She feels terrible about it, but it's not Becky Sheldon's fault her clients are unhappy with their federal tax returns this year.

Most of them — about 65 percent, by her count — leave her office lately with the unhappy news they'll either have to write a check or get less money back than last year.

It means her clients won't be able to take their kids for Disneyland this year, or they won't be able to buy the new stereo they had their eyes on. But she can't help the situation.

"It's a real blow," the owner of Sheldon Tax Preparation on H Street said. "They leave here mad, and I'm the messenger. It's not been a lot of fun this year."

It's been one of those seasons for tax preparation professionals: The federal tax overhaul that went into effect in late 2017, combined in many cases with a lack of proper planning by local taxpayers, is resulting in some unpleasant tax-return surprises.

Wrong withholdings

Bakersfield Certified Public Accountant Richard Bowen said the situation often boils down to higher paychecks and lower refunds. That's because revisions made to federal withholding tables meant less money was taken out of people's paychecks — money that's now reducing or negating the checks people normally get from the government this time of year.

"I think 20 percent of people who kind of know what's going on got surprised," he said. "It's a big deal."

Another big change this year is that the per-child tax credit doubled to $2,000, which has been helpful for many families.

Deductions change

Also, the itemized deductions many people claim on their federal tax filings became unnecessary when the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 roughly doubled the standard deduction. For married couples filing jointly, the deduction was raised from $12,700 to $24,000.

Bowen said the change means people generally do not need to fill out the long forms for which she charges extra. The implication is that her clients in local ag and oilfields won't see any value in listing their car mileage, cellphone expenses or other work-related costs.

Adding to the confusion, she said, is that California income tax filings still make it worthwhile to fill out a list of deductions. She said customers who thought they could handle taxes on their own this year are learning late in the process that, for their state returns, at least, they need help.

Another problem Sheldon is coming across this year is people who received large work bonuses minimized their tax withdrawals, a move that ended up backfiring when tax time came.

"Worse thing they could have done," she said.

Proper planning

Not everyone's ending up in the hold when tax season hits. Diane White, tax principal at Bakersfield-based accounting firm Brown Armstrong, said clients of hers who have made the right adjustments to their federal withholdings are benefiting from overall lower tax rates under the tax overhaul.

Yes, she said, more clients than before are seeing smaller refunds. But not those who heed the firm's advice throughout the year.

"The surprises that we're seeing are (with) the people that don't do tax-planning and haven't paid any attention to their withholding," she said.

Same old procrastination

One thing that hasn't changed is people's tendency to put off their tax filings until the last minute, she said.

"People procrastinate," she said. "They don't want to get all this together. But also, they don't want to be bothered."

Bowen said he will always do his best to serve clients no matter when they come in. But he asked that they be considerate.

"Be nice to your tax-preparer. Get in on time. Do not wait until the last minute," he said. "Please be polite."

John Cox can be reached at 661-395-7404. Follow him on Twitter: @TheThirdGraf. Sign up at Bakersfield.com for free newsletters about local business.

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