Wednesday, March 28, 2007

CPAs and IRS Lamaze

Well, hubs and I went to the accountant yesterday to get our taxes done. I had been doing the taxes during the early years of our marriage, what with the experience of growing up with accountants and penny pinchers behind me, but then I had Spawn one December, and I wasn’t up to doing the taxes that year, so we started using this particular accountant.

Our accountant is a special favorite of hubs’ for a couple of reasons. First of all, he used to bill himself, unofficially, as “The Shoebox Accountant,” which meant that if you brought him all your stuff in a shoebox, in no particular order and sometimes frightfully crumpled or spotted or horrible, he’d straighten it all out, fit for an audit or military inspection, and get your impossible taxes done. The second reason hubs likes our accountant is because he’s kind of a “shoebox” personified. His office is not your usual pseudo-banker looking professional office. Instead, it looks like a warehouse full of generally detested stuff in decaying boxes, which are lying at all kinds of angles, books stacked haphazardly around, computers cobbled together with all manner of dirty, used parts, and the boxes and grocery bags of his clients are stowed higgledy-piggledy around the office.

Also, the accountant is a lifelong, diehard Chicago Cubs fan, so he’s almost always wearing a Cubs shirt or cap, and the walls have a junk store appearance with yellowing Cubs posters, CPA plaques given to him by his loving children, or made in school decades ago, and maps. I’m not sure I understand the maps, but maybe they’re covering up holes in the wall or something. I like him because, despite his office’s startlingly jumbled appearance, he knows his stuff like the back of his hand and because his plants are usually dead.

See, his wife collects unique pots and puts interesting plants in them. When their house gets too full of interesting potted plants, some overflow into his office. There are bonsai trees, ferns, little succulent things, and other normally delightful plants. He and his assistant tend them carefully during the majority of the year, but then tax season hits, and they’re so busy they stop watering them and work 20 hour days on taxes, non-stop. So, by the time hubs and I come in, the plants are dead, browned and crispy-looking, the dried remnants of hopeful foliage, slain indirectly by the demands of an inhuman government agency. It’s allegorical. Or maybe just goofy enough to hit my funny bone at the right angle.

Over the years, we’ve sent several people to our accountant, people who are normally very prissy and image conscious, but they’ve usually gotten in over their heads, or they’re running late AND over their heads, and they need a tax rescue. He always does a great job, they love him, and he gets a lot of repeat business from our referrals.

Anyway, tax time is usually stressful for us because hubs’ job is, technically, as a self-employed captive insurance agent. This works out great for his company, since they get to charge him through the snoot for all the services they provide (letting him sell their insurance) and they have next to no accounting to do for him at tax time, and he has to pay all his own expenses, and his own staff, and all the other malarky. This means there is no tax withheld, and we pay Very Large Tax Estimates all through the year, the kind that are so huge that they make me wonder how we can afford groceries, and then we get to pay some more when all the damage is assessed.

Hubs gets more stressed out than I do, although since I’ve taken over the family accounting, his tax-time stress level has lowered. Yesterday, armed with balance sheets, register reports, and 1099’s, we headed off to Quirky Accountant’s office, braved the dead plants, the grocery bags and boxes full of other people’s paperwork, and the slipping piles of enormous tax tomes, and I handed over our neat little screaming orange file pocket of info. QA had the taxes done within an hour, which included a philosophical talk with my husband about a hypothetical situation involving a hypothetical other insurance agent client about funds and insurance law.

The tax bill was distressingly big again, as it always is, but I stepped in before hubs could get to the point where he had two lit cigarettes going at once and was pacing at light speed, and pointed out that over the last year we’d been living close to the vest for just that reason, and that we could pay the whole nut without having to sell even one of the children for medical experiments. I knew I wouldn’t like writing the check, just on principle, but the nice thing is that the check can be written without hesitation. Hubs halted halfway through pulling out his hair and did a double-take at me. The accountant and I glanced at each other because, under all the grocery bags on his side, and the maternal aspect on mine, we have a meeting of the minds at the bottom line. Hubs stood up from his stress monkey crouch, and smiled. We all relaxed. The taxes were done, the bill could be paid, and I promised to buy him beef sandwiches at Arby’s on the way home.

Hubs was more relaxed today, the day after T-Day, than I’ve seen him in years. I smiled benevolently at him over our morning coffee and waved him off to work. Then I did some Lamaze breathing for about 10 minutes and started writing checks. I felt like I was birthing the money, in bigheaded, screaming piles, but I wrote the checks anyway. And, off they go, all swaddled up in IRS forms with 1099 Binkies, inoculated by a CPA.

Sometimes, though, I do dream of sending the taxes off with insufficient postage, just to be annoying, but I’m pretty sure that would come back to bite me somehow. Breathe in, pant out; breathe in, pant out…

Anyway, as my public service for today, for those of you who donate to charity, rules are changing somewhat for your 2007 taxes. If you donate goods (such as knitted items) or cash, there are some new guidelines to follow. Applicable IRS publications are:

IRS Publication 526 on Charitable Contributions

Publication 561 Determining the Value of Donated Property

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