The first tax return that my mother, Maria Elena Bertrand, prepared was in 1955 for my grandmother and grandfather. It was prepared on an IBM punch card, if you even know what that is. She was 14 years old at the time. For the next 15 years my mother prepared tax returns for our family, various neighbors and some coworkers. She would read the booklet that the IRS would send to taxpayers from beginning to end and follow the instructions. Eventually the complexity of the tax returns she prepared increased.
We moved to Miami from Queens, NY (my place of birth) in 1971. Shortly thereafter, she began preparing tax returns for the neighborhood and actually started to charge a nominal fee, thus her tax preparation business was born. She prepared the tax returns from the same home I lived in for 40 years of my life.
As you can see, it was initially done to accommodate people, but she gained valuable experience and she enjoyed it a lot. It was fun for her as she loved to reminisce with the clients. She would pencil in the forms using her adding machine for calculations and copy the forms in ink after the client was finished and satisfied. As she copied them in ink, she would review the math for accuracy. She would only prepare one tax return per evening.
The business jumped greatly in the 1980s as computers were introduced. My mother used to prepare the tax returns on a Commodore 64K, retrieve the forms at the IRS office in downtown Miami, and have my friend Roly or myself print them out page by page aligning each page in the very primitive printer.
Around the same time at the age of 14, I began helping my mother with forms 1040EZ and 1040A. We were doing those forms at the time by hand. Each client would have their own floppy disk, for those of you that remember what those are. In those days, she could not imagine that she would ever reach over 650 clients, which was how many clients she ultimately had.
By 1990, my mother purchased a PC, a laser printer, and the Intuit program that we still use today. Roly and I were not too thrilled to find out that we were out of jobs due to the new technology, but we were young, so it wasn’t too bad. Her decision to keep up with the technology was a great one, as her client base increased.
By 2000, she had been retired from her full time job at Dade County Public Schools as Chief Accountant and began to train me in all aspects of income tax preparation, including the preparation of personal and corporate tax returns.
In the 2004, as a teacher at MacArthur South Senior High School, I would hire students to work for me after school. Their tasks would include answering phones, scheduling appointments, etc. We worked out of the same house in Sweetwater, which is where the business originated. My students and I would complete our educational obligations by 2:30pm, then drive to my house and begin preparing tax returns and answering phones from 3pm to 10pm. It was a somewhat rough time having two jobs and a 3 year old daughter, but ultimately it was all worth it. As the business continued to grow, I began to train my students in tax preparation. By 2006, I left teaching and focused my full attention to income tax preparation. At this point my students and I were still operating out of the house in Sweetwater.
One day another friend of mine, Jim Aguiles, came to the house to have his taxes prepared. Jim was sitting on my sofa with 12 other clients in the living room and said to me, “Dude, you have got to get an office.” At that moment I began to plan for the purchase of a new office and how the layout should be, and by that I mean four hours drawing up a VERY rough draft of the design.
In 2007, I purchased an office at our current location, Suite 224. This is when the business really started to grow. Since then I have brought in additional tax preparers, most of which I have known for decades.
Coincidentally, at work is where I met my beautiful wife, Marlene Kalaf-Hernandez. Marlene was assisting me at the time as a receptionist and working for FREE, if you can believe that. She is now my office manager and responsible for all of the administrative staff in the office.
Today FHTS consists of three offices at the current location, as we purchased the neighboring Suite 223 and Suite 222. Our staff currently consists of 8 preparers including myself and we prepare over 10,000 tax returns on a yearly basis. As you can see, we have come a long way since my mother’s first tax return in 1955.
I would like to thank my staff and most importantly my mother, Maria Elena Bertrand, for making this possible.
Love You Mom
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