RED BANK - While growing up in Eatontown, a career in accounting was the furthest thing from Stephanie Perrin’s mind. But today, as the founder and owner of Two Rivers Tax & Accounting Service in Red Bank, Perrin’s choice of profession turned out to be the perfect match for her organizational and analytical skills.
“In high school, I always thought I wanted to be a doctor and ended up taking four years of Latin,” recalled Perrin, 52, a Rumson resident. “But by my senior year, I knew that the sciences weren’t for me. I took my first accounting class during my freshman year at Monmouth University and didn’t hate it, so I continued to take more accounting classes within a business management major.”
After graduating in the early 1990s, “I took a job in the internal audit department at a company, got my CPA license, and continued on in corporate America,” she said — until developments at her then-company forced her to re-evaluate her career plan.
“In 2011, I got downsized from my job working for a public homebuilder and had to figure out what I wanted to do next,” she said. “I’d always done taxes for myself, friends and family members and wasn’t an expert, but that’s what I decided I would do. That year, I bought a franchise tax service in Middletown and soon learned that I had a passion for taxes!” said Perrin, a self-described "tax junkie" who both loved and had a knack for the process.
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Though her franchise partnership didn’t work out and Perrin sold the business in 2014, she launched her own independent firm, Two Rivers Tax & Accounting Service, in 2015.
“I wanted to stay in the Middletown area because a lot of my clients were there,” said Perrin of her choice of location. As for her actual space, “a fellow member of one of the professional networking groups I belonged to told me that she had office space available in a great location on Bridge Avenue in Red Bank with plenty of parking and I moved right in,” she said. “Since then, Two Rivers Tax & Accounting Service has grown by 30% every year.”
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Tax preparation and more
Today, with 10 years of tax experience and nearly 30 years as a CPA under her belt, Perrin provides everything from the preparation of individual, partnership, corporate and S corporation tax returns to business formations for new businesses and divorce consulting from a tax perspective.
“I also provide IRS resolutions, such as when someone hasn’t filed returns recently, owes back taxes, or gets a notice from the IRS that they don’t understand — I help address any and all of those matters,” she said.
Her average fees for individual tax returns filed within one state range from $289 to $395, while more complicated returns involving partnerships and S corps can start at $1,100.
According to Perrin, the process of meeting with clients, gathering and sorting through documents, and preparing and processing their tax return involves several hours of her time. “Modern tax software helps streamline things, but you still need to know what forms to generate,” she said.
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Supported by two team members who assist with tax preparation — an accountant and an individual with a master’s degree in tax — “I meet with all of our clients, gather the appropriate information, and complete and/or review every return for accuracy before we file,” she said.
Perrin said tax software has continued to improve and that advances in technology have made the entire tax preparation process more efficient for preparers and clients alike.
“Years ago, you’d drop off your documents, sit with your accountant or tax professional to go through everything, and then they’d get back to you with a finished return, which you’d get a paper copy of in a folder,” she explained of the manual process of old. “Today, with electronic filing of documents and virtual platforms like Zoom, providers can work remotely; for example, I have clients in Florida, Colorado and Texas that I’ve never met in person.”
In addition to the shift towards electronic exchanges, “most clients don’t want a fancy printed presentation anymore; they’re happy to receive it electronically and find it easier to save it that way. Some clients still like a paper-file return and we’ll provide that upon request,” she said, “but everyone gets an electronic copy of their return as standard procedure.”
As for challenges, Perrin said that recent backlogs at the IRS have delayed resolutions for affected clients. “From the IRS shutdown that occurred when the pandemic hit in March 2020 to IRS employees working remotely and dealing with COVID themselves, mid-2021 changes to tax laws related to unemployment, and all of the stimulus payments that the IRS was tasked with administrating, clients of mine are still waiting to get refunds from the IRS or hear about back issues,” she said. “The IRS is working through all of these matters, but there’s an extreme backlog.”
Delivering peace of mind
With the annual tax season now in progress — “it runs from January through April 15 (this year April 18),” Perrin said — she noted that long hours go with the territory.
“Every January, I get all of my software and people ready to go and by late January/early February, clients get their W2s and begin reaching out,” she said. “For those few months, it’s a lot of appointments, calls, and hours, but that’s where I become the ‘tax junkie.’ I look forward to it and then I look forward to it being over — that’s the light at the end of the tunnel,” said Perrin, who typically books a vacation in late April to celebrate another successful season.
While Perrin supports DIYers who choose to do their own taxes, she encourages people to seek out a professional, especially if their returns are more complicated.
“It could take a layperson much more time than me to prepare their tax, which gets down to the value of their time, and they may not know if they’re preparing their forms correctly or leaving money on the table. There’s also no one to call if they have a question,” she said, noting that in addition to preparing their returns, her clients have full access to her for any tax or financial-related questions all year-round.
Looking ahead, Perrin hopes to continue growing, especially in the area of IRS resolutions (“I love a good win!” she said), and would someday love her college-age daughter to join her in the business. “She recently took an accounting class and thought that it wasn’t that bad!” Perrin said.
As for herself, “I love interacting with my clients and delivering peace of mind,” said Perrin, who enjoys the ever-changing, diverse nature of doing taxes. “No tax is the same and every client has different circumstances; it’s like you’re putting a puzzle together and resolving issues. In that sense, I’m basically a problem solver,” she said.
“Ultimately," Perrin concluded, "I love helping clients and get a lot of satisfaction when they’re happy with their tax return and the services I provide."
Two Rivers Tax & Accounting Service
Location: 55 Bridge Ave., Suite 5, Red Bank
Owner: Stephanie Perrin
This article originally appeared on Asbury Park Press: Red Bank 'tax junkie' CPA Stephanie Perrin solves your tax puzzles