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Meet Mike Wallen of Highland Tax Group in Lower Highlands

Today we’d like to introduce you to Mike Wallen.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Mike. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I started in the tax resolution industry in March of 2004. Prior to that, I attended and finished my undergraduate degree at the Metropolitan State University of Denver. After graduating in December of 2003, I continued to work construction (Glass Installer) for a larger commercial outfit in Denver. On my birthday, February 26th, 2004, I was laid off from my job. Thereafter I decided I would put my degree to work – which was in behavioral science. I applied at several psych departments, within the school system, and separately, and never received a callback.

Finally, I applied with a tax resolution firm in Broomfield, interviewed, and secured an administrative position within the company two short weeks later on March 10th, 2004. I immediately took to the organization, set up, and the work involved with helping people get back on their feet financially. One of the first experiences I can remember was a client who I helped settle his $90,000 tax bill for less than $1,000. He couldn’t thank me enough and even invited me out for dinner to celebrate. I will never forget the feeling of helping someone out who was in such a tough financial situation. Hence, why I continue to offer the services and help, I offer today through the Highland Tax Group, Inc.

After working as an admin for eight months or so (and tending bar part-time to put food on the table), I was promoted to an associate and never looked back. I worked for three additional companies over the next ten years, gaining experience as I went along.

Finally, in October of 2012, a former co-worker approached me about starting a business with him, offering tax resolution work and helping people across the country. I said yes, and we partnered over the next ten months or so to offer tax resolution services to all 50 states. Unfortunately, we didn’t see eye to eye on how to grow the practice and ended up going our separate ways on August 20th, 2013. The same day I went home and with a yellow pad and pen, I started Highland Tax Group, Inc.

Since then, I have grown the practice, organically, to include another Enrolled Agent and associate, Megan Scott, and an administrative assistant and accounting student at my alma mater, Metro State. We have helped 100’s of taxpayers (business owners, individuals, and corporations) resolve their tax issues by way of settlements or offer in compromise, payment plans, and penalty waivers. We successfully represent taxpayers in all 50 states but most of our clientele reside here in Colorado.

Has it been a smooth road?
It has not been a smooth road, but a consistent one. We’ve experienced consistent growth in terms of clients and revenue streams since our inception. However, this doesn’t come without growing pains. One of our largest challenges as a company, especially a smaller firm, has been staffing. We had another enrolled agent working with us for a period of almost two years, and it just wasn’t the right fit. Further, we have gone through a few administrative assistants in our seven-year time frame.

In May of 2017, I ended up contracting a bacterial form of meningitides and was hospitalized. I was in a transition with an employee at the time. Further, she was working out of state. While being hospitalized, for a five day period, I was told I could have been in the ICU for months or died from this particular strain of meningitides. I was on the home administration of antibiotics for two weeks after my hospital stay. I notified my clients of the time off, not necessarily the sickness, and advised I would be back in the office full time come mid-June. Needless to say, since I have stopped alcohol intake (as part of this was what landed me in the hospital in the first place) and have figured out my why. Beyond helping individuals with tax issues, recently, I became a father to a wonderful young man named William. He was born in September of 2018, and I’ve realized the “why” behind why I have survived such a traumatizing experience.

We have gone through and survived two long term government shutdowns. The first government shut down was in October of 2013, shortly after our inception. Since we were so new, and we didn’t have any overhead, we survived on our existing clientele revenue streams the tail end o 2013. The second shut down was a little more of a headache, as a larger company, with an office, employees, and payroll, it wasn’t the easiest to survive a 35 day shut down. Again, we managed to squeak by with existing client revenue, while our shortcoming was new sales. When the IRS is closed, clients aren’t hiring us or seeking our services.

This year, we were fortunate enough to be able to pay our bills a few months ahead of time, planning for a pending government shutdown. There was talk of the government shutting down again this past December, pending budget approval. Thankfully, the budget was approved and the IRS stayed open, operating, sending out IRS notices and tax liens to taxpayers who are indebted to them. This is what keeps us in business.

Since we’re a smaller boutique firm, we rely heavily on new client sales and existing client revenue. We are a self-funded business without investor relations, bank loans, or any sort of debt on our books.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Highland Tax Group story. Tell us more about the business.
Our company specializes in helping individuals, businesses, and the self-employed with IRS tax problems. We specialize in offer in compromise, installment agreements, penalty abatements, new company restructuring, lien withdrawals, subordinations, and discharge applications, as well as levy releases. We are most known for assisting individuals with the offer in compromise process, helping them settle on the tax liability for less than is owed. We are also known for helping business taxpayers with 941 employment tax liability, the subordination of liens, and helping businesses get into the best resolution plan to fit their needs.

What we’re most proud of as a company is being able to grow organically, provide excellent customer service and follow up to our client base, and obtain real tangible results. We grow based on word of mouth and our reputation online. We currently have 53 5-Star Reviews on Google and a myriad of reviews on other sites like Yelp. It can be challenging in our environment to secure reviews, as generally, people want to hide the fact they had a tax issue in the first place. We’re forever grateful for our clients and business partners who have taken the time to let others know about their experience with our company.

Specifically, the work product and interim solution we’ve been most proud of as of late is keeping a tax lien from being filed against our client, who owes the IRS over $3.1 million in payroll taxes. Our client is a larger oil and gas service provider ad relies heavily upon factored invoicing. If a tax lien is filed against our client, by the IRS, it will put them out of business. We’ve successfully kept a tax lien from being filed since September of 2019.

What sets us apart from others is how we market and sell our services. For starters, like other companies in our industry do, we don’t chase down tax lien leads. In other words, when a tax lien is filed, it becomes public record, and the industry standard is to solicit business by way of calling, sending mailers, and following up with clients who have had a tax lien filed against them personally or against their business. We have chosen to develop relationships with other financial/tax/legal professionals in Denver, Ft. Collins, Boulder, and Colorado Springs, as well as across the country, to offer our services to their clients.

We also market heavily online to our customers by providing information online about recent and upcoming IRS trends, how the IRS collects, and how one can get help from our company. Lastly, since we’re a boutique firm and not a larger firm, we can provide a dedicated, hands-on service with over 20 years of experience in dealing directly with the IRS. We specifically tailor a customized solution for each of our clients prior to sending a proposal to the IRS. This gives us the opportunity to engage with each customer face to face and get to know our clients’ financial, business, and personal picture before resolving the problem.

How do you think the industry will change over the next decade?
The industry is shifting and the IRS is finally implementing technological changes to help ease the burden of resolving cases. Mostly having to do with customer service, tax representatives will be able to do more online. With the advent of these same changes comes new security measures and features as well. The IRS has discussed implementing facial recognition technology to verify taxpayer representatives prior to giving out taxpayer information. I imagine the IRS will be able to send electronic messages to taxpayers and representatives alike, which is a huge shift from sending mail through the US Postal Service. Lastly, since tax changes depend on budget approvals, as well as who is in office politically, we can only hope the government will approve adding staff to an already depleted and underresourced IRS workforce.

How do you think the industry will change over the next decade?
The industry is shifting and the IRS is finally implementing technological changes to help ease the burden of resolving cases. Mostly having to do with customer service, tax representatives will be able to do more online. With the advent of these same changes comes new security measures and features as well. The IRS has discussed implementing facial recognition technology to verify taxpayer representatives prior to giving out taxpayer information. I imagine the IRS will be able to send electronic messages to taxpayers and representatives alike, which is a huge shift from sending mail through the US Postal Service. Lastly, since tax changes depend on budget approvals, as well as who is in office politically, we can only hope the government will approve adding staff to an already depleted and underresourced IRS workforce.

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Image Credit:
Butterose Photography

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