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Small Business

Early Retirement, Small Business

Starting a Successful Seasonal Tax Preparation Business

Readers of this blog are always looking for a side hustle. Seasonal tax preparation is a perfect fit for many early retirees. A small tax preparation business allows for an earlier retirement as the side income can easily be enough to live on for even a modestly frugal person. Another large reader demographic involves the accounting industry. There are plenty of blogs talking about tax issues, but few discuss the realities of starting, promoting and maintaining a tax practice.

I touch on the subject of practice building periodically, but my email folder is filled with requests for a more detailed post. A recent email from someone called Speed (I love it!) asked a series of questions that encompasses the bulk of practice management requests.  Much of what I discuss can be applied to most other business ideas with only slight modifications.

Rather than give a play-by-play on starting and managing a tax practice, I will take each of Speed’s questions and answer them. The reason for avoiding the play-by-play is because there are many ways of starting a successful business. I don’t want to give the illusion you are locked into one pattern to win. Life is rarely that neat.
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The Clock is Ticking

When my accounting practice went from a part-time seasonal pastime to a full-time firm I needed to bring in talented employees. Bev, a close friend of the family, had many years of experience working for other tax firms so I asked her to work for me. She accepted the offer.

Decades started to pile up. The joke around the office was Bev worked for my firm longer than I had. It wasn’t far from the truth. Bev was always a talented and faithful employee. She did good work and I could trust her.

But time counts, and keeps counting. Bev had something few people ever possess: talent and personality. Clients loved Bev and for good reason. She knew her stuff and made people around her feel comfortable. In my darkest hours she was there to hold the firm together. When my youngest daughter was born with birth defects she kept the office open while my mental wounds healed.

I have fond memories of those days. I also remember how it ended. Bev comes from a farming background; solid German stock. What I mean to say is she isn’t a petite girl. Wisconsin winters can be brutal. Arctic blasts made it difficult for her to breathe outside. I was worried about her. It was the excuse used to force her to retire.

But that was a lie. The truth is something was changing in Bev. It started slow and steadily advanced. She wasn’t as good at taxes as she once had been. Once she was great at taxes, now she was merely good and rapidly approaching mediocre. It is a terrible thing to say about someone with such an honorable and distinguished career.

I noticed the changes in Bev when she reached her mid-60s. It was small at first. Little things were missed. Sometimes the tax return was correct, but little things around the tax return were forgotten. A note was not updated; a basis statement not completed. And clients still loved Bev.

Each year got progressively worse until the work was unacceptable. I had to review all her work at a much higher level. Bev had to go. It was not an easy choice. She accepted her retirement and took to it like a pig takes to shit, but she was hurt at the time. She still brings her personal tax work in for us to prepare.

Is that Footsteps I Here?
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Deal Breakers for Investors and Business Owners

The most dreaded words a salesperson can here are, “I need to talk it over with my accountant.”

Accountants have a reputation for breaking deals. Behind the scenes we are actually called ‘Deal Breakers’ as a derogatory term. But the name isn’t fair. What we really are doing is protecting our clients.

The investor or business owner already thought of all the things that can go right. Accountants throw cold water on the deal by examining the numbers. They don’t always stand up to the hype.

And then there is my last blog post where I play a Sad Gus with robo-investing and Betterment. I think a lot of people really believed the tax benefits were much higher than they really are. There are real benefits, just not as many as some would have you believe.

That is where accountants shine. If you are going to serve your client you had better have the stomach for laying the truth on the line, even if the client doesn’t want to hear it.Continue reading

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Organize Your Life to Maximize Net Worth and Minimize Taxes

JD Roth

I had the awesome opportunity of meeting JD Roth! While not fast buddies, I look forward to meeting JD in the future. He is even better in real life than I imagined.

The following post is based on a presentation I gave at Camp Mustache SE in Gainesville, Florida on January 15, 2017.

There are several ways to convince someone to speak at your event. Stephen Baughier used the most sure-fire method ever. Stephen noticed I wrote a blog post back in August listing some people I would like to meet someday. He checked two people on the list and found JD Roth open to attending. He then called me and said, “Hey, Keith. I saw on your blog you wanted to meet JD Roth. Well, he is speaking at Camp Mustache SE in January. We would love to have you speak as well and you can meet a man you admire.” How could I say no?

Picking a topic of discussion is something I allow the event organizer to decide. If they have no preference I choose something currently exciting to me. In this instance Stephen thought something about organizing your stuff in preparation for meeting your accountant/tax guy would be a good choice.

I grimaced. My organizational skills are not legend. However, I do keep a tight fist on in financial organization.

Bookkeeping is not a topic which lends to filling an hour presentation. My first thought was to stand in front of the group and yell, “Shut up, and sit down!” while I stabbed my finger at them. “Enter your paperwork once a week and stop bitching about it.” Then I would grab a beer from the fridge and sit down. My first inclination had a slight flaw I thought might turn off the crowd and upset Stephen so I moved to plan B.Continue reading

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If I Were an IRS Auditor

17142377126_48d2650b0cThe IRS has a complex formula in determining who to audit so secret even the government doesn’t know what it is. This secret is the subject of much debate and some even claim to know the formula. (They also have the secret formula to Coca Cola.)

In my neighborhood if you have an S corporation and get audited, I apologize. The lady who handles S corporation audits at the IRS around here was once an employee of mine. I take full responsibility for my limited role in training her. I am ashamed of my behavior.

But an IRS audit is not really an issue for most people. IRS audits are at all-time lows and do not look to be expanded much in the future. Most audits are not the dreaded visit to the IRS office or the auditor showing up at your place. Most audits are of the correspondence type, where they send you a letter. Correspondence audits are generally narrow in focus and are the result of a misplaced number or a mismatch on the tax return with information the IRS has.

Since so few people get audited nowadays, there should be no worry among taxpayers of a visit from your friendly government revenue agent. Still, I audit proof every tax return I prepare and train my employees to do the same. This isn’t cheating either. I am talking about preparing a tax return in a manner that doesn’t encourage scrutiny.


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The Tax Loophole You Never Thought Of

al_capone_in_floridaWhen someone in the local area makes the news for embezzlement it is not a matter of if they will show up at my office, it is when they show up. The same scenario plays out every time. Someone gets caught with her fingers in the cookie jar (usually for gambling) and charges are filed. The district attorney prosecutes the case. (Embezzlement cases make the news and the district attorney is a politician who can’t help getting on her knees to earn some votes.)

Most embezzlement cases end with a conviction, or more often, a plea agreement. The accused is eager to make a deal that keeps her out of prison. The DA and judge soil themselves with the familiar sentencing template. The defense attorney has no choice but to recommend her client goes along with the deal to stay out of jail.

I see the same agreements again and again. The prosecutor demands a brutal repayment plan to the victim, the judge rubber stamps the deals and the accused jumps up screaming, “I’ll take it!”

Then the IRS letter arrives three weeks later and the house of cards is ready to fall. Ill gotten gains, you see, are still required to be reported as income and the IRS watches these financial crimes cases very closely. When the defendant loses or takes a knee the IRS swoops in for their share of the pickings. All that unreported income is now taxed with penalty and interest added. And no money to pay for it.


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The Gift of Karma and the Art of Pay It Forward

endlessknot03dI settled back with a good book on a quiet New Year’s Eve back in the early days of my accounting practice. Mrs. Accountant goes to bed early and was already tucked in. We rarely party or go out on New Year’s Eve. To us it is just another day.

My tax office back then was the remodeled basement so I was always close to work. Since the accounting part of my business was many years into the future, there wasn’t much to do around the holidays except enjoy some great reading. A few preparations for the upcoming tax season were as far as they could go.

Cable did not enter our house back then and network television did not interest me. The World Wide Web was just coming into existence and wasn’t a household phrase yet. Internet service was America Online accessed by dial-up. There were fewer distractions to drag a guy away from a good book in those days.

I was reading one of Will Durant’s Story of Civilization books that New Year’s Eve as memory serves. (I consider Will Durant one of the best writers to have ever live. His 11 volume Story of Civilization series is some of the best writing on human history ever.) My cup of tea was on the table next to my recliner where I was reading.

I lived in town for a few years back then to establish my practice. The living room had a bay window looking out toward the street. It was my custom to keep the curtains open so I could see if anything was happening outside.

A blood-curdling scream pulled my eyes from my book. Out the bay window I saw a woman falling from the passenger side of a car! She fell hard. The car sped off.


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Making the List

396px-a_list_of_the_names_of_all_the_adventurers_in_the_stock_of_the_honourable_the_east_india_company_the_12th_day_of_april_1684A reader of The Wealthy Accountant recently offered me lunch. I have a weakness when it comes to food. Offer me a free meal and I am virtually a prostitute.

I accepted the offer of lunch for three reasons: 1. He is a local reader; 2. He asked nicely; 3. He wanted to discuss quitting his current job and starting a bookkeeping business as a side hustle. The last point is what got me. A local guy who wants to do bookkeeping is also a guy I might build a strategic alliance with to handle some of my bookkeeping work.

As we talked I shared stories like I do here. Eventually I got to a story I like to tell a lot, but failed to mention on this blog so far. I am not sure where to fit it in, but the story is so powerful it needs sharing. So I decided a story about making a list would be perfect for the Christmas holiday.


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