Tax season can be a scary time for many taxpayers, but it’s mostly because of a lack of knowledge. It’s a fear of the unknown: Will they owe taxes, will the IRS come after their business, etc.
Unfortunately, this fear can also snowball into tense relationships with their accounting professional. Here are some occasionally humorous (at least in retrospect) misunderstandings that many professionals really wish their clients understood.
- During tax season, only an accountant can understand that Monday is the day a client will call to tell you they are “coming down to the office with their ‘stuff.”
Explanation: It is amusing that after a weekend, clients will put their tax information together and then tell you they are coming to drop it off. Just drop it off, so I can work on it!
- Someone has to be first and someone has to be last.
Explanation: Seemingly everyone wants to get their taxes done first, and no one wants to be last. However, most people wait until the last minute. In the end, all taxes will be completed and the timing and scheduling eventually work out.
- Most clients want to kill the messenger.
Explanation: Upon learning that they owe money, clients often will question if the preparer made a mistake and get quite angry.
- Accountants don’t make the law—they simply apply it.
Explanation: Many clients get angry because they don’t think they are getting enough money back. Or, worse yet, they owe money, so they blame the preparer as if he or she could change the law to make the numbers better.
- Clothes are not usually deductible.
Explanation: It’s hard to believe how many people think their clothes are a deductible item. Unless the clothes are very specialized, they are not. As a wise accountant once said: “Do I get to deduct my pants when I wear a hole in them preparing returns?”
- No, the tax code doesn’t usually allow you to deduct your living expenses.
Explanation: Many clients think that they can deduct rent, utilities, groceries, and other living costs. Yes, if you have a home office, some of these may be deductible, but usually only a portion—not all of them.
- I do not work for the IRS, and I don’t get a commission from them.
Explanation: As a preparer, we don’t get a commission for having the client pay extra.
- Turn to an accountant instead of the IRS for tax help.
Explanation: Please don’t call the IRS to ask for their advice. Quite often the person who answers the phone is not an accountant, and the advice he or she provides is not reliable. Contact your CPA with your questions, and he or she will know the answers or will find the answers for you.
- We are human, and we do make mistakes.
Explanation: Even the most careful preparer makes mistakes. Usually, we will offer to fix the problem at no cost to the client.
- Just because I am an accountant doesn’t mean I am a tax expert.
Explanation: Most people think that if you have an accounting degree, you are a tax expert—that is like saying if you are a doctor, you can perform brain surgery. Some accountants are also tax experts, but not all are.
John Petosa, CPA, JD, is a Professor of Accounting Practice at Syracuse Joseph I. Lubin School of Accounting and also teaches in Whitman’s online master’s program, Accounting@Syracuse.