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By David GordonDirector, Eaton Vance Advisor Institute

Starting a conversation with prospective and existing clients after "tax season" can be as simple as asking: "Did your tax bill (or refund) catch you by surprise this year?"

Most clients would consider a tax refund to be a good surprise, whereas additional taxes owed — possibly with penalties and interest — would be a bad surprise. Either answer opens the door for a conversation with an After-Tax Advisor, as does the third possibility ("I wasn't surprised.") What do you say next?

Remind clients who received a "good surprise" — a refund:

"One of the disadvantages to a tax refund is that you are simply being paid back a loan you extended to the government — without interest. It was always your money; you just could not access it. Let's imagine together for a moment what it would look like to stop making interest-free loans."

Advise clients who received a "bad surprise" — owing additional taxes:

"One way we might avoid a recurrence next year is to adjust the amount of taxes your employer withholds. With only seven months remaining to make up a 12-month shortfall, we should get started right away or consider making estimated tax payments later this year."

Help unsurprised clients identify unhealthy tax habits they might have fallen into:

"Apart from this year's happy experience, do you typically get surprised at tax time? Do you think the future might contain the potential for tax surprises?"

The After-Tax Advisor helps clients understand that tax surprises need not be a regular occurrence.

Bottom line: As an After-Tax Advisor, you might just be the best tax surprise clients have had in a while.

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