I’ve gone back and forth over the last few months about whether or not to share this. Eventually I decided that this is a glimpse into the real-world side of running a tax practice. And so I’m sharing.
I have the “yips.”
Normally we think of the yips as something athletes deal with.
The great golfer who suddenly can’t hit a six-inch putt.
The all-star pitcher who suddenly can’t find the strike zone.
Wikipedia has an article here that goes into more details about the yips in athletes.
There’s not a lot out there about the yips in a business setting. But I think I’ve got the yips. Yes, it can happen to a tax preparer.
What does this look like in a tax preparer? I’ll try to give you a flavor.
It started last tax season, during the overwhelming crush of work that needed done. And then finding things, little things, here and there on old tax returns, where maybe I should have at least asked more questions than I did.
One time last year, I became so convinced that I had made a horrible mistake on a business client’s prior return that I opened a claim with my E&O provider. Then I checked things again and realized I hadn’t made an error at all. Sorry, E&O provider, false alarm.
In another case, a client got a letter from the IRS about a mismatch between the IRS computers and the amount of mortgage interest shown on the return.
The client had received two mortgage statements — one of which was marked “corrected.” In the prior year the client had a line of credit, so I didn’t look closely enough at the forms while I was preparing the return. I entered one in as their primary mortgage and the other as their line of credit. (The line of credit had been paid off in that prior year and no longer existed.)
The IRS computers of course caught this and spit out a letter. The client had to pay extra taxes. Luckily there were no penalties, and only a small amount of interest (which I covered). The world kept turning. But things like this plant seeds of doubt in my own mind.
Paralyzed to the Point of Not Even Finishing 1040EZs
This has manifested itself in me, at times, becoming so paralyzed with fear of making a mistake that work sits on my desk for weeks — sometimes months — in a state of “almost finished.” I’m afraid to finish it and send it out the door because it might have a mistake.
I have one 1040EZ on my desk right now, and even it is sitting longer than it should.
In 2017 I cut loose several clients whose situations I deemed to be “too complicated” for me to continue helping them.
But then existing clients throw curveballs at me. Here’s just one recent example out of many:
A client who’s always had a simple return asked: “I bought into a Canadian business that my family owns, and I did so on December 30th. Do we need to report anything on our 2017 personal return?”
I said I’d look up what needed to be reported. This client probably needs a Form 5471 and maybe a Form 8938 — each one with mind-numbing rules and each form carries a $10,000 penalty if you so much as commit a foot fault.
I Learn Something New Every Day
It seems like everywhere I turn, there’s something new about the tax code that I didn’t know before.
I learn something new about taxes every day. Every preparer I talk to — even those who have been doing this for 30+ years — say that they also learn something new about taxes every day. But for me, this aspect of being in tax practice is terrifying.
I sometimes just sit at my desk, looking at old tax returns I’ve prepared, and I wonder: what’s lurking out there that I screwed up and that’s going to surface?
This article probably makes me sound like I’m crazy. But really I’m just a perfectionist in a field where it’s almost better to just prepare things, send people on there way, and not worry. If an issue comes up, fix it. If need-be, turn to your E&O insurance. Then move on. The problem is, I’m not built to just “not worry” about mistakes that might be lurking out there. So it’s hard.
But I plug along because I really don’t have another choice.
I feel like I’m coming out on the other side finally. I mean, I’m excited for tax season, so that is a positive sign.
All I know is, having the yips can happen outside of sports, and when it happens, it really stinks.