I Used An Accountant And I Liked It
My accountant works in an office building next to the 23rd Street PATH rail station in Chelsea, on the fifth floor of a shared office space, staffed by a very polite receptionist. There is a TV playing NY1 in the waiting area. His office is a bit too warm, but comfortable, and there is a shelf of family photos watching over our proceedings. While he rifles through my papers, stuffed hastily in a yellow file folder I found at the office, he asks, very politely, if he can turn on the news.
We carry on with the appointment to the soundtrack of CBS’s nightly newscast. I am tasked with sorting through the bank statements I printed out at work earlier today, pressing the print button 12 times, then camping out as the printer spit out statement after statement, my body shielding my finances from prying eyes. Earlier that day, over braised pork and rice from the bubble tea place down the street, I had taken a green highlighter and scanned the statements, highlighting basically anything that isn’t Seamless, Foodtown, or the bodega down the street where I buy cigarettes and seltzer. If you want to shave a few years off your life, or are looking for a way to feel deep, bone-crushing shame, print out your bank statement for fun and note how many times you paid money for extra lives in “Kim Kardashian Hollywood.” Put that number in your back pocket, and prepare to be amazed when he figures out a way to write it off.
As my accountant looks over my stuff, I am sure that he will find something amiss. He asks me a variety of questions. “Have you travelled? Have you taken any classes? Professional development? Do you belong to any associations, clubs, alumni organizations, professional organizations? Have you bought office supplies? How about transportation?”
My answers are halting and nervous. Yes, I have travelled, and yes, I guess I wrote about it. Into the column it goes, labelled “Travel For Work.” I belong to no clubs or professional organizations, but I make a note on the file folder in front of me to find some and join them, in the hopes of writing it off next year. Watching this man categorize my past year’s expenditures into a neat column of numbers awakens the deep fear I have of the IRS. As I tell him that I spent $28 on two dance classes at Alvin Ailey, and watch him file that away under “Professional Development,” I become nervous. Here comes the taxman, docking my pay. They will certainly be able to tell that those two Horton classes I took in the dead of summer were a failed attempt at physical fitness, not a concerted effort towards bettering my career.
“I mean…a lot of these things are just sort of me, living my life,” I say.
“You’re a writer,” he said. “Think of everything that you do as being for your job,” he says. “It’s all stuff that you could write about, or that you have written about, right?”
The number he gave me at the end of the session is big. It is a little less than what I have in my savings account. To send a check out immediately would be to clear out the money that I’ve been squirreling away. I know that this is money for that purpose, that I put the money in my savings account so that I did not end up crying in a stranger’s office, but there’s something about writing a check for $5,554 and sending it to the IRS that makes me want to hurl.
“Pay as much as you can now, and don’t worry! You have until April 15th to take care of this,” he says. “You’re going to be okay.”
I knew that I would have to get an accountant this year after seeing the amount of 1099s that came trickling in. Because I am the kind of person who loves to be prepared, I started to do my taxes myself, just to get an idea of how much money I would have to spend. The number was not a pleasant number. So, I trusted a professional that my boss recommended and was pleasantly surprised. This was the right thing to do. I innately trust people like accountants, doctors, therapists. I believe that what they tell me is correct. I don’t think that they are trying to swindle me or tell me lies, and I trust that their authority, as evidenced by the degrees on their wall, or the fact that they can do addition fairly quickly in their head, is legit. Even though it cost me money to get this sorted, I trust that what he did is correct.
Next year, I will do my taxes by myself, barring another bout of unemployment. I will consult my accountant, because now I have one, and I can say things like, “I’ll ask my accountant” when presented with a particularly tricky financial proposition, or a question that I probably don’t know the answer to. Maybe he will help me figure out my 401(k). Maybe I’ll ask him how much freelance work I should do this year to get a bigger refund next year. Maybe I’ll be more aware of how I’m spending my money. That would be the best lesson of all.
This story is part of our Tax Month series.
Megan Reynolds lives in New York.
Photo: C x 2