Carlos Lopez, EA: Tax Prep Was the Perfect Fit
“I love seeing clients grow from workers to supervisors to business owners.”
For Carlos Lopez, EA, each day begins at 8:00 a.m., scrolling through emails that have quietly announced their arrival with bold font. When the inbox counter reaches triple digits it means that tax season has arrived: in other words, business as usual from January to April. Finishing this ritual generally means it’s time for the morning managers meeting, followed by reviewing and planning the financials. As president and CEO of Lopez Tax Service and executive director of Latino Tax Professionals Association (LTPA), Carlos knows the importance of maintaining an organized schedule to get things done – and it’s a habit that he comes by honestly.
Born in Fresno, California, today Carlos lives in Salinas, California, where he has been all of his adult life. But there was a time when he wasn’t anchored to just one place. “My dad was in the military so we moved around a lot,” he says. “I remember moving to Texas for a few years before moving right back to California when I was 15 years old. After finishing my senior year and getting ready to head off to college, I had attended at least four different high schools.” At the time, Carlos had no way of knowing that he would spend time in several different professions before finally settling on a career.
Tax prep was one of the last things on Carlos’ mind when he started college in 1970. While earning a Bachelor’s Degree in pre-med biology at Pacific Union College, he worked in a hospital kitchen and discovered he had a passion for preparing food. “By the time I finished my degree I had already decided to change careers and enrolled in culinary school to become a chef,” he says with a wry grin. “I even purchased a restaurant right as I was finishing my training.”
At the end of his first year in the restaurant business, Carlos collected all of his tax information and headed down to a CPA’s office to file his return. “When I saw what the CPA charged to do my taxes, I realized I was in the wrong business,” he laughs. “But really, working seven days a week in the restaurant quickly helped me realize that the food industry just wasn’t for me. So I went back to school to learn about accounting and taxes, sold the restaurant about a year later, and then – with the help of my wife Kristeena – started Lopez Tax Service in 1983.”
Tax preparation proved to be the perfect fit for Carlos, who immediately began formulating a business plan. “I knew that I wanted to focus on Spanish-speaking taxpayers and small business owners who needed professional tax and accounting services explained in their native language. And that would be my advice for anyone looking to start a business: Don’t just start a business or buy a franchise without having a passion to serve; money should be your fourth or fifth reason. Look for a problem to solve, and then figure out how you can sell that solution.”
Today, roughly eighty percent of the 9,200 tax returns Lopez Tax Service files each year are for Latino taxpayers – 200 of which are business returns. Aside from individual and business returns, Carlos prepares about 1,000 bank products each year and offers a number of other services to his clients, including notary public services; problem resolution and audit representation before the IRS, the Franchise Tax Board, and the Board of Equalization; bookkeeping and write up; and some in-house payroll.
More than thirty years since Lopez Tax Service opened its doors, Carlos’ tax practice has grown to accommodate six different locations that employ ten year-round staff members. “We ramp up to around 35 employees during tax season,” he admits, “which often means training seasonal staff.” Where some might see a necessary but – at times – frustrating task, Carlos saw an opportunity. “We developed in-house training systems to help new hires transition to the world of tax preparation. These programs proved to be so successful that we used them to launch the Latino Tax Professionals Association in 2007.”
LTPA is a natural evolution of the ideas that led to starting Lopez Tax Service: “We wanted to establish a Latino-focused community of tax professionals that provides easily accessible, high-quality tax training, and we’re doing that through LTPA-sponsored seminars and online education resources.” Since its inception, LTPA has steadily grown to include CPAs, EAs, attorneys, and other tax professionals dedicated to serving the Latino community.
“Starting LTPA changed my professional career,” he says. “I’ve been a major contributor to LTPA’s tax preparation guide and webinar series since 2007, and I’ve represented the organization at IRS National Forums since 2010.” Carlos’ professional life has revolved around a desire to help those in his community, whether through practicing medicine, cooking food, or preparing taxes. It should come as no surprise that he also spends his free time thinking of ways to help people.
Carlos helped start Suzanne’s Kids, a 501c3 non-profit organization dedicated to making sure that local students have the supplies they need to succeed during the school year, like backpacks, pencils, paper, and even clothes. His East Salinas office has donated teddy bears to local children for the past five years; this year with the help of local Spanish radio and TV stations they gave
away 1,000 teddy bears.
When not at work, Carlos loves to travel and take cruises with his wife. And while these trips are often the highlight of the offseason, he says that taking a leisurely walk through his neighborhood is one of his favorite things to do: “We are blessed to live in the foothills of the beautiful Salinas Valley; strolling through the neighborhood with Kristeena and our three dogs is one of those simple pleasures that I live for.”
Carlos lights up when talking about his loved ones, especially when the subject turns to the newest addition to his family. “We just became grandparents! It’s made me start thinking about slowing down over the next few years to spend more time with our grandson, but I’m not sure what I’d do without all the good friends I’ve come to know through my tax practice. I’m happy to have been blessed with a great career, close friends, and a wonderful family.”