It’s Time to Pony Up for an Accountant
I have always done my taxes myself, because for a long time, they were very simple. I had one job, or maybe two jobs, depending on the year, and a student loan interest form that I always lost the minute it was mailed to me. Doing my taxes is exciting, because I get to fill in the numbers, check off the boxes, and watch the amount of money that I’m going to get back from the government grow. One year, I did my taxes at the end of January, got my refund by the first week of February, and booked a plane ticket to New Orleans for Jazzfest with the proceeds. Another year, I put some of the money aside in savings and spent the rest on a Coach bag, convinced that I would have it for decades, telling myself that I deserved the purchase because that was money I worked for.
There’s something soothing to me about doing my taxes. I like the order of it and the way it makes me feel like I’m performing adulthood. Sitting at my desk with my W-2s and a pen that I like feels like taking notes on the first day of school. It actualizes of all the work that you did over the past year, and it manifests in the best reward—a solid chunk of money that feels free. It scratches the same itch as writing a detailed to-do list, or folding your laundry immediately after it’s done. It feels like the responsible thing to do, and so you do it and it’s done. It’s utilitarian and practical and adult, like creating a budgeting spreadsheet that you consult daily, or never running out of toilet paper.
I don’t much like the idea of paying someone money to help me figure out that I need to pay someone else more money. That’s why I’ve always done my taxes myself, but this year, it will be different. For most of this year, my income has been a combination of freelance checks and unemployment insurance, little dribbles of money that add up to money that I’m going to have to pay back to the government. I don’t know how much this money is going to be. I have tasked myself with setting aside a Sunday to dig through my email and figure out how many invoices are out in the world which is an exercise that will certainly end in me wandering away from my computer to pet the cat or refold all of my clothes. I will probably end up calling my father in frustration, and then leaving the house to watch football or take a brisk walk. This year, I’m going to find an accountant.
Nobody tells you that finding an accountant is hard. I don’t know how they did it in the olden days, but from what I can tell, it happens through word of mouth. You know a guy who knows a guy. My best friend’s boyfriend told me about his guy, a frazzled man named Gene who lives on Staten Island and worked miracles. My old roommate has someone who apparently charges only $150 and manages to get her thousands of dollars back every year without fail. I was led to a recommendation on Twitter, and have the woman’s site bookmarked, ready to call in a couple of weeks, when I’m ready to pony up the money it’ll cost to have someone organize my finances in a way that doesn’t leave me destitute.
I have friends who trot dutifully to H&R Block every tax season, and shove a sheaf of papers at a staff accountant, pay them money and then leave. Others swear by the glories of FreeTaxUSA, banging out their taxes in a half hour, no more of a chore than taking out the recycling or deep-cleaning the bathroom. I’ve talked to freelancer friends about this, and they swear by their accountants, regaling me with tales of writing off everything, from that pack of gum you bought the other day (interview prep) to the new computer you splurged for because your old one was making a weird humming noise every time you turned it on (home office). It seems your life—everything you consume, everything you do—is fodder for the next story. If it counts towards any of the money you ostensibly made, you can argue a case for writing it off.
In my mind, my room is now full of little cash cows, just waiting to be tapped. Like in the Kim Kardashian game, when you tap a topiary bush or a pigeon or a skateboard and money falls onto the ground, my apartment is now a minefield of money. The corner of my room that contains a desk covered in bills I haven’t opened and two sad succulents magically becomes my home office. The magazines I compulsively purchase after happy hour on my way home become research for stories, even though I leave them on the coffee table after I’m done, and one of my roommates throws them out a few days later. An entire year’s worth of weird black dresses purchased at various second-hand shops and sales racks is just another line item, this time marked “job interviews.” I have dreams of writing off my entire life for the past year.
I’m pretty sure that when I make the appointment, my lack of receipts and documentation will be a deterrent. I will show up with a bunch of 1099s and a glimmer of hope. I’ll make my case to the accountant who will be a no-nonsense woman in a faceless office in Midtown, eating a turkey sandwich from the deli downstairs while furiously punching numbers into one of those calculators that spews out a long, unbroken receipt. She will listen to what I have to say, and then, we will figure it out, together.
Megan Reynolds lives in New York.