How was my tax season?
Better than 2015 or 2016 in terms of no surgeries or health problems. Yay!
Better than ever before in terms of volume and billings. I was about 40% busier this year than last year. I also have about 40% more tax returns on extension compared to last year. Again, yay!
And yet, I’m really starting to not like what I’m doing. I used “hate” in the headline but I’m not sure hate is the right word. “Tired” is probably the better word.
I’m tired of a variety of things:
One: Being a Perfectionist is Not an Asset in this Field
I constantly worry if I checked the wrong box, or forgot to include something, or included something that I shouldn’t have included, on the tax returns I prepared. No joke, I wake up between 1:30 a.m. and 3 a.m. (the exact time varies night to night) every single night, my mind racing and worrying about the returns I’ve prepared.
I just know there’s “something” out there that I did wrong, and I never know when it’s going to rear its ugly head.
Yes, I have E&O insurance and yes I’m only human.
But I’m a perfectionist, and I’m finding that, surprisingly, this profession is actually not a good one for a neurotic perfectionist.
Two: I’m Tired of Being Held Responsible for Client’s Crap
- I despise the child tax credit and Form 8332 and Form 8867. “Oh, you’re not the custodial parent? Wait, last year you said you were. And oh, you don’t have a signed Form 8332? Oh, you’ve never gotten a signed Form 8332 from your ex even though you’ve been claiming that child since 2011? That’s just awesome!” And knowing that if I don’t verify the intricacies of sordid family arrangements, not only will the client get in trouble but the IRS will fine me $510 for not properly “certifying” the credit claim.
- With each passing year, I find that clients are taking less responsibility for the contents of their return and are instead expecting me to make all the decisions, and then they get mad when I push back and make them decide.
- There are so many landmines with tax law, especially with businesses. And most of the time, people don’t give us complete information, so I’m left playing the role of detective. And if I don’t ask the right questions, something will get reported wrong on the return … and then guess who gets thrown under the bus if the client gets audited? Example: S-corp buys a pickup in the corporate name. Big tax write off, the client says! But wait! The owner sometimes uses the truck for personal purposes. Ugh. “Oh, you don’t have a mileage log to break out business use vs. personal use of the truck? And oh, you didn’t include the value of the personal use in your W-2 last year? And I’m just finding out about this in April of the following freaking year? And you’re expecting a massive tax writeoff, when in actuality it’s probably going to be half or less of what you anticipated, thus making me the bad guy? That’s just awesome!”
Three: “How are Things Coming?” Makes Me Angrier and Angrier
I am finding I don’t handle the question from clients of “how are things coming?” very well anymore. Mainly because, it always seems to be a loaded question.
People are asking “just to check in.” So they say.
But reading between the lines, the real question is “why the hell aren’t you done yet, and why the hell is it taking so long?”
Well let me tell you why it takes 3-6 weeks (sometimes longer) for your precious-snowflake tax return to get finished: there’s not a single tax return on my desk that I can just sit down and “do” right this instant.
Every. Single. Tax. Return. — Every single one, has a complication that I have to research or ponder, or run a calculation on. And then I have to review it. And then I have to consider all the landmines, as mentioned above. And then I have to feel comfortable that I’m signing my name to something that resembles reality.
People with simple returns don’t use my services anymore. They “get their taxes won!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” by H&R Block or Turbo Tax. (And really, H&R Block, what the hell does “Get Your Taxes Won” even mean?)
And so I’m left with a batch of complicated tax returns, and I have to find time to navigate through the minefield without blowing myself or my client to smithereens.
And clients don’t seem to appreciate that I’m trying to protect them, and that’s the reason why “it takes so long” for your tax return to get finished.
Re-reading what I’ve written here, it sounds to me like I need to do what my wife recommended: turn off the computer, turn off my phone, and disappear for awhile. Because as it stands now, this past tax season fried me good and proper.
Join the discussion and tell us your opinion.
With success comes the stress. After filing over 1000 returns this past season I long for the days when I actually had to hustle for business. I read your post and can relate on every level.
I too am a perfectionist and this year I had software issues with the state returns calculating certain things correctly. Caused me to QC every state return line by line…ugh!
Then my glorious state decided it was a good idea to send audit letters to 1 out of every 3 of my clients over age 65. Ten minutes lost talking them off the ledge, ten minutes lost copying documents and mailing them out and ten minutes keeping their files updated added up really quick. Lost…unbillable…time!
To boot, a client received a CP-2000 in late March for 2015 where I picked up the wrong gross proceeds on the sale of a vacation home ($419K but I keyed in $410K). It completely threw me off my game and I spent the last 3 weeks of the season lacking self-confidence and triple-checking everything…even the 1040-EZs.
Your wife is 100% right…turn on the autoresponder for your email and change your voicemail message. You need 2 weeks off.
Now if I can only take my own advice!
Dave, you are right that when a mistake does come to light, it takes me WEEKS to get my mind in the right place again. And once I get 941s out the door today, I am shutting down and turning off the phone til at least Monday morning, maybe longer!
One addition to your fantastic rant: The question I hate is the one that follows the statement, “Can I ask you a quick question?”
The questions are often quick, but the answers NEVER are!
Ain’t that the truth! “Quick questions,” and another one: all the people who say “my tax return is really easy.”
I have become the curmudgeon who replies to “my return is really easy” with…” and you’re calling me because?”
And end of season I became hard line (had 5 times, FIVE! the returns after April 1 than any of the past 15 years), demanded half up front for the Extension and repeated at least three times, ,” IF your return is as you say, no dependents, one W-2, no mortgage or anything else, you will pay me twice what you will pay me up front for the extension. If it is not as you have represented, it will be considerably more. Are you certain you want me to prepare your return?’ Oddly, they all said “yes.”
‘Can identify…the terror of ruining somebody’s life with the slip of a finger or mere oversight. That temptation lurks at my door during the entire season. Blessedly, I know how to handle temptation and never let that one cross the threshold.
I’ve just become curmudgeonly with clients in general, and I hate that because that doesn’t really match my personality. But it wears on you. And, I need to become better at pushing the worries about mistakes out of my mind and just carrying on.