Tax season officially opened Tuesday, and Michelle Rhodes wasted little time getting her return.
The mother of two wanted to find out just how much she'd owe or receive on her 1040 tax return so she could budget for the rest of the year.
She was smiling as she left the Ringgold Road Liberty Tax office Friday afternoon.
"It came out awesome," she said. "You see what you're going to get, so you can already have it spent."
She's going to put the money to be returned by Uncle Sam toward her son's tuition at Baylor and is happy to have an unexpected cash boost.
Rhodes is one of more than 100 people who have already filed returns at one of the 28 Chattanooga-area Liberty Tax offices.
Across the Chattanooga area, more than 45 tax offices began opening daily this month, kicking off the four-month filing season when taxpayers will file their 2011 income tax returns.
Customer volume is the name of the tax services game. Several local offices offer incentives for customers to stop in.
"It's the volume," said John Hewitt, chief executive officer of Liberty Tax Services. "It's sort of like McDonald's. That's why McDonald's can sell hamburgers for a dollar instead of $15 at a gourmet restaurant."
Liberty charges $259 for preparation of a standard tax return, but will prepare a 1040-EZ form for free.
Most early filers expect money back and hope for some quick cash, according to several area tax preparers. In mid-February, offices tend to have more clients who are forced to wait for information on expenses such as mortgages. When the April 17 filing deadline approaches, preparers see a growing number of clients who put off filing because they worried they would owe the government some money.
But Diana Jacobsen, a master tax adviser at one of H&R Block's 17 area offices, said even those without the money to pay their taxes should start preparations for filing now.
"If you think you're going to owe money, you may as well come in sooner and figure out if you do owe," she said. "If you do, figure out how much you owe so you can save, because you don't have to pay until the April deadline."
Whether filers are getting money back or finding out they have to put more in, Chad Chastain, owner of eight local Liberty Tax offices, said he's happy to help taxpayyers get the best return possible.
"It's got a lot of headaches with it, but the beauty of it is helping people," he said. "It's keeping the lights on in people's homes. It's keeping them from getting evicted."