March 30th, 2009

My future as an non-accountant

I noticed—in this piece that purports to tell us what jobs are probably not going to go out of style in the near (or even distant) future—that “accountant” led the list.

Well, that’s awfully nice—for accountants. But having been up last night till the wee hours of the morning (and even the not-so-wee hours) doing my taxes, I know that, despite the advantages and the job security, an accountant I’ll never be.

What a headache-inducing, cold-sweat-creating, frustration-inspiring chore! Of course, I was more emotionally involved in last night’s endeavor than an accountant would be for a client because, after all, it was my taxes, and my ever-dwindling store of money, that were being taken away. But I also know that doing taxes is an activity I utterly loathe, and I’m not sure you could pay me enough money to take it up as a profession. And I suspect (actually, I know) that I am hardly alone.

My father was a CPA, and I well remember the drill. My parents would go away in mid-February in an attempt to store up some relaxation for the coming assault. But from the time of their return in late February until that long-awaited-for date in the middle of April, my father would sit at a small table in our living room every night when he came home from work, filling out large sheets of checkered paper and stacks of tax returns. He did this till bedtime, and then got up in the morning and set out to do it again.

I imagine that nowadays this is all computerized. Certainly, at the very least, electronic calculators are a large part of it. But in my father’s era it was a matter of his own brainpower doing the computations and then entering everything by hand. I don’t think he trusted calculators anyway; he trusted himself.

We children tiptoed around him even more than usual because we knew it was tax time. After the magic Ides of April things improved, but till then you stayed away and stayed quiet.

I think my father enjoyed the neatness of math, and took pride in his reputation as one of the best accountants around. He also was a lawyer, and so he didn’t do this all year, although for a few months it seemed to take over everything.

I think some people have an affinity for seizing the messiness of life and trying to impose order on it through numbers, and some of those people are called accountants. The rest of us can either pay them to do our taxes, or gnash our teeth every April as we do our own—and reflect in awe on those for whom this is an everyday event.

accountantpaper.jpg

6 Responses to “My future as an non-accountant”

  1. T Says:

    Neo,

    I used to do my own taxes long-hand also. I find that the tax prep software now available is really worth the cost. If you haven’t considered it, you may find that it is a real contribution to one’s sanity. It also helps to find legal deductions and credits that are often overlooked in the arcane world of income taxes.

    One small note: The Ides is the middle of the month and occurs on the 15th only in March, May, July and October of the old Roman Calendar (the Ides of April is actually the 13th, although with 30 days in Gregorian April, I guess one could argue that the Ides of April should be the 15th). Going back to my grad student days, there was a little verse I tried to remember and couldn’t find on the web. I believe it started thus: “On March, July, October, May, the Ides falls on the 15th day. . . .” For more detailed information see the following link

    http://www.infoplease.com/spot/ides1.html

  2. waltj Says:

    I used to own a seasonal tax-prep business, with most of my work coming from a contract I had with a CPA who had a big tax practice. Sometimes I’d do it all myself, or other years I’d subcontract out some work to a couple of other trained tax preparers I knew to help out, depending on how busy it looked like my CPA would be. My little firm did most of the scut work of inputting the data into his specialized software (think Turbo Tax or Tax Cut, but also with far more options for businesses, partnerships, and trusts, and also with a caseload management feature), while the CPA or one of his partners checked our numbers and signed off on the return. Trained as an accountant myself, I never minded the detailed, allegedly mind-numbing tasks of plugging in numbers and other data. Sometimes, you just get in “the zone” and lose track of time while inputting the data. But creative work it wasn’t. Get too “creative” regarding the tax code, and people go to jail, often starting with the tax preparer.

    We must have been doing something right–my business returned a profit every year I ran it, and none of our returns was ever audited by the IRS or state taxation department. But I shut it down several years ago when I moved overseas. Now, with no property or business interests in the States to worry about, I fill out 1040EZ every year. I use Tax Cut (from H&R Block’s website) and it takes me about 45 minutes to complete. EZ indeed.

  3. camojack Says:

    Ah, tax time. Deadline’s a-comin’! :-(

    I already got my refund ;-)

  4. Dan Says:

    I am a CPA working in industry, having left public accounting years ago. I hated taxes in public accounting, and despise doing my own and various family members’ returns each year.

    Some of my CPA colleagues are very much attracted to work in taxation, it takes a certain personality. Higher level tax planning and accountancy involves much research, and has more similarity to legal scut work than it does to auditing, financial reporting, or dealing with real, live business work. It is constrained by rules that are every bit as arbitrary as they are arcane.

    I started using TurboTax when Congress made capital gains taxation too complex to even handle a simple mutual fund annual statement without automation.

    We desperately need tax reform and simplification, but lawyers and professional tax preparers have a stake in the current system. I attend conferences where highly paid professionals specialize in just one tiny niche of income taxation, or estate taxes. They don’t want a more efficient system, and the Congress members have their peculiar notions of what is fair…

  5. Kent Says:

    I do my own personal taxes and those of my family. I also take care of payroll and quarterly taxes for my wife’s business. An engineer by training, I do find some comfort in the ordliness of numbers. By keeping good records though the year and somehow transforming those records into a defensible tax return, I can bring some small amount of order to an otherwise messy world.

    I think engineers and accountants are really cut from the same cloth. Both professions require great attention to detail. Both require precision. But engineering is easier! The laws of physics do not change with every new political administration!

  6. Obi's Sister Says:

    That ledger page gave me flashbacks to many cram nights at college. Accounting 101 was a bear for me!

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.
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