I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve made some pretty unfortunate choices when it comes to CPAs. I naturally gravitate towards those who work for themselves or have a small office rather than a large firm, mostly because I feel that they live the self-employed lifestyle and will therefore “get” me better than a seasonal tax preparer at an accountancy giant. But this has put me in some really unfortunate situations over the years, and I’m just done with it. I do my own taxes now, and this is my fifth year. Half a bottle of Excedrin and a few hours of drudgery a year are a very small price to pay for not having to rely on someone else who could very well let me down, to put it very mildly. Are you ready for some stories?
The first time I needed an accountant was during my time as a massage therapist in New York City. I was approached by a CPA to barter services, 3 massages to review 2 past years of taxes and do the current year’s. I was fairly new to self-employment after 8 months of unemployment, so sure, deal! Everything was going great for the first two massages and tax discussions, I was delighted with his advice and tidbits of information…and then came the third massage. Think: 3rd Date Rule. Yeah. Up to this point, nothing hinky had happened and then…”You know what would make this massage better? KISSING!” And it was like a bad cartoon moment, with inflated lips coming at me in slow-motion. Not amusing at the time, but definitely retro-funny now. What a shame, I’d have paid for his services going forward if he’d behaved his damn self.
I got a recommendation from a client who had side hustle income and was very happy with his numbers every year. Okay, great, sign me up! I went on to use this CPA for about 6 years. Along comes a bill from the IRS for late payment of taxes roughly equal to the amount I’d just paid, so I broke the Epic Liar’s rule #1 and called the IRS to find out what it was all about. Well it turns out Epic Liar lied to me about filing an extension. I asked about the previous year because I remember wondering about that too, and the phone agent confirmed that no extension had been filed that year either.
I’m guessing that call triggered the audit of four categories of expenses for those same two years. But that’s not what earned Epic Liar his nickname.
Epic Liar said he’d handle it, I gave him power of attorney to discuss with the agent, and left all necessary paperwork with him. Then he ghosted me. Turns out he never once contacted the agent in charge of my case, which I didn’t find out until I got a notice that I had to pay the $10,000+ bill, show up in tax court, or agree to arbitration. I ran out of sufficiently filthy names to call that rat-bastard. I couldn’t even get my receipts and documentation back from him, but online records and statements helped, and arbitrage resolved the rest very satisfactorily. I’m kind of glad it went the way it did, and that there is still a human factor and not some kind of robo-auditor that does this – just sayin’, because I know that’s a future possibility…hopefully pretty far down the line.
My next and final attempt to use a professional was a small family firm in Brooklyn recommended by a long-time self-employed friend. I was pretty happy the first 2-3 years, so even though I lived in Florida, I flew up for my taxes (and some visits with old friends AND the St Patrick’s Day parade to make it worthwhile). I noticed that they had hired some pretty low quality seasonal help when I overheard three of them trying to figure out how to open Excel spreadsheets from an email attachment. Umm…how is that not second nature to you at this point?? Even better when I heard them refer to how these spreadsheets were more annoying than PFDs (no, that’s not a typo). Then I got my tax bill – almost double despite very little fluctuation in income. When I spoke to the friend who made the original recommendation, he said he’d had the same experience and was going to find someone else. Thank you, next.
Faced with the prospect of finding someone to trust with my taxes again, I gave up in 2016. I was still semi-traumatized by the audit in 2012-13 and decided that if I was ever going to be audited again, it was going to be my own damn fault. I wasn’t going to pay someone to drop me in that particular Pit of Despair just so I could pay yet another person even more money to bail me out of it. I don’t know if this move makes me clever or foolish, but it’s the only way I get to feel in control of things, so I’ll take it.
Sidenote: I’m also distrustful of online tax programs to do my situation right (my mom can’t even get TurboTax to let her fix a typo in her birth year), so I do my taxes by hand. Seriously Old School, I know. Sadly, this seems to mean that my taxes are the last ones they process, and now my stimmies are all messed up. If that’s the only downside to doing my own, I can deal.