high school,” he says. “I have always valued hard work.”
After graduating from William Cullen Bryant High School, Basak earned an associate’s degree in accounting from LaGuardia Community College and a bachelor’s in accounting and information systems from Queens College. Basak, who is not yet a CPA, became interested in setting up his own tax-service business after he got a job at Tax Solvers, a privately owned tax service in the Queens Center Mall, in 2006, while he was a student at LaGuardia.
Tax Solvers offered him a full-time job as an accountant after his graduation. While his part-time work had been an “extremely valuable” experience, says Basak. “I always wanted to have my own business.”
So, instead of taking the job, Basak opened GB Tax and began luring clients from his former employer. Ms. Begum, whose tax returns Basak had prepared at Tax Solvers, is typical of the sort of client Basak hopes to cultivate. A resident of Woodside and a sales representative at Lite Choice, a soft-serve ice cream company, Begum is a Bangladeshi immigrant. She says she hired GB Tax in part because she and Basak share a native language, Bengali, and, of course, because of the house calls.
While GB Tax provides tax filing services for both individuals and businesses, Basak specializes in personal income taxes. Basak charges $130, his top rate, to do tax filings for self-employed clients, which, he says are the most complex and challenging because they can involve myriad deductions. By contrast, the top rate at H&R Block, which has a location nearby, in Woodside, is at least double, ranging between $119 to $400, depending on the complexity of the filing. A significant number of Basak’s clients are taxi drivers, many of whom have been referred by his father; he charges the drivers $45 for a simple single filing, compared with the $75 charged by Tax Solvers. To build his business, Basak also gives his clients a $10 discount for referrals. In addition, Basak has begun distributing promotional flyers, even as word of mouth and family connections continue to provide him with a growing list of clients.
During its first six months, GB Tax had approximately $7,000 in revenues. Basak spent close to $5,000 to set up the business, including the cost of license fees to set up a corporation under his name and to establish a home office with computer equipment and software; Basak lives with his parents and younger brother.
According to Basak, the economic downturn hit his prospective clients hard; many of his neighbors lost their jobs. Yet, despite the economic downturn, GB Tax has served nearly 100 clients so far.
But even during the best economic times, competition in the tax-service industry is intense, H&R Block alone has 35 offices in Queens. Says Bruna Castro, an accountant based at the Woodside branch, “We are available all year round, guarantee the best refund for the client and any problems with the return is quickly taken care of.”
The Internal Revenue Service has made the climate for small tax accountants more difficult through its Free File program, a partnership between the I.R.S. and various large tax-software companies. Free File provides free federal income tax preparation and electronic filing for eligible taxpayers; some of the participating companies offer state tax services for a fee.
But Basak is optimistic. As the economy improves, Basak expects to grow his business and to make house calls for an ever-widening network of clients. “I believe in customer service and my ability as a professional,” says Basak. These, he argues are “the most vital elements of a successful business.”