At this time of year, just about everyone is thinking about income taxes or soon will be. All across the nation, more than 11,000 H&R Block offices stand ready to help make what can sometimes be a confusing process easier for individuals and small business owners.
Some H&R Block outlets are company-owned. Many, however, are franchise operations. In Fort Dodge and Humboldt, there was a change of franchisees on Dec. 4, 2013. Abby and George Berger now own the franchises for both communities.
Abby Berger has long been part of the H&R Block team in Fort Dodge, having worked at that office for more than 15 years. Her husband is also well-known in the local business community. He is co-sales manager at Champion Pre-Owned Center, 3021 Fifth Ave. S.
-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Abby and George Berger look over some instructions recently at H&R Block in Fort Dodge. The couple have recently purchased the franchise at 1310 Central Ave.
George Berger said he and his wife have been exploring the purchase of the Fort Dodge and Humboldt H&R Block franchises for several years. He said he will be continuing his role at Champion while his wife will be at the helm in their new business venture.
"Abby's worked here for 15 years," he said. "I'm going to be kind of a silent partner in this. She is the beauty and the brains behind the operation. ... It was previously owned by a lady from Nebraska. A couple years ago her husband passed away. She was essentially looking to downsize."
The Bergers said they are committed to continuing the top-notch service that has made H&R Block successful nationally as well as locally. Some changes, however, are in the works.
"The office at 1310 Central Ave. is going to get a facelift over the next two years," George Berger said. "It will be a complete interior renovation. It will start this summer. We'll do it in stages over the next three years. We'll have a complete remodel."
Abby Berger said the services offered will be expanded beyond tax work. Bookkeeping, payroll and accounting services will be added to the mix. She said those functions are already part of what H&R Block markets in many communities and now will become part of the focus in Humboldt and Fort Dodge.
Meet the owners
George Berger grew up in Lohrville. He graduated from Southern Cal in Lake City in 1990. Berger then went to work in his father's body shop and auto sales business. He has been in sales work for most of the time since. When his brother, Joe Berger, partnered with Darin Putney to open the Champion Pre-Owned Center in 2007, George Berger teamed with co-sales manager Dick Williams to lead that enterprise.
Abby Howland Berger is a native Fort Dodger. She graduated from Fort Dodge Senior High in 1993 and continued her education at Iowa Central Community College, completing an accounting specialist program. She has been doing taxes since she was 21. Her parents are Dr. Roger and Lois Howland who operated Town & Country veterinary clinic for more than three decades. They sold the business in 2007 when they retired.
"George's parents were self-employed and so were mine," Berger said, noting that she and her husband have a lifelong appreciation of what it takes to make a small business succeed.
The Bergers have two children. Isabelle, 9, is a fourth-grader at Cooper Elementary School. Alex, 4, is in Dodger Pre-School.
About H&R Block
H&R Block, headquartered in Kansas City, Mo., is the world's largest preparer of individual and small business tax returns. According to information provided by the company, it prepares one out of every six tax returns in the United States. That impressive number is growing. It was one in seven only a couple years ago.
The following statistics supplied by H&R Block illustrate just how large the company has become since it was founded by brothers Henry W. Bloch and Richard A. Bloch in 1955:
H&R Block employs more than 80,000 tax professionals nationally.
In fiscal 2013, H&R Block had revenues of $2.9 billion and prepared 25.4 million tax returns worldwide.
Since 1955, H&R Block has prepared more than 625 million tax returns.
In 2013, H&R Block helped clients claim more than $50 billion in tax refunds, credits and other government benefits.
Abby Berger said locally, between the Humboldt and Fort Dodge offices, the H&R Block team prepares 3,500 federal individual income tax returns in a typical year. The combined federal and state returns prepared exceeds 6,500.
She said a high priority is placed on making sure the tax preparers fully understand the tax laws.
"We offer a basic incoming tax course that is a prerequisite to being eligible to being hired," Berger said. "From there we have to have continuing education hours every year. The IRS requires 15. H&R Block has always done a little more than that. ... And H&R Block corporate offers continuing education online as well."
Clients can depend on the accuracy of the returns H&R Block professionals prepare because the company stands behind the work, Abby Berger said.
"Our services are 100 percent guaranteed," she explained. "If we made an error on the return, we will pay their penalty and interest and refund their tax preparation. If they purchase an optional product we offer, that will also pay the tax up to $5,000."
Berger said satisfied customers are repeat customers and she is proud to report that her team of professionals sees many of the same faces year after year.
"You build a relationship with your tax preparer," George Berger said. "A lot of people are starting on the second generation of their family. Mom and Dad come here and then they bring their son or daughter."
For most people who visit a tax preparer, one of the goals is paying only the taxes they owe. That desire is at the heart of the company's current marketing campaign.
"This year's sales pitch is get your billion back," George Berger said. "Last year taxpayers left a billion dollars on the table. H&R Block's goal is to get you back every penny that you are due. In order to do that, you have to know the tax laws."
The H&R Block office in Humboldt is at 632 Sumner Ave. During the busiest times of the year, Abby Berger said the combined work force at the two locations is about 18.
Berger is not the only member of the local team with a long tenure at H&R Block.
"There are five tax preparers between the two offices who have worked here more than 12 years," she said. "We have one who has been here 20-some years."
Berger said the total years of tax preparation experience of all the team members at the two offices is about 120.