Talking With a CPA: Expectations vs. Reality

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I am currently in the process of working with my CPA on my 2014 taxes. Having had no experience with CPAs prior to last year, I did not know what to expect, and in many ways the process has been about adjusting my (overambitious) expectations. I think I thought my CPA meeting would be an in-depth conversation about every aspect of my business, a combination “tax prep and business health” service, and it turned out to be much more “let’s look at the problem in front of us, which is inputting numbers into your 2014 tax return.”

Here are some examples of my expectations vs. reality:

Expectation: My CPA meeting would take, at minimum, two hours, and we’d discuss both my income and my deductions in detail.

Reality: My CPA meeting took about 15 minutes—”You’re a freelancer with some 1099s and some deductions? We can handle that.”—and the rest of it is me sending additional documentation over email.

Expectation: I’d have to provide proof of every number I brought to the conversation. Some of my clients, for example, don’t send me 1099s because I only wrote one feature for them and it didn’t cross the minimum income threshold. So I showed up at my CPA meeting with a stack of printed-out bank transactions to accompany my 1099s, to prove that I had earned the income I’m claiming.

Reality: My CPA wasn’t too worried about whether or not I had proof to back up the numbers I brought him. He also wasn’t interested in seeing the receipts for the deductions I’m planning to claim. I do have this documentation if anyone might need it in the future, but there’s also a part of me that’s thinking “Wait, I could say anything and it would go on my taxes? I could say that I stayed at a more expensive hotel during that business trip and claim a bigger deduction?”

I mean, obviously I am not going to do that, but I’m very curious if your CPAs also accept your income and deduction statements without asking to see original receipts. Part of me wants to bring in all of the receipts just so someone else can make sure I added them up correctly. I usually run everything twice on my phone’s calculator app, just to make sure the sums match, but, you know, what if I made a mistake somewhere?

(Of course, paying a CPA by the hour to add up columns of numbers seems financially imprudent. What I should really do is outsource this to Fiverr and pay someone $5 to double-check all my arithmetic. I am also, obviously, not going to do that.)

Expectation: My CPA would read off a long list of potential freelancer deductions, and I’d say “yes” or “no” to each one. As in: “Did you have coffee with any potential clients?” “Did you have coffee with anyone you interviewed?” “Did you write any pieces about coffee which required you to purchase coffee and then review it?”

I did write a piece where I both purchased and reviewed coffee last year, so I need someone with more experience in tax preparation to remind me that those coffee cups also count as business deductions. This was the big thing I was hoping a CPA would do for me—and it looks like it’s what Megan Reynolds’ CPA did for her, if you read this morning’s piece about working with an accountant.

Reality: I came in with a long list of potential freelancer deductions that I got off Freelancers Union, and read them off to my CPA. “What about my Internet bill? What about my smartphone?”

How do you all talk about business deductions with your CPAs? Is there a better way to do it than finding a list of potential deductions online and hoping for the best?

Expectation: My CPA would give me hours of advice on how to run my business more efficiently and save money.

Reality: I suspect that’s a different type of CPA service, or possibly a “business consultant” service, and that I probably can’t afford it. If I could, however, it would definitely count as a tax deduction.

What about you? Did you have expectations about working with your CPA that turned out to be equally overambitious? Or did you always imagine it would be a pretty straightforward “here’s what I earned, here are my deductions, let’s do these taxes!”

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