I need to tell you a story. It is the only way to explain the most important money lesson you can teach your children. 

Personal finance writers miss this tip often. It takes explaining and that slows down the information transfer which is why the lesson is so often forgotten, yet it is vital you have this information. If this were a minor tip it wouldn’t be that serious. But it is the most important of all the financial lessons you must teach your children.

After nearly 40 years in the industry I paid the price for my lack of understanding. It caused more pain than you can imagine, as you will soon see. It is important to read to the end where the lesson is revealed. If there is only one lesson this blog can convey, this is it.

 

In the Beginning God Created…

Five years ago when I started this blog my goal was to leave a guide for my children. Along the way I shared the medical issues my children have suffered so readers could understand the situation and benefit as well. My wife, Sue, and I have been married for over 32 years and going strong. I shared how we met. I shared some of the medical issues my oldest daughter, Heather, deals with.

There is one money lesson you must teach your children before it is too late. (This is Brooke on December 20, 2020 at UW hospital in Madison.)

And then we come to Brooke, my youngest daughter, age 20. Her medical history is longer than a Russian novel. Some medical problems are filled with guilt

The Reader’s Digest version is this: Brooke has a birth defect; she was born intersex. In other words, she had a bit of everything and a lot on nothing, if you understand my meaning. The technical answer is she was conceived male, but the Y chromosome went AWOL after a few cell divisions. Whereas most people are either XX (female) or XY (male), Brooke is about 15% XY and 85% X only. In the absence of a complete sex chromosome the body defaults to androgynous, which is more feminine.  

Her deformities were what was called a “medical imperative.” Her urinary tract exited the penile structure and the vaginal area; a serious infection risk. Her gonads had not dropped (they were where ovaries would be), but were pre-cancerous purplish masses. They need to be removed. 

In the first year of her life Brooke had something like six or seven surgeries. It was a stressful time. Our family strengthened as we fought to hold the family together on this side of the grave.

 

Growing Up

After the numerous surgeries Brooke’s first year things settled down. The initial risks were behind us and Brooke would grow like any other child with one exception: her body would not produce the hormones she would need to move from childhood to adolescence. 

Brooke enjoyed a typical childhood prior to puberty. The unique thing for Brooke is that we got to choose the exact date she would enter puberty. Without gonads her body would not fire up the hormones needed to become an adult and that was a real problem. Without hormones Brooke would go from childhood to menopause and old age. 

Around age 12 we worked with the doctors to start the process. Brooke’s body did not handle estrogen well. We tried every option available. Every prescription made her very sick. Then the headaches started.

A risk factor of taking hormone therapy is stroke. Little did we know that when Brooke started having massive headaches that no pain reliever could solve that she was having mini-strokes. The doctors diagnosed the headaches as migraines. Nobody had an inkling of what was about to happen.

 

Into the Abyss

We fast forward to today. I am writing this December 20-21, 2020. 

November 4th started like any other day. Brooke had been tired lately. We didn’t think a lot of it because Brooke never complains. She stoically accepts life as it is. 

I kiss my girls every day. In the morning I kiss them on the forehead and they kiss me on the cheek. Sue gets a peck on the lips. I do the same when I come home at night and before they go to bed. 

November 4th was no different. I kissed my girls goodbye and went to the office. By 10:00 Sue was on the phone. Sue doesn’t call the office unless it is serious. “I’m at the hospital. Brooke had a stroke.”

Sue was fighting tears and I remember standing up and saying, “You have got to be kidding me!”

Brooke holding a large mouth bass she caught in our pond in August of 2019.

I regained my composure quickly, knowing that stroke was a risk factor Brooke had. Sue didn’t have a lot of information. I left the office for the St. Elizabeth Hospital emergency room. I was not allowed in; it is the Age of COVID. Sue was with Brooke, but they only allowed one person to see Brooke. I had to return to the office.

Little did we know the nightmare entered. Brooke spent several days at St. E’s as they did scans of her brain. The diagnosis: moyamoya

Everything started to fit into place. Brooke’s growing fatigue and endless headaches finally made sense. She was having strokes for years and they got progressively worse. It took a major stroke for us to notice. 

She had a slight droop to the right side of her face. Everything else went back to normal. We got to bring my sweetheart home. We had no idea this was the calm before the storm.

The scans were sent down to Madison where Doctor Dempsey would handle Brooke’s case.

Brooke needed surgery on both sides of her brain to bypass the blockages. The left side of Brooke’s brain has received significant damage. We were lucky that the damage from the strokes didn’t do too much damage to sensitive areas. That was about to change.

Brooke was scheduled for surgery December 4th. The plan was for Brooke and Sue to arrive at the UW hospital in Madison the night before. If all went well Brooke could possibly be home Sunday night!

Doctor Dempsey is an incredible doctor and surgeon. He is soft-spoken with an over abundance of compassion and talent. He prepared us for Brooke’s surgery. He first wanted to work on the right side of Brooke’s brain, but after more thought and consulting with colleagues he changed his mind. Brooke’s brain on the left side was another stroke waiting to happen.  The left side needed attention now.

The surgery went well; the aftermath did not. Brooke started suffering severe pain and her face had a major droop; her face swelled to the point one eye was completely closed. Fluid was building on her brain.

Emergency surgery was required. On December 8th Brooke was back in the operating room. We waited nervously.

The second surgery went well! The swelling in Brooke’s face receded and the pain subsided. By December 10th optimism was high. On December 11th we brought our baby home.

 

The Darkest Hour

It felt good to have Brooke home. She loved up the cats and rested as she healed. It was late so Brooke went to bed shortly after arriving home.

Saturday, December 12th, started good. Brooke was bright eyed and alert in the morning. About 11:00 she started getting tired. We had lunch and Brooke went to bed for a nap. She got up at 2:00. Being Christmas season she wanted to light some Christmas candles. She struggled with the match so I helped her.

We are family. Brooke is under the dog, Pharaoh. This photo of our family was taken with Bernie Keene (holding Pharaoh). He invited us to stay at his place while we watched the eclipse in 2017.

She went into the kitchen. A few minutes later I heard Sue say, “Brooke?” in a weird voice. “Say something.”

I flew to the kitchen. Brooke was crouching, looking into a floor level cupboard. I looked Brooke in the face. She had a blank stare. I called her name. No response. I said, “Smile for me, Brooke.” Only one side of her face went up. “Call 9-1-1,” I said too loudly to Sue. “I’m getting her an aspirin.” “No,” Sue said, “the doctor said no aspirin because of bleeding.”

The only treatment I knew to deal with a stroke was unavailable to me. First responders were at our home in minutes, followed by the ambulance. Brooke was going back to St. E’s.

Once she was stabilized Brooke was transported back to Madison. They put her in a room so Sue could be with her. 

Around 3:00 a.m. the call no parent ever wants to receive came in. Brooke was dying. Sue was chocking on her words. I could hear Brooke moaning in pain in the background. I grew up on a farm. I knew that sound. It was the sound made just before an animal died. 

Heather called my parents and they rushed over. We prepared for last rites.  We are Lutheran so technically it wasn’t last rites, but you know what I mean.

The next hours were the most intense up to that time in my life. Once again, I had no idea the bottom was not reached. 

Brooke was moved to the ICU. Sue couldn’t be there so she went to a hotel next to the hospital. Brooke couldn’t lift her right arm at all, the right side of her face drooped and she could no longer speak as they took her to the ICU. This time the disease was going to extract a dear price.

Doctor Dempsey gave the news the next morning. Brooke had another serious stroke. Her speech and motor skills for her right arm were damaged. (This morning Doctor Dempsey confirmed those areas of her brain are dead and not coming back.)

Brooke wanted to be home so bad. In less than 24 hours she was back at the hospital. At home, when the stroke hit, Brooke gathered herself as the ambulance arrived. All she said was, “I’m done.” Her morale was shattered. She worked so hard to meet the doctor’s goals to get home only to face a massive setback. We were able to get video chat (and later FB Messenger) with Brooke. We kept working to bring her spirits up. She had to fight.

I explained to Brooke about all the people on The Wealthy Accountant Facebook page pulling for her; the number of churches with her in their prayer chain. I was in tears as I explained to Brooke I never saw anything like this. “There are thousands of people who care and are watching. Thousands! All those people want you better so bad.” Brooke was unable to take it all in, but she knew she had to fight, to find a way. She could only say “Yeah” and “No” in response to any questions. Communication was a challenge, but we managed. The best news was that Brooke could understand us.

Doctor Dempsey put Brooke on medication to raise her blood pressure and push more blood into the damaged areas of her brain. 

Result were immediate. Brooke was listed at 10% Monday, 30% Tuesday, 50% Wednesday, maybe 60% Thursday and reached 75% over the weekend.

But the scans showed her brain was still not getting enough blood. If Brooke is to get home ever again and lead a normal, healthy life she needs another surgery. The surgery is scheduled for  tomorrow (December 22). And this is where the personal finance lesson comes into play.

 

The Money Lesson You must Teach Your Children

I am typing these words Sunday night, December 20th, and editing Monday mid-day. We struggled with this third surgery for most of the past week.

The Facebook page for this blog was a place for me to get the story out. My family needed help. Brooke wants to go home, even if it means she will die there. The third surgery on her brain in less than three weeks is “not without risk,” as doctor Dempsey said. The third surgery requires yet another surgeon who specializes in a unique type of bypass. 

The surgery is safer for Brooke than doing nothing. Without it another stroke is going to happen and if it hits a vital area Brooke may die or be vegetative. Sue thought we should opt for the surgery. I felt we should respect Brooke’s wishes to go home.

Brooke at her high school graduation with mom and dad.

This morning (Sunday, December 20th) Brooke came on the video conference a bit down. We were spending a lot of time together digitally this week; it was Brooke’s (and our) lifeline. She was doing so good.

The doctor called so we talked with him. The surgery had to happen. He had talked with Brooke about it. 

We got back with Brooke and broke the silence on the elephant in the room. Brooke was afraid to say anything over fear it would upset us; we were afraid to say anything over fear it would upset her.

Once it was out (and with lots of tears) Brooke acknowledged the surgery was the best course.

Then she broke down in tears and couldn’t stop. She said, “Can I ask something?” in the broken way she now spoke.

“Of course, sweetie. You can ask us anything,” I said. 

“Will you still love me?”

And that broke the record from the week before. I never cried so hard in my life. Brooke struggled to get the words out. I knew why she was worried we might not love her anymore. After the first surgery when things went wrong she said she was worried about the money this was costing us. We explained money is not an issue when it comes to getting her better. Brooke actually believed we would not love her because it was costing money and disrupting our lives!

Here is what I said to Brooke, “Do you know what unconditional love is?” She nodded. “Well, mom, Heather and I love you unconditionally. We love you and will never stop loving you. Ever! I know we work hard to be frugal and save and invest. But this is why. Times like this! If we don’t spend whatever it takes to get you better, what good is having money? I don’t care what it costs. We will not be frugal when it comes to getting you better, getting you back home. I would give every dime I have just to have you.”

The whole family cried for a long time. Brooke finally understood we love her unconditionally, no matter what. But it exposed a major flaw in our teachings about money. 

By tonight (Sunday, December 20th) Brooke digested the new information. Once she knew we would love her regardless the amount of money this would cost, she was ready to move forward. She is still nervous about the surgery, but she knows we will never abandon her or stop loving her.

What Brooke doesn’t understand is that insurance is covering virtually all the expense. There are some hotel and meal costs. Big deal. And we are spending a lot of time with Brooke. I consider that a good expenditure of time.

I see bloggers in this demographic encouraging readers to go with no health insurance or something subpar so they can claim the frugality banner. I am 100% against that advice. Even if you have plenty of money to cover any and all medical bills in even the most extreme circumstances, do you want to spend time with your loved ones or paying bills? To me it is clear. Medical insurance is important for covering medical bills and freeing time during times of high stress to spend with family. I think bloggers publishing about not having health insurance are harming their readers, simple as that. It is irresponsible.

Here is the lesson we MUST teach our children in a nutshell: Frugality, saving and investing are important. But it is worth nothing if you never spend for the right reasons. Health and education are two areas where I am willing to spend. Habits that gave you financial independence don’t die when you have financial wealth. But you have to know when spending is not an issue. Your children must know at all times they are more important than any amount of money. Money is replaceable; they are not!

Now I want to close with a word to the dads in the room. Hug and kiss your children every day. Tell them you love them every day, even when they are adults. This is easier with daughters, I understand. But you have to do it with your boys as well. I give my mother and father a hug and tell them I love them every time I see them to this day.

You need to say and show you love them, even if you have disagreements. If your children are at that age where they refuse, it is okay. Just say, “I want you to know I love you. When you are ready, I am here to listen.” No forced hugs. No preaching. They need to know you care, love them unconditionally and want to listen to what they have to say when they are ready to share their thoughts.

You do this because you never know when you will get a call at work at 10 a.m. and never get the chance to say those words again.

 

Postscript: This drama unfolded on this blog’s Facebook page. I shared the events as they happened. I feel it is important for readers to see how I deal with crisis situations live. If you want to see how this unfolded in real time (and is still unfolding) or know more details, you can visit the Facebook page here.

 

More Wealth Building Resources

Worthy Financial offers a flat 5% on their investment. You can read my review here. 

Personal Capital is an incredible tool to manage all your investments in one place. You can watch your net worth grow as you reach toward financial independence and beyond. Did I mention Personal Capital is free?

Medi-Share is a low cost way to manage health care costs. As health insurance premiums continue to sky rocket, there is an alternative preserving the wealth of families all over America. Here is my review of Medi-Share and additional resources to bring health care under control in your household.

QuickBooks is a daily part of life in my office. Managing a business requires accurate books without wasting time. QuickBooks is an excellent tool for managing your business, rental properties, side hustle and personal finances.

cost segregation study can reduce taxes $100,000 for income property owners. Here is my review of how cost segregation studies work and how to get one yourself.

 

Bill gates, Elon Musk and books for success.

The books the most successful people alive today recommend might surprise you. Elon Musk mentions The Lord of the Rings and Douglas Adams’s Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy more than once when listing must-read books. 

These books might seem like strange choices, but when you think about it these and similar books start the engine of creative thinking. The technology Tesla uses to manufacture electric vehicles is not new technology. Some of the technology used is 18th century knowledge, even more from the 19th century and early 20th Century. The magic of Elon Musk is applying this knowledge in novel ways. Remember, electric cars came before the internal combustion engine (ICE). The ICE won until Musk built electric vehicles with existing technology that really worked. Then he revolutionized batteries.

Bill gates, Elon Musk and books for success.

“You can become an expert at anything if you read enough books.” —Elon Musk

Yes, Musk and Company came up with new technologies, usually building off existing technologies. Technologies known for 50 years are now for the first time since, ah, well, Nikola Tesla, being built upon. And the push forward continues. What was once unthinkable is now possible. Tabless batteries are now a reality. And new manufacturing systems are making batteries faster and cheaper.

So how did a kid from South Africa, uprooted to a new home in Canada and later America, do it? In his own word, he was “raised by books”. 

It gets even better. Elon Musk is not a rocket scientist, yet he runs a leading space launch company: SpaceX. Once again, old technology is being put to new uses and doing the once unimaginable. When asked the secret, Musk simply stated, “I read books.” When pressed, Musk went on to explain you can become an expert at anything if you read enough books. And Elon is a living example. His claim that he once read 10 hours per day does not seem like an exaggeration. 

Bill Gates echoes similar opinions on reading. Gates takes time for what he calls “Think Week”. This is a time where Gates sneaks away to a quite place with a load of books. He finds as many books as possible on an issue he is trying to tackle and immerses himself for a week on the subject. Seven days later he is a much smarter man.

Gates makes time for two Think Weeks per year. Some of the world’s most pressing problems, many thought intractable, get new life on the day after a Gates Think Week.

People are interested in what Bill Gates reads. His Gates Notes’s selections are must-read material. And those are only the books he recommends. There is no doubt he reads many more books than just those recommended.  

When Gates was asked if he read the Russian novels he stated he had read them all. Why such strange reading for such a beautiful mind? The Russian novels referred to are the great works of Tolstoy, Dostoevsky and others during the Golden Age of Russian novels. What makes these novels so special? They don’t reveal some great technology to help civilization run smoother, do they? 

Like Musk, Gates reads novels that create a spark in the mind. The Russian novels in question are more than mere stories. They reveal something about the human mind, how we think and react to the world around us. The Russian novels tell us something about us; make us feel uncomfortable about something inside us. By looking into the mirror with a new set of eyes, Gates allows his mind to expand to wider horizons. Technology changes; people are still the same animal.

Why do I bring up the reading habits of Elon Musk and Bill Gates before sharing my latest reading recommendations? Because my current list is different from any I recommended in the past. Like Gates, I once read a lot of novels; not so much anymore. Yet, this current list of seven books you should curl up with this winter contains more novels than non-fiction. 

There is a good reason for the temporary change in my reading habits. I found some excellent books I knew I had to consume and they happened to be novels. I knew each of these works would educate me equally or better than most non-fiction books I absorbed. 

There are a few doorstops in the group so you will be blessed with ample reading material as the weather turns chilly. Each is worth your time. And as always, share your latest finds from the bookshelf in the comments section so other readers and I can enjoy your discovery, too.

Books for Success

 

The Brothers Karamazov

by Fyodor Dostoevsky

I start with one of the Russian novels. Crime and Punishment was such an incredible book I still can’t get it out of my mind. I was told The Brothers Karamazov was even better. 

The Brothers Karamazov takes a deep look into the human mind and uncovers all the things we don’t always want to see, but must to learn what makes us what we are.

It’s hard to go wrong with Dostoevsky. His novels grant you ample time to examine your own inner working. In Crime and Punishment Raskolnikov commits the perfect murder against an undesirable woman and gets away with it. Then his own mind drives him to madness until he finally confesses his crime.

The Brothers Karamazov dives even deeper into the psyche, examining weighty issues like religious faith and patricide (the killing of your father). 

The early part of the book dives deep into Christian faith. The story then focuses Mitya, one of the brothers. Mitya is a troubled man, leading a life of debauchery. He eventually is accused and convicted for the murder of his father. Yet he is innocent. It is his half brother who commits the crime and commits suicide before clearing Mitya in court. 

Mitya’s life is shallow. But deep down he is a man of honor. His brother, Alyosha, a monk, helps Mitya find his way to an honorable life, if not to a Christian faith. Alyosha give the Speech at the Stone in the novel’s final pages. It is without a doubt one of the most moving words ever put to print. That short speech is a manifesto for the early retirement, financial independence movement, and it was published nearly 150 years ago!

I picked up a new habit this year. When reading classics,  I follow up by borrowing the movie from the library, if available. The Brothers Karamazov is indeed a movie with Yule Brenner and William Shatner (Captain Kirk never looked so young). The movie was a dud. The novel is so rich and detailed, with so much happening, the movie didn’t have a chance. The movie is impossible to follow if you didn’t read the book first and the movie is not true to the book, IMHO. Read the novel instead.

 

The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History

by: John M. Barry

You know as well as I why I read The Great Influenza. I, like you, want to know how society, the government, the medical community and individuals acted during a time of pandemic in modern times. The Great Influenza provides plenty of details on all this.

The Spanish Flu pandemic is eerily similar to what we are experiencing in the current pandemic. The name of the disease changes, but people’s reaction does not.

What I found most surprising is how similar the response and reaction was to the Spanish Flu and the current pandemic. I checked several times to verify this books was published many years prior to COVID-19. Once again, times change; people don’t.

The Great Influenza is more than a timeline of the Spanish Flu. This book digs into the lives of the people who dealt with the medical disaster unfolding. Many characters could easily blend into our modern news feeds. 

Another thing that interested me is how young modern medicine was in the U.S. at the time compared to Europe. It was only the generation experiencing the pandemic that acted in a modern medical manner. The medical dark ages in the U.S. was barely 20 past.

Much of our modern medicine has roots to 1918. There were already vaccines back then and the early hope was a vaccine could solve the Spanish Flu pandemic. It wasn’t to be. Medical researchers also went down a wrong path, convinced the cause of the Spanish Flu was a bacteria; scientists didn’t have microscopes strong enough to see viruses yet. But some medical doctors suspected there was something more to the disease.

The most interesting part of the story was the spread of the Spanish Flu. I wanted to know how disease spread in 1918 compares to the spread of COVID-19 today. The similarities are eerie. Once again, The Great Influenza could be a news post from today. People used the same arguments against masks when it was just as obvious as today that masks slow the spread. 

The economy was shut down, just like today with the same results. People found ways to get out and gather. It was better to die than to hunker down for an extended period of time. The name of the disease changes, but the reaction of people is a constant.

You will enjoy reading The Great Influenza. A pandemic from 100 years ago will give valuable insights into our modern scourge and how it might end.

 

How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking 

by: Jordan Ellenberg

How Not to Be Wrong has a certain appeal. Call it a clickbait title if you want, but it really is a book about how not to be wrong versus how to be right, which is not always possible.

I found this the most challenging book of the lot. I took the time to work through the thought process on why certain things are as they are. For example, we all should know the lottery is always a bad idea. Except, it isn’t! There are a few instances where the lottery in the last few decades in the U.S. delivered incredible odds with a virtual guarantee of a massive profit. The information isn’t to encourage you to waste your money on lottery tickets. Instead, it helps you calculate what the real value of a lottery ticket (or any other financial instrument) is and when the lottery officials make a mistake you can average out the expected value with a simple strategy.

What was most interesting to me was the mathematical proof elections don’t always reflect the will of the people in democracies. The more people in the race, the worse it gets. That is why the candidate for each party in the U.S. presidential elections is not usually the real choice of the people. There is no such thing as public opinion, as one chapter title states. Once again I turned to the publication date to make sure this wasn’t preaching about the current election. Nope! Published in 2015.

How Not to Be Wrong takes more time to read as you will want to stop at times and work through the math and logic behind it. Math will not always make you right, but it can make sure you are never wrong. There is a difference.

 

The Complete Works Of Raymond Chandler

Reading the lifetime’s work of an author is going to take time. Good thing the stories are so darn good. 

Raymond Chandler gives you ~2500 pages of engaging reading. If you love noir, as I do, you will find Chandler addicting. Hard-boiled detective novels of the 1930s era, with the tough talk and wise cracks had me wanting more when I finished those thousands of pages. 

Seven novels — including The Long Goodbye and The Big Sleep — one screenplay, numerous essays and a large number of short stories fill these two volumes. (For Amazon purchase here: Volume 1 and Volume 2). With these books in hand you will pray for a snow storm to close the roads this winter.

I watched a few movies from the library on Chandler’s novels. They were actually pretty good and true to the printed story. Check with your library.

 

The Maltese Falcon

By: Dashiell Hammett

While I enjoyed the descriptive writing of Chandler, I was willing to read another classic in the same genre because I was missing the hard-boiled detective story before I closed the pages on Chandler. The Maltese Falcon is a fast read and an excellent story. (The movie from the library was also good and stayed true to the novel.)

Noir just does something for me. It seems over the top at times with the smart aleck talk and testosterone behavior. I think what is so powerful about these novels is that it is the way we want ourselves to act in the face of danger: with courage, intelligence and no fear. 

Novels, done well, can teach as much or more than any non-fiction book. Chandler and Hammett tells us something about ourselves in a way different than Dostoevsky. Yet, powerful understandings all the same. 

This time I promise to not give away the plot. 

Consider borrowing this one from the library. I like owning many of the books I read and bought this one as well. However, except for the most diehard bibliophile, the library book will do just fine.

 

Atomic Habits: An Easy and Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones

By: James Clear

Of all the books on this list, Atomic Habits is a book you need to own. You will read, and re-read, this book again and again.

The right habits are the most powerful tool you have in reaching your goals and dreams. Bad habits destroy your chance to realize your goals and dreams.

Every time I ask for great books people have read on this blog’s Facebook group, Atomic Habits always came up. I had no choice at last; I had to read the book my groupies were talking about.

The title is self explanatory. Rather than give a blurb to a number of strategies in the book I will share just one and how it impacted me.

It might be hard for people who follow my work to realize I can procrastinate periodically. A good example of this is during tax season. The hours get long and I get tired. Difficult returns gravitate to the edge of my desk and easier returns get prepared. Returns that I am waiting for more documents on start to age. Before long I believe it will take a lot of time to complete each of those returns. When I finally get desperate (the client is mad) I open the folder and start. And to my surprise it almost always takes less time than anticipated.

While I am not perfect, I have made improvements using James Clear’s advice. He said I should open the file (start the blog post, open the tax file, answer the emails, film the video, on ad nauseum) and just give it two minutes. If it doesn’t work I have permission to put it back away and deal with it later. In all but rare cases, once I start I keep going and the tax return is finished, the client is happy and whatdaya know, I get paid. 

The best part of Atomic Habits is the strategies are not hard. It is so simple even a tax guy can do it. You will find value in building habits that support your goals. Therefore, I heartily recommend Atomic Habits for your night stand.

 

The Plot Against America

By: Philip Roth

The current political climate has brought novels of yesteryear with similarities to today to the forefront. Previously I recommended Sinclair Lewis’s It Can’t Happen Here. In a similar vein I recommend The Plot Against America.

The story follows a Jewish family in an alternate history where Charles Lindbergh is elected president in 1940 and sides with Germany, Hitler and the Nazis. Each step, as the story unfolds, is thought provoking. Written well before Donald Trump even considered running for president, the action in The Plot Against America can easily have come from this morning’s news feed. 

Riveting and chilling. It is impossible not to find your mind wandering to that place where you were that Jewish family or a Charles Lindbergh supporter. 

Pulled from the front pages of 1030s newspapers, The Plot Against America could have been a real possibility. And as all the novels is this selection reveal, we all have something to learn if we allow ourselves to look inside our minds.

One spoiler: Charles Lindbergh is shown in such a negative light in this novel I wondered how his descendants received the novel. Lindbergh was a know anti-Semite. There was something chillingly real about the story. It was totally believable. Toward the end of the novel we discover Charles Lindbergh was not the monster we thought he was. He commits the ultimate act of bravery and sacrifice for his country which finally allows the U.S. to enter the war against Germany and bring the Allies to victory.

 

The above selections are a good reading list. Whether you read one, some or all of the suggestions, you will be amply rewarded for the time invested.

A good book never goes to waste. You can learn something from a book, and if you are real lucky, you might learn something about yourself. That makes the world a better place…for you.

More Wealth Building Resources

Worthy Financial offers a flat 5% on their investment. You can read my review here. 

Personal Capital is an incredible tool to manage all your investments in one place. You can watch your net worth grow as you reach toward financial independence and beyond. Did I mention Personal Capital is free?

Medi-Share is a low cost way to manage health care costs. As health insurance premiums continue to sky rocket, there is an alternative preserving the wealth of families all over America. Here is my review of Medi-Share and additional resources to bring health care under control in your household.

QuickBooks is a daily part of life in my office. Managing a business requires accurate books without wasting time. QuickBooks is an excellent tool for managing your business, rental properties, side hustle and personal finances.

cost segregation study can reduce taxes $100,000 for income property owners. Here is my review of how cost segregation studies work and how to get one yourself.

 

Deduct work home expenses with an accountable plan.

The timing could not have been worse for remote workers. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 nixed the deduction for work from home expenses and other unreimbursed employee business expenses. 

Prior to the TCJA it wasn’t the best deduction in the world either. You had to itemize to get the deduction and it was combined with several other deductions and then reduced by 2% of your adjusted gross income. But it was at least available and with some planning could provide modest tax relief.

Self-employed people can still deduct these expenses on their or Schedule C. Same for farmers (Schedule F) and income property owners (Schedule E). 

For employees, the deduction is now gone, unless you know the rules. With proper planning you can benefit by working from home, getting a tax benefit for work related expenses. The home office, the pro-rata share of utilities, insurance, property taxes and/or rent and mortgage interest can get tax-free treatment. Same for office supplies and equipment. And don’t forget business travel expenses.

Working from home has plenty of benefits: no office politics, no fighting traffic and every day is casual day. The downside is you have expenses at home that can’t be deducted on your tax return. We are going to fix that right now.

 

 

Deducting Work From Home Expenses

Just because work expenses are not deductible on your tax return doesn’t mean they aren’t deductible on somebody else’s return. Yes, I am talking about your employer. 

It’s called an accountable plan and they are easy to set up and maintain. It requires your employer’s cooperation, but when the employer sees how much they will save in taxes they will want to be on board. (Send them to this article, if necessary. Accountable plans are a win/win with an IRS blessing.)

An accountable plan is where the employer reimburses the employee for work related expenses. The employer then takes the deduction and the employee is not allowed to deduct the expense, something employees can no longer do anyway.

There are three requirements to an accountable plan under IRC §62(c):

  1. Business connection: The expense must be an actual job related expense; personal expenses are not allowed.
  2. Substantiation: Within a reasonable period of time the employee must provide receipts or other documentation substantiating the expense.
  3. Return of excess reimbursement: If the employer provided an advance or over-reimburses the employee, the employee must return the excess within a reasonable time. Money not returned is added to the W-2 wage.

Now we need to determine what a reasonable period of time is. Here is what the IRS considers reasonable:

  1. The employer can reimburse the employee when receipts or other documentation is provided. 
  2. The employee can receive funds up to 30 days in advance. This means the employer can provide an advance on the first of the month for expected expenses for that month. This can be a flat stipend with accounting afterwards to determine if the employee had more qualified expenses for reimbursement or owes the employer a refund for an excess advance.
  3. The employee has 60 days from the time the expense was incurred or was paid to make an account with the employer. This means the employee needs to submit expenses to the employer for reimbursement within 60 days or, in the case of an advance, provide an accurate account of the work related expenses.
  4. Excess reimbursements must be returned to the employer within 120 days of the expense being paid or incurred.
  5. The employer needs to provide a quarterly statement at minimum tallying the advances, and receipts and other documentation submitted. The employer needs to ask the employee to return any excess advance not covered by qualified expenses. The employee has 120 days from the statement date to comply. If more qualified expenses were submitted than the advance the employer can reimburse the employee at the time of the statement or the employer’s choosing.
Deduct work expenses.

The rules for an accountable plan are straight forward and simple. Follow the rules and get something even better than deducting work related expenses.

Qualified Work Expenses

Not every expense is straight forward. For example, it is easy for an employer to understand a reimbursement for office supplies; the employee turns in receipts for paper and printer toner and the employer reimburses the employee. 

Other expenses have options. Actual expenses can be used, but per diems and safe harbors also exist for easier recordkeeping.

The home office is a good example. The employee can be reimbursed for a pro-rata share of their home expenses (insurance, property tax or rent, utilities, internet, repairs and maintenance and mortgage interest to name the most common). If the home office is a 10×10 room (100 square feet) and the entire home is 2,000 square feet, 5% of the home expenses can be reimbursed. Or, you can use an annual per diem which is $5 per square foot up to a maximum of 300 square feet. The maximum annual home office per diem is $1,500. 

Travel is another area where actual expenses are not required:

  1. Instead of actual expenses for auto travel you can take the standard mileage rate. The standard mileage rate is the simplest method when it comes to autos and trucks; a mileage log (with details on the business purpose of the miles) is all you need. Under actual expense a mileage log is still required, plus, all expenses related to the vehicle (gas, oil, repairs, insurance…). Then you only get the business percent of all miles for reimbursement. Actual expense might get a bigger deduction, but with a bigger recordkeeping headache. You and your employer can decide.
  2. Business travel is a recordkeeping nightmare. The IRS makes it easier by providing per diems for meals and incidentals and lodging. (Self-employed persons cannot use the per diem for lodging; only meals and incidentals.) The per diem means you only need to provide documentation for the days traveling. The employer provides a reimbursement up to the per diem and the employee does not record the reimbursement as income, even if the reimbursement exceeds the actual expense. The GSA has a handy tool for determining how much the per diem is for each area of the U.S. Travel expenses under $75 do not require a receipt for deduction/reimbursement (except for lodging). A record is required stating the time, place and business purpose of the expense. (Note: You are allowed the per diem “or” actual expense per business trip. You are not locked into one method for the entire year.)
  3. Meal expenses also have easier recordkeeping rules, even when not traveling. Meals under $75 do not require a receipt. A record of time, place and business purpose of the meal is required. Note: Home office snacks or meals on your own are not a deductible or reimbursable business expense. 

Any employer can reimburse all employees for work related expenses, not just remote workers. Uniform expenses (purchase, laundering, mending), work shoes or tools, for example, can also be reimbursed, even for employees working on the employer’s site.

Remote workers home office deduction.

Remote workers still have tax benefits after the loss of home office deductions.

Tax Benefits for the Employee and the Employer

The tax benefits to the employee are obvious. Previously nondeductible expenses are now reimbursed so the employee has no out of pocket expense. (The employer can choose to partially reimburse, as well. It’s not an all or none game.)

The employer usually gets a full deduction for the expenses and employee retention is higher when employees are not out money for work-related expenses. 

Then come the big tax advantages for both parties. 

 

Trading Wages for Reimbursements

I can see the wheels turning in your head. Wouldn’t it be easier to swap out wages for reimbursements? The IRS thought of that too and said “No!” in Revenue Ruling 2012-25

While an employer can’t reclassify wages or salary as a reimbursement, it doesn’t mean a reasonable compromise isn’t possible that saves all parties involved some tax dollars. 

Let’s say John works for XYZ Inc. His annual salary is $100,000. John works from his home office and has some typical expenses related to his work. If John’s employer will provide a $95,000 salary with work related expenses reimbursed (assuming John has over $5,000 in work related expenses each year), it might be a better deal for John than the higher $100,000 salary since John will pay income and FICA taxes on $5,000 less. The employer also saves the employer’s portion of the FICA tax, paying the tax on the $5,000 lower salary. Everyone wins!

You can offer one salary without reimbursement of work expenses and another salary with reimbursement as long as it isn’t a dollar for dollar exchange. Wages and salaries cannot be reclassified as a reimbursement!

 

One Last Tax Tip: Rent Your Home Office to Your Employer

If all else fails there is one more option. Employers don’t always want to reimburse mortgage interest expenses and so forth. The open ended nature of home office expenses can also scare an employer when it comes to reimbursement. 

If your employer has these concerns or is uninterested in an accountable plan, offer to rent your home office to them. (“Hey, I get paid when I rent my property to someone, Mister Employer!”) The rent must be reasonable. If your home office garners a $500 per month rent, then the employer should pay $500 rent per month for use of your property. 

Rent received is taxable income and reported on Schedule E. And expenses related to your rental are deductible! Keep in mind, only the expenses related to the office count in this instance (pro-rata share of utilities, insurance…); office supplies still require an accountable plan.

 

Things have changed ever since the pandemic arrived. Remote workers were a growing category before the pandemic, but world events pushed remote employment into overdrive. That doesn’t have to be a bad thing leading to a pay cut due to unreimbursed work expenses. Now you have a plan, and the tools, to solve the problem and move forward.

 

 

More Wealth Building Resources

Worthy Financial offers a flat 5% on their investment. You can read my review here. 

Personal Capital is an incredible tool to manage all your investments in one place. You can watch your net worth grow as you reach toward financial independence and beyond. Did I mention Personal Capital is free?

Medi-Share is a low cost way to manage health care costs. As health insurance premiums continue to sky rocket, there is an alternative preserving the wealth of families all over America. Here is my review of Medi-Share and additional resources to bring health care under control in your household.

QuickBooks is a daily part of life in my office. Managing a business requires accurate books without wasting time. QuickBooks is an excellent tool for managing your business, rental properties, side hustle and personal finances.

cost segregation study can reduce taxes $100,000 for income property owners. Here is my review of how cost segregation studies work and how to get one yourself.

What you spend on is more important than frugality.

When it comes to the blogs and other tracts providing information on building wealth, frugality carries most of the weight. And it makes sense. The greater the difference of income over spending is a strong determinant of the level of wealth an individual will achieve during their lifetime as compared to their income level. 

As important as frugality is, spending is even more important, even if it doesn’t garner the column inches the matter deserves. Spending less than you earn is the seed money for investments and without investments it is impossible to build significant wealth.

As an accountant I see people from all spectrums of income. Frugality, even hyper-frugality, is the hallmark of those with modest levels of wealth. Even the lowest income earners can amass a half million or more in a working career when frugality is taken to religious levels, with the excess invested in equities like index funds.

Mid-levels of income also do well with only the single tool of frugality. As their wealth grows they sometimes seek out professionals to help them. These clients tend to want short consulting sessions once a year with a review at tax time. 

Then come the serious achievers. These people sometimes have modest incomes, sometimes large incomes.  Regardless their income level, these people smack it out of the park. Their level of wealth is well beyond what would be expected for their income level or level of frugality (the excess of income above spending).

Super-achievers in wealth building focus on spending rather than frugality. They know spending is more important. And they know most spending drains their energy and wealth while proper spending can actually make them richer!

They also know that wealth is fleeting. The highway is littered with the corpses of wealthy people of yesteryear. A lifetime of building wealth can be lost in less time than it takes to snap your fingers. That is today’s topic. Wealthy people that keep it long enough to leave a legacy spend on the 5 things listed below in a disproportionate amount compared to the general population. As you flex your frugality muscles you want to consider spending some of that excess on these things to grow and preserve your wealth. Because, remember, when you have money there are always those looking to separate you from it.

Millionaires and Health

How wealthy can you really be if you are chronically sick? In pain? Or dead! 

If you have your health you are already wealthy and rich people know it and take steps to keep it that way. Eating quality food and exercise are primary. Proper medical care also plays a key role.

I see poor people and those looking to super-charge their frugality, to achieve goals like early retirement, refuse to pay for quality food or a gym membership or a piece of exercise equipment. It is counter-productive behavior.

I have a membership at Lake Park Swim & Fitness. Mrs. Accountant attends two or three exercise groups per week and I hit the floor (where the weights are) three times per week. This is a part of our routine! Physical activity is a priority in our life. Mrs. Accountant loves it so much she took a part-time job their working two nights per week cleaning up a bit (and for a free membership).

Outside the gym I also remain active. I walk an hour each day and sometimes jog. My sneakers see at least 3 miles of travel daily above and beyond normal movements (walking to the water cooler, et cetera). I chop wood on my farm, plant trees and work the garden. I recently bought a step meter to see how I’m doing. Rare is the day with fewer than 10,000 steps and many days are well above 20,000. Mrs. Accountant has similar numbers.

Lake Park isn’t the cheapest gym, but they also are not the cheapest gym. (Yes, you read that right.) It is the cleanest gym (and friendliest) gym I’ve ever been a member of.  I want a clean environment and working equipment. My workouts are serious business and I want a gym that feels the same way.

Food is another important expenditure for the wealthy. I grow much of my own food, but nutritious food can be had from the grocery store and it doesn’t require the “organic” label. Processed foods are limited in my household. Fresh fruits and vegetables are a common sight. We freeze and can lots of homegrown produce. Home prepared meals are the best so we do it a lot.

Health includes medical services. I see many poor people (and even some earning a reasonable wage) foregoing medical care and recommended treatments. Modern technology has given us the longest lifespan in human history, but it does no good if you don’t use the technology. 

Reasonable medical insurance to deal with a big medical issues is a must in the U.S where there is limited national healthcare for people under age 65. Regular checkups and taking required medications are all part of the program. Wealthy people know it is easier to stay healthy than to regain health. And as a reminder, without health, financial wealth has far less meaning.

 

Millionaires and Legal

Most people know they need to take care of their health. Fewer understand the importance of legal protection.

What takes a lifetime to build can be sued away in a fraction of a moment. Wealthy people know it, too. Keeping wealth already accumulated is vital to keeping wealth all the way to the finish line. 

It blows this accountant’s mind when people set up their own business entity. They have no experience (in most cases) in how to do this correctly, but they do it anyway. These hard working people put in the hours for years and even decades. Yet, their first step is to take a shortcut, the cheaper way. (Notice I said cheaper, not frugal. Frugal doesn’t take shortcuts; cheapskates do.) 

The same applies to wills and other legal documents. Of course, if you do it wrong you will not be around to clean up the mess; your friends and family will. (Nice memory you left the kids.) 

In all my 37 years in practice I’ve never seen a truly wealthy person take legal shortcuts. I have seen many people lose a lifetime of work, sometimes while in retirement, over  not using a qualified professional to handle their legal needs. 

I keep a law firm on speed dial for legal questions and other legal services. They have my retainer. When in doubt I go to the professionals to help me make quality decisions. I understand tax laws well (and still rely on other tax professionals for research all the time), but legal matters not so much. Attorneys sometimes have a bad reputation. It should not be that way. My legal team is a vital part of my financial plan. Their advice is always welcome. Attorneys can save you a massive amount of money and grief when planning ahead, or, they can cost even more trying to fix a mess that might end up with a settlement costing you decades of your invested savings (work or lifeforce, as some say).

 

Millionaires and Tax and Accounting

I’ll admit this part is self-serving. It is also a vital part of wealth creation and retention. 

When you add up all the taxes you pay (income, property, excise, gift, sales and more) it is the biggest single expense in your life. Even your home doesn’t cost as much as all taxes combined are pealing from your wallet. Even a modest income can see half or more lost to the litany of taxes the government has devised to separate you from your hard-earned money.

In my office the tax professionals sometimes laugh when people say they prepare their own tax return. “We always enjoy summer work,” is their response. There is some truth to that.

Frugality is not enough if you want to be wealthy. How you spend and what you spend on will make the difference in how wealthy you become. If you want to be a millionaire you need to spend like a millionaire. That means frugality one one hand and intelligent spending that serves your needs on the other.But it gets worse. To this day I have never had a consulting session with a client or someone from this blog where I didn’t save that client several times in taxes what they paid me. There have been cases where a $1,000 consulting fee yielded 6-figures in additional wealth, much of it from tax savings. 

I have no problem with people preparing their own return when it is very simple. However, a tax professional is worth her weight in gold if she works with you! Rare is the non tax professional that knows when it is best to elect to treat their side hustle or business as an S-corp over a sole proprietorship. If you own income properties do you understand the mechanics of a cost-segregation study? If you own any investments are you aware of tools to defer and eliminate taxes on the profits? Like-kind exchanges? Opportunity funds? Delaware Statutory Trusts?

Even something as simple as  professional bookkeeping can send your net worth skyward faster. One of my accountants just helped an investment property owner from Mississippi clean up his books. Now he knows where he is financially at all times. He can make better decisions; I can give him better advice. Banks loans are easier to get and rates lower. He really has professional looking books! (It would be bragging if I did the work, but Dawn gets all the credit.)

His taxes are also lower because I can help him plan instead of react. He refers to us as his OCD accountant. Yes, we take pride in our work and pay attention to detail. It is never enough to have clean books. We demand we provide guidance to optimize wealth building for every client we serve. 

It doesn’t come cheap, of course. But I deliver greater results because I am incentivized to do so and invest in growing my arsenal to better serve clients. The cheapest isn’t always that cheap.

The income property owner discussed above had several accounting firms who could not get his fast growing rental business under control. Dawn even struggled in the beginning. There was, and is, a lot to digest. I kept applying steady, yet firm, pressure. While the client benefited, I was training an accountant on how to handle the difficult cases. Now that the books are clean it isn’t so challenging anymore.

And this brings up another important point. Not every tax and/or accounting professional is cut from the same cloth. Some are better than others and some are outright incompetent. In a previous post I discuss how you can find high quality tax professionals and accountants for your wealth building team. The same applies when looking for a legal professional.

With so much on the line it is worth hiring a competent tax professional. If your return is simple you can prepare it yourself. I have many consulting sessions with people who prepare their own tax return. I review the prior return as part of the consulting session and it is usually okay.

Tax and accounting  professionals are worth their most when consulting. Their large reservoir of knowledge and experience can help you make better career and investment choices. It is difficult at best to build serious wealth without a highly qualified tax professional.

 

Millionaires and Education

Primary and secondary schooling, along with a college, is designed to teach you how to learn. Until you learn how to learn nothing else will matter. Yes, college will educate you on the basics in your field of study, but it is just the basics, as hard as those final exams were.

The most powerful tool the millionaires has to create and build wealth is never-ending education. Learning never ends for the wealthy.Nothing prepares you for real world. College textbooks have nice neat questions with exact answers. Real life rarely delivers such a neat package. Thinking on your feet and designing answers on the go is vital to success. That is why doctors spend so much time in college and even more time sharpening their skills as interns and in residency.

Once you learn how to learn the world is at your beck and call. What you learn in college can quickly become dated. Your “real” education begins after graduation!  

Many professions require continuing education (CE). Doctors, attorneys, accountants and enrolled agents (a tax professional designation) all are required to take continuing education courses each year. And for good reason. Bad habits can set in and CE can bring behavior back in line. New technologies and changing laws all require more learning, more education.

Application is harder than theory. I see tax professionals and accountants come out of college and struggle when they move from the legal facts to applying those facts in real world situations. Clients don’t always bring in all their paperwork. Some (all too many) are trying to game the system. Your job is to keep clients in line (they didn’t teach you that in college, did they?) and use the material at hand to build the most accurate record.

Doctors face a rude awakening when the classroom makes way for the medical theater. Answers are not always easy to define or find and time is of the essence. It’s an open book test with a human life on the line and the clock speeding forward.

You don’t have to be in a profession to benefit from education. In all facets of my life I have continued learning. Reading is a daily part of life (a big part of life). Every day is a learning experience! Even after all these years of study and thousands of books digested, I still feel like a neophyte most of the time. The more you learn the more you realize there is to learn. It is humbling.

Learning is one of the great pleasures in life, too. Wealthy people find this compelling. They spend a disproportionate amount of their income and wealth on education at all times of their life and enjoy the process. The wonder of discovery never grows old. 

Spending on education is a guilty pleasure wealthy people never skimp on. My personal library has pushed past 3,000 volumes and I make prodigious use of several local libraries as well. I am a sponge for knowledge and people pay me a lot of money to see how I put the pieces together as it applies to them. And there is nothing more pleasurable and fun than that.

 

Millionaires and Insurance

This expenditure of the wealthy might come as a surprise to many. That is because you need to sift the junk insurance from the stuff that matters when it come to building and retaining wealth.

To start, we are not talking about the insurance you purchase for small electronics at retail outlets. If you can’t afford to fix or replace an $86 item you can’t afford the item. This is junk insurance and wealthy people don’t buy it. Besides, most credit cards provide similar insurance for free just for charging the item on their card.

Wealthy people strategically target their insurance spending. It has to protect wealthy adequately or build wealth.

Large assets require coverage. Homeowners should have adequate insurance to protect against large losses. Wealthy people frequently have high deductibles, however. Small losses are easily handler out-of-pocket and insuring for small losses is always a losing game.

Home and auto insurance are more than just protecting the asset’s value. Many wealthy people don’t have collision on their vehicle or have a high deductible. That is because a damaged car is a mild inconvenience when it comes to building serious wealth. 

Lawsuits, on the other hand, are a different story. A minor fender-bender might set you back a few thousand; the lawsuit several hundred thousand and a boatload of time, anxiety and stress.

Wealthy people almost always enhance their insurance with an umbrella policy, extending liability coverage beyond the original policy limits. Damage to property almost always  is a minor issue when it comes to wealth, but a lawsuit can eliminate all vestiges wealth ever existed in your portfolio. And, as already mentioned, it can happen faster than the snap of the fingers.

Other insurances wealthy people use fund legacy planning and business protection. Protecting a business protects the income stream, an important consideration for the wealthy and those soon to be. Legacy planning frequently includes insurance to deal with tax issues, fund charities of choice and provide long-term for family after our wealthy friend departs this realm. You would be surprised how much income can be generated with a proper insurance policy and it isn’t the insurance policy providing the income, only the protection and/or framework to provide such additional income.

Non-wealthy people fight this expenditure the most. I even saw a popular blogger a few years back claim he forewent homeowner’s insurance. I can only imagine the risk and damage readers taking his advice faced. (The real value of homeowner’s insurance in the liability protection, not the casualty coverage, by the way.)

Wealthy people buy insurance that protects against serious losses to wealth while poor people insure items on Amazon with a sticker price under $100. That one simple fact tells a very large story.

The right insurance is important. The insurance agent might not be the right place to go to find out the best values in insurance (insurance agents don’t always understand legal and tax issues). That is why we consult with educated attorneys and tax/accounting professionals. Your accountant and attorney are a vital part of your plan to build and retain wealth, and frequently have a fundamental understanding of all the wealth issues involved, including insurance.

 

Coda

There are other things wealthy people spend on too. The 5 above are areas wealthy people generally do not skimp on. Too much is at stake if they do.

Thinking like a wealthy person is the first step in building wealth. Keep yourself as healthy as possible, adequately protect yourself with qualified legal professionals, also hire qualified people in the tax and accounting field, never stop learning and protect your current and future assets with proper insurance.

You might have other priorities. Many wealthy people travel more than I do, but it isn’t required. Some buy more home than I would feel comfortable living in. To each their own, I say. But the 5 categories above are where all wealthy people focus their spending if they plan on keeping it. That might be a hint you should, too. 

Engage frugality and put the excess monies to work. Learning to save and spend properly is the only way to reach financial goals; to reach true levels of significant wealth.

 

More Wealth Building Resources

Worthy Financial offers a flat 5% on their investment. You can read my review here. 

Personal Capital is an incredible tool to manage all your investments in one place. You can watch your net worth grow as you reach toward financial independence and beyond. Did I mention Personal Capital is free?

Medi-Share is a low cost way to manage health care costs. As health insurance premiums continue to sky rocket, there is an alternative preserving the wealth of families all over America. Here is my review of Medi-Share and additional resources to bring health care under control in your household.

QuickBooks is a daily part of life in my office. Managing a business requires accurate books without wasting time. QuickBooks is an excellent tool for managing your business, rental properties, side hustle and personal finances.

cost segregation study can reduce taxes $100,000 for income property owners. Here is my review of how cost segregation studies work and how to get one yourself.

COVID-19

Five months ago COVID-19 was just getting started. Fear was rampant. People and businesses made rushed decisions with long-term consequences. In the U.S. fewer than 10,000 people had died from the virus, yet fear was many more would die. 

Over concerns clients and readers (that is you my kind friends) would make poor financial decisions, I published an article encouraging caution and recommended people relax, breathe deeply and think before making a decision. By thinking before acting, I felt my people would be in a better position to make decisions that would serve them well. 

Then I watched my readers act and react on social media. The spread of COVID-19 should have run a chill down the spines of any normal human being. But social media does not bring out the “normal” in people. Some over-reacted with the attitude everyone should shelter in place forever. But as always happens, the disease became “normal” as we saw it every day. Before long people wanted to get out and act as if nothing was wrong or that the risk had ended. The middle, sensible, ground somehow lost out. 

It is sad the intelligent solutions lost out. Again, social media was rife with conspiracy theories, questionable remedies and outright lies. Social distancing, washing hands and masks are three simple things everyone can do to slow the spread of the virus until a vaccine can end its rein of terror.

Logic didn’t work 5 months ago, so now I have to get blunt. This is a financial blog so there is a reason for the focus on a medical issue. Your reaction to COVID-19 is a large part of the way you think. If you conduct stupid, risky behavior with your life, you probably do even worse when it comes to money. The best way for me to convey this message is with the good cop/bad cop routine. 

There are two parts to this post. Part 1 is a mild comedy sketch of the facts. In Part 2 we will put it together and pull out meaningful and valuable data you can use. This value will increase your wealth and allow you to live long enough to enjoy it. Remember, Part 1 is dark comedy and not my opinion. I don’t want hate mail before you read the whole story.

 

Part 1: Dark Humor

I have noticed some interesting posts on my Facebook page recently. It seems people are eager to spread the word that COVID-19 is either a hoax or not that bad or the people dying from the virus would have died in a short time anyway. I also noticed on Facebook (and even in my office) people claiming they have a medical reason to not wear a mask. 

This is just stupid! Doctors have been wearing a mask for over 100 years when working with patients and when in surgery. To date, there is no record of any doctor passing out while wearing a mask. None! In the winter, folks here in NE Wisconsin (and other northern locales) bundle up with thick clothing all over their body and one or more layers covering their face. Then they venture outdoors and slog through snow, wind, ice and frigid temperatures. No more than 5% or so of the population ever passes out in any given week while doing this. The police simply come by and pry the dead bodies from the ground as they clear the roads and sidewalks. Acceptable losses.

Of course that isn’t true. Very few people have any issue with a mask during cold weather. Those that pass out or die don’t do so because of wearing a mask, but because of the cold weather and heavy clothing. And it is usually from a heart attack.

Perhaps people up nort (only folks from northern Wisconsin and Upper Michigan will know how to pronounce that correctly) are built of hardier stock. Warm weather year-round could be making southern people soft and ruining their lungs, preventing them from wearing a thin piece of cloth over their face. Manufacturers will need warning labels on shirts and undergarments similar to plastic bags. WARNING: RISK OF SUFFOCATION! DO NOT COVER FACE WITH THIS UNDERWEAR! The CDC needs to warn people to put their t-shirt on fast for health reasons.

The face mask is a real problem for the majority people, all whom struggle to breathe even with no facial covering. I understand. I once had a hair from my beard get in my mouth and I thought I wouldn’t make it. Witnesses said I was turning blue from lack of oxygen.

Enough about masks; they aren’t needed anyway because COVID isn’t killing all that many people in the first place. The government is padding the numbers to scare us and most people who die from COVID would die eventually anyway. (You read that right.) 

Let’s look at the facts; you know, statistics.

I’ve heard it so often on social media it must be true: COVID is just like the flu. Only old and sick people are dying from COVID, right? They were all going to die anyway. Right? So why the fuss. Who cares if some old guy 35 years old dies? Young people need to get out, party and have fun. They’ll be 35 soon enough so they need to get their partying in now! Those young people dying from COVID is fake news and a hoax anyway. Saw that on Twitter.

Talking about flu season, only 12,000 Americans die each year from the flu. A really bad year can be as high as 61,000, but that doesn’t happen more than once or twice a decade.

And you don’t worry about dying from the flu, do you? Do you wear a stinking mask just because some slim ball sneezes, do you? No you don’t! You are an adult and have your rights! Besides, NyQuil ™ makes you feel happy. 

So COVID isn’t that bad. It’s like a bad cold season. When was the last time you worried about dying from a cold? during the summer?

COVID only killed 174,165 Americans as I write this.  That isn’t that many. And don’t use that sorry line COVID did in 5-6 months what the flu does in a year. We all know the flu doesn’t do its damage in just a short period of time. Who ever heard of a summer cold? Thought so.

It really isn’t that many! I mean, think about it. I have to give up my God-given rights and wear a mask? and social distance? and wash my hands!!! I’m an American and have my rights! I don’t want any of that socialist stuff from Europe (well, actually pretty much everywhere, including the U.S. is socialist, but I digress). 

Now that we have that straight, that my rights are more important than your scaredy-cat facts, I propose a few more changes to our American lifestyle. If we can have a biker rally in Sturgis during a pandemic we can have a lot of other things, too. As Americans, we have our rights. 

First, we have to stop acting like wusses when a mere 3,000 Americans die in a terrorist attack. Taking off my shoes at the airport, along with the rest of the security check, is unacceptable to a man from a free country. And why should I pay for all that waste? And as long as we’re at it, the cockpit (the boys are giggling now) doesn’t need a bullet proof door. One terrorist attack and billions are spent. . .  of our money! Besides, what happens if the pilot and co-pilot have a heart attack at the same time? It’s possible! Go long enough and it is bound to happen. Just as many dead and broken people as 9/11. Insane! (FYI: Prior to 9/11 I secretly hoped a flight deck would go down so I could land a 737 the way a civilian with no fight experience does in the movies.)

We need to put death into perspective, too. Only 174,165 dead from COVID to date? More died in WWII than from COVID (so far); 291,557 American soldiers died in combat during the Big War. During the entire Vietnam War America only had a mere 47,434 battle deaths. And we started the nightly news back in the 1960s with the number of Americans who died in Vietnam each day. And there were protests! On college campuses! I don’t know what they were protesting for. Today Americans should be protesting for a re-institution of the draft so we can go back to Vietnam and finish the job. The military will also save money since Americans can now bring their own gun to work

As long as we are at it, there are a few more rights we have lost, my fellow Americans. Talking about gun rights, only 15,498 Americans were killed by firearm in 2018. Such a small number of dead Americans and we pass laws restricting firearms, a constitutional right! Heck, COVID kills that many in 10 days and we don’t bat an eyelash. Toughen up America. 

Here is another right we lost. The government, yes that insane group of left-wing liberals, passed laws requiring you to wear a seat belt. Can you believe that? Over half the people killed in auto accidents in 2017 were wearing their seat belt. Lot of good that did them. And the rest of us have to suffer with the constraints of a belt to hold us in our vehicle in case of an accident. That’s as bad as wearing a mask.

Here is the worst government intrusion of all on our rights: drinking and driving laws. In 2016, 37,461 people died in vehicle accidents. Only 10,497 involved alcohol! A week of COVID deaths at best!

For some reason the government has decided it was no longer okay to have one more for the road. Here you are, enjoying a pleasant evening out with friends, and a bored police officer pulls you over, delaying your return home. You get arrested for only having one drink. One! They put you in jail, waste the court’s time and fill the prison with your carcass. All over a measly drink! 

Now I know what some of you are thinking. People who drink and drive have more accidents, but you miss the whole point. The people who drink and drive are just fine, except for the people with impairment problems. These people were going to die sometime anyway.

I hear you. What about the children? Well, in 2016, we saw 1,233 children die in alcohol related auto accidents. But when you think about it, that is a really small number compared to COVID. I also bet you noticed all those young people out partying during the current pandemic. These people aren’t afraid of dying. The number of dead kids is a fraction of a percent of all kids in the country. A small price to pay for their freedom. Besides, some of them will die in Vietnam when we start the war back up.

Then there are. . . 

No. I can’t take it anymore. These arguments are insane alright. COVID deaths are too high and people are making excuses because they are either callus, ignorant, lazy or all of the above. Let’s turn the discussion to something more serious; something that will make the world and our life better.

Part 2: The Fuzzy Math of COVID-19

The statistics above are all true, only twisted in a way to distort the truth. This is prevalent on social media and even from trusted news sources. I included links for your review so you can find answers closest to the actual truth based on facts. 

The faulty logic used in our dark humor skit is more than a risk to our physical health; it is the same mindset that harms you financially. We actually have people who believe 1,000 or more dead Americans a day isn’t that bad. There are people who think it is okay to carry on as if nothing has changed because only old people suffer the consequences. They forgot their Hemingway: Do not ask for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee. (For exact quote use the link.) The clock keeps counting for all of us and since I see no old people saying, “I don’t care if young people do stuff that might kill me,” I assume today’s young people will want respectfully behavior from the future’s youth.

Except the young are not exempt! Some young people do get sick from COVID. Fortunately, many have few or mild symptoms. Yet, some younger people get very ill and even die from the infection. Worse, there seems to be long-term health issues in some young people. The medical community still doesn’t have answers to why this is. (The Economist, pgs. 65-6, August 22, 2020 print edition

If anyone really believes this faulty logic they would be demanding (and protesting) for the end of seat belt laws, drinking and driving laws and incarceration. But nobody actually protests these laws seriously because we know they do good things for all of us. These laws flatten the curve, so to speak. It is estimated that 14,955 people died in 2017 in auto accidents that would not have died had they been wearing a seat belt. 

Drinking and driving laws are even more advantageous. The 10,497 people who died in 2016 in alcohol related accidents doesn’t tell the whole story. I never heard the argument from young people that “only” 1,233 children died in alcohol related auto accident in 2016 and conclude drinking and driving is less risky for young people. We know that stiff laws on drinking and driving flattens the curve. 

Many social media arguments claim that anyone who dies with COVID is listed as dying from COVID. This isn’t true. Yes, it is possible some people who died in an auto accident with COVID were inadvertently included in the COVID statistics. The number, if there are any, would be extraordinarily low. Making such a claim is like arguing people who die in alcohol related auto accidents would have died from other reasons anyway. Who can say the guy that wrapped his car around the tree would not have died an hour later at home of a heart attack? It is a fallacious argument and should not be used for COVID or alcohol related auto accident deaths.

We could write a book of examples on the faulty logic used to downplay any medical situation. Tobacco companies have been doing it for decades and you are better than a tobacco company, I hope. Instead, we need to turn our attention to what matters in this journal: personal finance and taxes.

Part 2a: The Fuzzy Logic of Personal Finance

We see the faulty logic every day on social media and news outlets. The issues of faulty logic were quickly debunked in Part 2 above. Unfortunately, too many will be distracted from this message before they even read this far. That is too bad because the same faulty logic, carried into your personal life, will cause great financial harm.

The lesson should be simple: Spend less than you earn, invest in broad-based index funds and wait. You tell me how much less you will spend compared to your income and I’ll tell you your net worth at any point in the future within a few percentage points. Then insane illogic takes hold.

Like COVID, young people are less affected in the near term if they don’t heed the mantra above. And even if you do internalize spending less than you earn and investing the difference eventually, you need less money set aside each month to reach retirement or financial independence goals the younger you start. Waiting to start saving and investing is the crime! It’s a simple product of time, as in, the more time your money has to grow the more it does. Call it Keith’s Rule 34. 

Again, like COVID, young people feel invincible and spend to their desire rather than to common sense. Somewhere between youth and their 50th birthday they have a come to Jesus moment and realize the clock really is ticking and who keeps tolling that bell! Then the crazy logic used to start this post is tossed out the window because stupid doesn’t cut it anymore. 

And some never get the message. They don’t walk into my office much anymore since I’m not the kind of tax office you visit if you are 80 years old with a 30 year mortgage and working a job for the man at that ripe old age because you have debt and bills to pay. So much for the gold in the Golden Years. Long-time readers know I’m not a big fan of traveling, but I do like to get out of the house now and again. In retirement it would be nice to visit a few places, even if they are only a skip, hop and a jump away. If I’m working when I’m 80 it’s because I want to and doing the things I want to work at, not out of necessity.

You can delude yourself into believing it’s not that serious when you are young, but it is. Everyone has seen the chart where twin brothers take two investing paths. The first brother starts saving (and investing those savings) $2,000 per year at age 18 and stops when he reaches 24. His twin starts saving $2,000 per year at 24 and keeps at it until age 65. Both brothers end up with about the same amount of money. Only, the first brother invested a mere $14,000 while the second brother invested $80,000 of his earnings.

It is serious: COVID and starting yesterday to save and invest money. The stock market is on a tear after the initial COVID scare. There are people who hit it out of the park owning Apple, Facebook, Tesla and a few other stocks. What we don’t hear about is the people who got taken out behind the woodshed for a whooping. 

The faulty logic of COVID is, “I am young so it will not affect me, I can carry on a normal, I don’t have to wear a mask.” The faulty logic of the poor is, “I’m young and have plenty of time to start saving and investing, I can party and have fun while I’m young because I can, I don’t have to worry about my health because I’m young and healthy.” Notice the overlap?

Too bad a couple percent will not be so lucky. If you have your health you are already wealthy. Medical problems are expensive. Medical bills are more painful than the disease! And lost income due to health reasons is the financial double-whammy health issues can cause.

You will never get another chance to spend less than you earned today and invest the difference. Sure, you can start tomorrow, but today is lost as it bleeds into history. The only questions is: Will you keep buying into the faulty logic of COVID-19 and extending that faulty logic to your retirement and financial independence plans?

Only you can decide that.

 

More Wealth Building Resources

Worthy Financial offers a flat 5% on their investment. You can read my review here. 

Personal Capital is an incredible tool to manage all your investments in one place. You can watch your net worth grow as you reach toward financial independence and beyond. Did I mention Personal Capital is free?

Medi-Share is a low cost way to manage health care costs. As health insurance premiums continue to sky rocket, there is an alternative preserving the wealth of families all over America. Here is my review of Medi-Share and additional resources to bring health care under control in your household.

QuickBooks is a daily part of life in my office. Managing a business requires accurate books without wasting time. QuickBooks is an excellent tool for managing your business, rental properties, side hustle and personal finances.

cost segregation study can reduce taxes $100,000 for income property owners. Here is my review of how cost segregation studies work and how to get one yourself.

Now that we are firmly in the dog days of summer (as I write and published this, not as you are probably reading it) it is time to turn our attention to how pets actually make us richer in so many ways, including financially. And since it is the dogs days of summer we will focus on cats. This isn’t to take anything away from dogs and dog lovers (we always had a dog on the farm growing up). Dogs are cash machines, same as cats. It’s just that your favorite accountant currently lives with two cats.

Now I can hear some folks out there taking exception to my premise that pets are a cash machine when pets actually cost money. Food, litter, toys and vet bills add up. A few years back a blogger in the FIRE community let the world know pets were a frivolous expense and in no way frugal. I disagreed then and now. Unless you have a herd of animals in your home, pets increase your health and wealth in many ways. And our furry family members do it in such a stealthy way.

Of course I’m biased. I enjoyed cats in the home since high school. We always had a dog or two around the farm when I was growing up. A farm dog is a great help when getting the cows in at milking time. They are also a great companion when working in the barn and fields. There is a wealth beyond financial that friendship brings. And cats take care of important business, too.

You know you are in trouble when you get this look. Usually it means, “FEED ME!!!”

1. Medical Expenses

a. Health Insurance

 The biggest financial benefit of owning cats involves health costs. Pets, and especially cats, have been shown to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

Medical costs are a serious percent of the family budget. Lowering cholesterol and blood pressure can not only save on prescriptions and doctor visits, but also open the door to savings with lower cost health insurance plans. A high-deductible health insurance plan that is health savings account (HSA) qualified reduces costs up front while opening the door for tax-deductible savings you can use for future out-of-pocket medical expenses or for retirement if not used by age 65. 

The financial benefits of owning a cat can exceed the expenses of owning a cat. That should come as no surprise. with medical cost so high.

b. Heart Health

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S. with ~650,000 people dying from this single cause every year. Stroke claims around another 150,000 Americans each year.

Due to the cholesterol and blood pressure lowering benefits cats bring, owning a cat could help you live longer. According to a Goodnet.org article, owning a cat can lower your risk of certain heart diseases and stroke by ~ 30%. 

Interacting with your cat also lowers cortisol levels. This means merely playing with your cat can lower the hormone responsible for weight gain. Excess weight is a major factor in many illnesses in the U.S. as well. Lower weight can also increase quality of life which comes in handy if you are going to live longer.

c. Faster Healing

The purring sound cats make when happy reduces stress and facilitates healing of bones, muscles and tendons. Something as simple as your cat laying on your lap and purring as you pet her can improve your health.

Vibration frequencies between 18-35 hertz have been shown to promote healing. The vibrations the purring of a cat creates fall within the 20-140 hertz range. It is no wonder a purring cat helps us get better sooner.

In a February 2018 report from the NIH, cats can also increase your mood, reduce loneliness and help children with developmental disabilities. 

d. Stress

Stress and anxiety is endemic in our modern world. Petting your cat actually lowers anxiety and stress levels by causing the release of calming chemicals in your body. 

Costs for stress and anxiety have reached $300 billion per year in the U.S., including: lost work hours, lower productivity, accidents, medical and insurance costs. 

Less stress improves mental health, too. Our furry family member improves our life on multiple levels. Taking care of our cat releases feel-good neurotransmitters. These neurotransmitters reduce stress and thereby, reduce health costs.

e. Fewer Allergies for Kids

A study from the National institute of Health released in 2002 indicated children exposed to cats in their first year of life were less likely to suffer from allergies. It seems high exposure to cats in a child’s early years reduces pet allergies later in life, but also for other common allergies: ragweed, grass, pollen.

I run this place and don’t you forget it.

2. Social Life

a. Family Life

Dr. June Nicolls, a leading pet researcher, found women are more attracted to men with cats. This isn’t a minor benefit either, guys. According to Nicolls, 90% of single women found men with cats nicer and more caring than men without a cat.

While I found no research proving the following statement, I think it is fair to consider owning a cat can improve your home life and interactions with family members. Instead of a fight escalating, the aggrieved party can talk it out with the family cat. Also, caring for a cat improves parenting instincts. By providing for your cat you train yourself to care for others and consider their feelings. This is good for everyone involved.

b. Energy Levels

There is a study from Indiana University (link no longer available) that says simply watching cat videos can boost energy levels and create positive emotions. There was also a reduction in negative emotions. Even if you don’t own a cat, watching videos of cats can provide health benefits. The sound of purring, even from a computer speaker, is valuable if you are healing from injury.

Cats talk! Pinky says, “It’s okay for food to fall from the dinner table.”

3. Making Money with Your Cat

Up till this point we focused on the money you can save from having a resident cat. Even a minor reduction in medical costs can turn your tabby into to a financial dynamo. Add the personal benefits and joy of petting and playing with your furry friend and it becomes clear cats really are a member of the family.

But saving money is only one financial benefit of cat ownership. You can also make make money with cats. 

a. Social Media

Rachel Miller is a self-acclaimed Facebook marketing geek. In the past she had a cat page on Facebook and made money from it. Countless others have turned some coin with cat videos on YouTube, Instagram and other social media sites. Here is one of my favorite YouTube channels (and a profitable one, I might add).

Cats are always a great selling tool. (Animals in general are. That is why so many firms use animals in advertisements.) If you are lucky you might get your cat into a marketing program with nice residuals. (Think Grumpy Cat.) If you have a business or side hustle your cat can bring home the bacon by providing your business a friendly face.

b. Cat Business

There are a variety of cat businesses to choose from. Cat grooming, training and cat-sitting are a few ways your cat can earn money for you. I have a client who makes kitty clothes; she turns a tidy profit. Her cat models the outfits and helps her size the clothes and costumes.

c. Rodent Control

Another massive benefit of having cats is they keep rodents away. Every so often a mouse makes its way indoors as the weather turns cooler in the autumn. We never need to spend on poison or traps. One mouse; two cats. What odds do you give the mouse? 

Mice and rats carry disease. Cats keeping a watchful eye 24/7 means rodents never get established in your home. The cost of an exterminator is significant and the household cats do it for free. 

 

Several years ago a personal finance blogger (as stated in the open of this post) nixed the idea of having a pet because it wasn’t frugal. He caught heck for that post (it wasn’t me!). Having too many pets can be a drain on the family finances. However, life is  series of trade-offs. You can’t spend on every item that glows in the dark and party all the time and have money for a pet. Your cat also needs love; while they soothe you, you soothe them. So you need home time with kitty daily.

It isn’t hard to make money with a pet in our modern world. I picked cats because I have cats. A dog or other pet can work just as well. People love watching animal videos. There was a time(it might still be out there) where people would put a video on their TV of a fish aquarium. And people binge watch cat videos on YouTube all the time.

Animals relax us. Cats are special. They don’t take a lot of work (feed them and clean the litter box and you are good to go). But too many cat owners miss the financial opportunity their furry friend provides. 

It seems cat pictures and videos sell. With that said, I will be starting a Facebook page for my kitties soon. I then can share the antics of my cats, along with other funny cat videos and placards. Who knows, my cats might pay the light bill one day soon.

Pinky is enjoying the last of the Dog Days of summer.

 

More Wealth Building Resources

Worthy Financial offers a flat 5% on their investment. You can read my review here. 

Personal Capital is an incredible tool to manage all your investments in one place. You can watch your net worth grow as you reach toward financial independence and beyond. Did I mention Personal Capital is free?

Medi-Share is a low cost way to manage health care costs. As health insurance premiums continue to sky rocket, there is an alternative preserving the wealth of families all over America. Here is my review of Medi-Share and additional resources to bring health care under control in your household.

QuickBooks is a daily part of life in my office. Managing a business requires accurate books without wasting time. QuickBooks is an excellent tool for managing your business, rental properties, side hustle and personal finances.

cost segregation study can reduce taxes $100,000 for income property owners. Here is my review of how cost segregation studies work and how to get one yourself.

It is the one thing that could put you on the fast track to the top. A-list actors, international rock bands, name-brand athletes, successful business people and the uber-wealthy are the kinds of clients that turn your business into something special. Selling an actor’s home, consulting with the wealthiest people in the world and business planning with an athlete automatically changes the nature of your business. You are now working with the elite and that takes a proper mindset.

Having a name on your client list from the zeitgeist gives you instant credibility. People will want to do business with you when they know you work for a famous individual. Better still, once you manage to add one superstar to your client list it has a habit of growing into a larger list of famous names.

Brad Pitt in wax.

And the income isn’t bad either. Someone pulling $28 million a year needs more tax and accounting advice (using the author as an example in this post) and they pay more for it because much more issues are involved. In a way, having famous people on your client list makes you famous, at least in a small group comprised mostly of other superstars.

There are two levels to the process of adding well-known names to your client list. In the last twenty years my tax practice has added names from the NFL and other professional sports, rock bands even non-listeners would recognize, actors on the big and small screen and high net worth clients. Prior to that I had few rock bands and wealthy business people and professionals visiting me. Then something changed and my business was never the same.

The first level to dealing with superstars involves expectations, sort of like a list of do’s and don’t’s. Knowing this before you attempt to attract household names increases your chances of building a relationship with these uber-achievers and keeping the relationship for more than a month.

The second level is the behaviors necessary to acquire the desired client. Once you serve one household name it becomes easier, but only modestly so. These people work together and share information. They are looking for qualified professionals to handle their needs, same as you. It is hard to understand A-list actors struggling to find competent tax professionals, but they frequently do. And when they find a keeper they whisper among themselves. If you are game you will have an entire client list of wealthy, famous and successful people.

 

What Celebrity Clients are Looking For

Anybody can find a house for you or sell your home. Most tax professionals can pound out a tax return for an athlete. The basic service is a given no matter who the potential client is. Celebrities have needs well beyond these basics. In most professional services these clients spend more time consulting than in the actual process of the actual work. In short, I consult over 10 hours with a celebrity for every one hour I spend preparing their tax return. Sometimes more.

Some celebrity clients speak with me monthly; some once year at tax time. Celebrities are normal people just like you and me. Some want very detailed help while others want something straight to the point. The only difference is they are well-known due to their profession. Most of my celebrity clients speak with me 3-5 times per year outside tax season. The conversation lasts from a few minutes to several hours, depending on what is happening in the celebrities life.

Before you start your celebrity search (we’ll discuss that in a bit) you need to understand the unique characteristics of working with celebrities.

 

1. Confidentiality is of Vital Importance

Confidentiality should be common sense (and frequently the law) for professionals. This is also a two-way street. As an example: I had a famous family mention I was their accountant. Instantly my phone (I have a store front in my business so it isn’t hard to find my business number) and email exploded. People who could not contact this family through the normal channels hoped they could use me to get them a message. First, it is distracting as all get-out when someone does this (and unprofessional). And second, playing telephone between celebrity and the endless spam requests is a sure way to get fired.

Non-disclosure agreements are sometimes (always) necessary. I started using a special engagement letter with celebrities where I require the celebrity to not reveal publicly I am their tax professional. They can discuss the engagement with family and other professionals, of course. But stating on public television my position is a recipe for massive disruption in my office and so it is forbidden. 

Having celebrity clients does not allow you to use their name to promote (or brag about) your business! This isn’t about your ego; this is about serving a client with unique needs and with unique challenges. Don’t worry about missing out on new superstar clients. If you prove reliable and know how to keep your mouth shut and perform professionally you will find more referrals than you can serve.

Confidentiality also includes keeping a row of your client’s movies off the back shelf of your office if other clients can see them. Your home shelf is sufficient. A Realtor® listing the home of a famous person should consider asking the client to remove identifiers when the home is shown: family pictures, awards and other personal items that would reveal the current owner of the home. Realtors also want to consider an NDA and vetting buyers.

 

2. Celebrities are Normal People

Celebrities love when adoring fans acknowledge their work. Usually. The pressure of standing in the limelight can become tiring. And like all professionals, celebrities like to loosen the tie, sit back and test a cold one. 

Just because a lot of people know who you are and witness your work doesn’t mean you put your pants on any different than the next guy. (Okay, there is a story about this and it involves putting on pants a bit different than normal, but confidentiality forbids I discuss the details.) 

They talk normally; celebrities that is. They are interesting and interested in things. Believe it or not, they many times want to know more about you! How weird is that? But yes, famous people also like to work with people they like. Their public or stage persona is not what they are like behind the curtain in some instances; sometimes they are. Regardless, they are always genuine people with feelings, desires, fears and dreams. 

The worst thing you can do is act star-eyed. As said, celebrities love recognition. They don’t always like the endless demands of fame. As they say back at the farm, it’s all fun and games until somebody pokes an eye out. Well, the eye poke is turning a professional relationship into ogling. Respect your client! Treat them with dignity. You can admire their work and act professionally at the same time. And yes, they are a lot smarter than you think.

 

3. High Maintenance

Several years ago at a continuing education conference a tax professional said he hated working for doctors. He felt doctors were too high maintenance, always demanding things on the spot and flighty. I looked around the table as my peers broke bread. The entire group was nodding in agreement, except me.

I kept my mouth shut and kept eating. I love doctors as clients and have many on my client list. Sure, doctors have greater demands at times. They are under a lot of pressure and earn a large income in many cases. They need a tax professional who can be a powerful team member for them. 

Doctors are a lot like celebrities. Both earn a high income and are under constant stress. I would say celebrities earn more but that isn’t always true. I have more than one doctor cashing a seven figure income. 

Take this example: A famous client asked me to lunch and I accepted. I was in town so he picked the establishment. We never got a moment to discuss any business or even small talk during that meal as the interruptions were incessant. We conducted business in private afterwards. Imagine that kind of pressure in your life!

High maintenance is not a bad term in this instance. High net worth people, business people and entertainers, have more needs and a lot more to talk about. They like to get out, but need private time for mental health and to clear their mind. They relay heavily on their team of professionals to give their life a moment of sanity.

Taxes, money, investments and professional decisions take more time with celebrities. The numbers are bigger and the considerations more involved. Whereas, your friendly accountant typing this can live normally in the backwoods of NE Wisconsin, many famous people would have serious issues doing the same. Scam artists find the wealth of these people irresistible. Often times I am called to determine the correct course when something doesn’t feel right. Other than their attorney or fellow celebrities, I might be the only disinterested third-party they can count on to give an honest answer. And since I tell you exactly what I think, my advice is highly valued. 

 

4. Know Your Client

This goes without saying for any professional. In this case it goes much deeper.

Knowing your client when they are famous takes more time and effort than for other clients. Don’t assume they are what you see in entertainment outlets. Also, there are more celebrities than you can possibly have knowledge of. I have had several bestselling authors who I never heard of prior to them contacting me. In one case I still haven’t blocked out a week to digest even one of her tomes. 

I watch no TV. None. Actors who contact me need to know I have no idea who they are unless they are Brad Pitt, and truth be told, could not pick Mister Pitt out of a crowd. I’m not much of a stargazer which helps if you want several celebrities on your client list. When it comes to music I listen to Chumbawamba, a rock band long since disbanded. But it is great music to work to. . . for me. Every other rock star will have to accept I have no idea who they are (unless they were big around 1980).

This means I must dig deep, hard and long to know my client at the level required to do an extraordinary job. It requires time and several meetings before a full picture develops. And lots of questions, even some that seem really dumb (So that is a science fiction movie? No? Rom com? Ooooooo. I see.)

Knowing your client also includes expectations. I tend to check in with celebrity clients periodically to make sure they are okay. Normally they contact me more than typical clients. It is common for a celebrity to ask me to “just” prepare their tax return and before the first consultation is over they have 15 more things they would love me to help them with. 

Knowing your client means speaking with them and asking engaging questions. Taking an active interest is the best way to serve your client best.  Example: Once a celebrity is a client I watch them online, checking to see if there is anything they forget to tell me that would help them. I once got a big non-cash tax deduction for a celebrity for a trip he didn’t keep receipts for. When you are my client I take an active interest in serving at the highest level possible.

 

5. Part of the Team

Always know you are part of a team of very successful professionals. As an accountant I have worked with hedge funds (was hired to advise a very large one, too), investment advisors, attorneys, and yes, even other tax professionals. 

If a celebrity is on your client list know that you are not a one-horse show. There are other players and you need to work with the team. Also, the high needs of celebrities means they frequently need a referral. Recommending an investment house, attorney or doctor is not unusual. 

Celebrities can have very tight schedules. While some want more face time, many work remotely, communicating via email and social media messaging. For some celebrities it is a quick answer before they have to run. Don’t worry about it; it is nothing personal.

Always be clear and think out your answers. Your client depends on it. Celebrities can do strange things sometimes, but that is the world they live in. I have listened to tears and celebrated successes with household names. Every one of them is driven. That is how they became successful. They built a team that you are now a part of. Carry out your role at the highest level of professionalism and you will have a great client relationship.

 

Mrs. Accountant and I are standing with Mark Green (left) and Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich (right). In the lower right hand corner I’m shaking hands with Zig Ziglar, the motivational speaker.

 

How to Find Celebrity Clients

Now that we have a basic understanding of what celebrities need and want we can turn to the activity of adding these wonderful people to your client list.

 

1. Meet the Team

Cold calling is a brutal business at the best of times, but with celebrities you will starve before you land the account. Celebrities have people trying to contact them non-stop. I have a celebrity on my client list who decided to mention I handled her work and instantly my email and phone exploded with people wanting me to give the celebrity a message. That is not the way to do it. The gatekeepers are brutal (or fired). 

Depending on the service you provide determines how you approach the celebrity. Using my practice (tax, accounting, business and personal planning) as an example, the direct approach rarely works, especially if the celebrity is very popular. 

Sometime you can get face time with an acquaintance of the celebrity as a way to meet, but again, this is usually the wrong approach.

I find if you want to get a celebrity to take your call you need to work with the people they already trust and work with. This means they (the celebrity’s team of professionals) are the contact, not the actual celebrity. If you are interested in working with a specific celebrity you can attend an event they have informed the public they are attending. When the crowd crushes in to get an autograph or a few words, you stand back. Around the edges will be the team members supporting the celebrity. They are usually easy to spot. They stand just far enough back to be outside the crowd, but close enough to lend assistance if necessary and they are always watching closely. Your job is to strike up a conversation with one of these fine people because if you are hired by the celebrity you will need to work with them so you may as well start early. It is these professionals already working with the celebrity that can get you an audience with the celebrity.

 

2. Speaking Engagement

This idea appeals to me the most and works for the type of client I most enjoy working with: business owners.

But how do you get even a few seconds with some of the top business executives in your community? What I have successfully done many times is find a listing of where these high performing executives in the community meet. If the social event allows I will give a presentation. 

The nice part about this strategy is that the celebrity comes to you. Imagine you know several executives of a local business with nearly $1 billion in annual sales will be attending a community event. I will prepare something very social and community oriented for one of the sessions and speak with the organizers to get a slot. It doesn’t work every time and it does take work. If you are persistent you will eventually get the chance to give a 15-30 minute presentation. Bring your A-game! You can approach the high net worth executives, but it is always much nicer when they come to you after your presentation. They are already finding value in working with you before you even shake hands. It’s the easiest close ever!

The same works for entertainment celebrities. Large social events are difficult, but the community and non-profit events are different. These venues frequently love the extra help. If you can provide a powerful presentation for improving the community you have a better chance of getting a face-to-face with the entertainment celebrity. Professional sports players, popular music groups and A-list actors attend these events on a regular basis. It is part of their program to build their reputation and meet people to help them with their career. Be part of that and they will need you on their team. Which means you increased your chance of adding the celebrity to your client list.

 

3. Political Events

Back in the 1990s I wanted to take my practice in a different direction. I wanted fewer, but bigger, clients. A letter came across my desk that informed me of a political event in Green Bay, a 40 minute drive from my home. The Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, would be there. So would several starters for the Green Bay Packers and business leaders of the community.

This strategy did require an investment. The event was free. However, for $2,000 I would get a private meeting the Speaker of the House and several other leading political leaders of the republican party. In the same meeting were about a dozen people, including two Green Bay Packers starters, Mark Green (running for Wisconsin governor — he lost) and top business leaders of NE Wisconsin. I still have the picture in my office of Mrs. Accountant and me standing with Newt Gingrich and Mark Green (see image above). 

I still have a celebrity client to this day from that event. 

 

4. Small Events

The small event is the best of all worlds as it allows for more opportunity to speak with the celebrity. These can include religious or civic retreats. Many times these are several day getaways where you get the chance to work closely with the celebrity.

It is never a good idea to run up to a celebrity screaming how much you love them and then unload a business proposition. Remember, you might know who they are, but they have no clue who you are. Think how you would act if a complete stranger attending a social or civic event did that to you. Yeah, you would be just as freaked out.

Take your time. Treat the celebrity like a human being. They enjoy that. Celebrities are being sold at every turn. Acting professional and learning about who the celebrity really is instead of their public persona will work much better than the bull approach. A celebrity rarely hires you right out of the gate. It is a process. If they feel comfortable with you, that there is a fit, they will ask you if they can be a client. That is always preferable. I hate selling. If I can prove my value by providing it even before hired, everyone involved is happier.

 

5. Blog

This blog has brought in its fair share of celebrities. Speaking on podcasts has done the same. 

I’m not recommending you go out and start a blog, podcast or start planning an appearance on a podcast. That takes a lot of work and time. Without the commitment of a regular writing schedule a blog requires, you can write something for a social or civic event celebrities will attend. 

It’s always about visibility! The group you want to serve needs to see you. Be present where your desired clients gather. Celebrities are normal people like you and me, only with bigger issues to solve. They buy and sell bigger homes. Their tax returns have bigger numbers. But the issues are still the same. Celebrities are just as in need of good tax advice as the guy working at the mill. I hear this stuff all the time from household names. It blows my mind. How can these people struggle to find good tax, legal, or financial advice? But they do. And if you can provide the service in a professional manner you will be a lifelong friend and confidant. 

Yes, you heard that right. Celebrities are unique in that they want someone they can trust because they meet so many questionable people. They want long-term relationships. Forget what you read in the tabloids. When the curtain is pulled they just want to let down their guard and know somebody has their back. 

Celebrities are a unique challenge. They are also some of the best people I have ever worked for. With rare exception, I have found celebrities are the highest quality people you will ever meet. They are hardworking and smart. They are NOT an easy big commission check or fee. 

 

As we wrap this up, there are a few more things I want to share. Once you have a celebrity client or three you will get new celebrity clients by default just from their referrals. Celebrity clients are a lot of work because of the issues at stake. Don’t take on a new client just because they are a celebrity. It is your job as the professional to know if it is a good fit.

My client list includes NFL starters, a world top 10 ranked tennis player, rock bands, New York Times bestselling authors, actors and more. Every one of them is different in a good way. They are challenging clients due to their unique status. I am not a star-struck person. Most celebrities I work with I never heard of before they contacted or approached me. I watch almost no TV and only a few movies. I don’t listen to recent music releases or watch sports. My celebrity clients enjoy my business approach to their account without the fan behavior. My job is to protect and help these people when the world is always trying to crash their party. That is my goal, my job. To make a difference in the lives of the people who are forming the world we all live in. And if you want one of the few jobs in the arena you will need to follow the advice above.

I look forward to working with you serving our clients

 

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More Wealth Building Resources

Worthy Financial offers a flat 5% on their investment. You can read my review here. 

Personal Capital is an incredible tool to manage all your investments in one place. You can watch your net worth grow as you reach toward financial independence and beyond. Did I mention Personal Capital is free?

Medi-Share is a low cost way to manage health care costs. As health insurance premiums continue to sky rocket, there is an alternative preserving the wealth of families all over America. Here is my review of Medi-Share and additional resources to bring health care under control in your household.

QuickBooks is a daily part of life in my office. Managing a business requires accurate books without wasting time. QuickBooks is an excellent tool for managing your business, rental properties, side hustle and personal finances.

cost segregation study can reduce taxes $100,000 for income property owners. Here is my review of how cost segregation studies work and how to get one yourself.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) passed in late 2017 heralded lower tax rates for businesses and individuals. There were a few tax increases as well. The elimination of unreimbursed employee business expenses caused problems for sales people, truckers, entertainers and more, but was easily resolved with an accountable plan.

And then there is the most hated tax increase of all, the limitation of state and local taxes (SALT) deduction. While the standard deduction did increase, the SALT deduction limited to $10,000 caused many taxpayers pain, especially in high tax states.

Before the ink was dry states offered up plans to circumvent the SALT deduction limit. The IRS shot each attempt down in order. The new tax rule was in place and states could do little to provide tax relief for their taxpayers. Even so-called low tax states heard from disgruntled taxpayers. The pain was felt widely. 

But that has changed for some taxpayers.

Partnerships, S corporations and LLCs treated as such are pass-through entities. For years states have assessed tax at the entity level for non-resident owners of pass-through entities. In those situations a tax payment is made at the entity level and the member or owner gets a credit on their state taxes for the payment made by the entity. This is not considered an actual tax payment by the entity, however; it is considered withholding on the profits, distributed or not.. The entity does not get a deduction; the taxpayer does on their personal federal tax return if they itemize and are not over the new SALT limit.

The idea several states came up with was similar to the required withholding on profits for non-residents. They proposed allowing entities to pay the actual state taxes at the entity level, which allows a deduction on the entity’s federal tax return, without consideration for the $10,000 SALT limit on personal tax returns. In effect, the taxes paid at the entity level are in addition to whatever SALT deduction a member has on her personal federal tax return. Like the tax withholding on profits, the tax payment would be a credit on the state tax return of the entity’s member. 

The best part is the current IRS interpretation allows taxes paid at the entity level to be deducted by the entity on it’s federal income tax return. This isn’t a perfect solution to the SALT deduction limits, but it helps taxpayers in states where the pass-through entity tax has been enabled. 

Seven states (Connecticut, Louisiana, Maryland, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Rhode Island and Wisconsin) have passed legislation allowing pass-through entities to pay their tax at the entity level as of this writing and more are considering it. 

We will briefly review the laws for each state that has legislation allowing for taxes to be paid at the entity level. This is a state level tax issue so the rules will be different between states. Once we complete our review we will turn to strategies to maximize this new tax benefit. There are a few instances where a taxpayer might not want to make the election to pay their state tax at the entity level. But many more taxpayers will want to use this new tax strategy even if they do not itemize or are affected by the SALT limits and even if the SALT limit were removed. 

We will start with the author’s home state of Wisconsin and progress from there.

Wisconsin

The Wisconsin pass-through entity program is elective and is available to S corporations and LLCs treated as such effective January 1, 2018 and for partnerships and LLCs treated as such effective January 1, 2019. 

  • The tax rate for entities making the election is 7.9%. Note that this is higher than the individual tax rate (7.65% in 2020) and may not always be the best course, depending on the situation of each owner on their individual tax return. 
  • To make the election over 50% of owners of capital and profits must consent. The consent is required annually.
  • The election must be made on a timely filed return (by the due date, plus extensions). 
  • Revoking an election must be done by the due date, plus extensions. 
  • Income taxed by other states do not count unless also taxed by Wisconsin.

Wisconsin has multiple credits available to businesses which can require some adjustments to the pass-through credit and income on the personal tax return. The benefits of taxing income at the entity level can be significant, but for some businesses it can be a complex calculation on Wisconsin returns. Here are more detailed rules from the Wisconsin Department of Revenue for S corporations and partnerships.

 

Connecticut

Connecticut is the first state to enact pass-through entity tax legislation and is mandatory for tax years beginning on or after January 1, 2018. This applies to sole proprietors, partnerships, S corporations and LLCs. 

  • Connecticut uses a multiplier which reduces the value of the credit.
  • Connecticut has modified this multiplier to further reduce the value. The state’s actions indicate that this is considered a tool to raise revenue from businesses whenever the state desires. There is no reason to think Connecticut will not continue reducing the multiplier to the state’s benefit. Since it is mandatory there is no way for businesses to avoid the increased tax bill.

You can read more about Connecticut’s pass-through tax here

 

Louisiana

Louisiana’a pass-through entity tax is effective for tax years beginning after January 1, 2019 and covers S corporations and all partnerships, except for entities filing a composite partnership tax return. The pass-though tax allows electing entities to be taxed as a C corporation.

The election for a pass-through entity to pay tax as a C corporation must be made in writing by the the 15th day of the fourth month following the end of the tax year. Then election can be made in the preceding year as well. Electing and revoking the election requires partners or members with over 50% of ownership consenting.

Shareholders and owners may exclude this income from their personal Louisiana return as long as the entity filed their corporate tax return properly.

The pass-through tax is calculated on a graduated scale:

  • 2% for income from $0 to $25,000
  • 4% for income from $25,001 to $100,000
  • 6% for income over $100,000

 

Maryland

Maryland passed entity pass-through tax legislation May 18, 2020. The law is effective for tax years beginning January 1, 2020 and after. Detailed regulations on the legislation are still forthcoming as of this writing.

The Maryland pass-through tax works similar to the other states where the state tax is paid at the entity level and deducted on the entities federal return without consideration for the SALT limits on personal tax returns. The pass-through tax rate is set at the top marginal tax rate for individuals, plus the lowest applicable county tax rate or the corporate tax rate for corporate owners of the pass-through entity.

Some additional issues to consider:

  • Regulations will probably require the deduction be added back on the personal return to be allowed a dollar-for-dollar credit.
  • The maximum tax allowed by the entity is capped at the distributable cash flow level of the entity.

 

New Jersey

In New Jersey pass-through entities can elect to pay the Business Alternative Income Tax (BAIT). Pass-through entities for tax years beginning on January 1, 2020 or after with at least one least one member liable for New Jersey income tax can elect to pay the BAIT. This applies to S corporations, partnerships and LLCs with 2 or more members. The tax rate is graduated with rates from 5.675% to 10.9%.

Facts to consider with the New Jersey’s BAIT:

  • No retroactive elections allowed.
  • The election must be made by the 15th day of the third month following the close of the tax year and must be made annually.
  • All members must consent to the election or by a member authorized to do so (officer or manager).
  • Revoking the election must happen by the due date of the tax return, excluding extensions.
  • The credit by electing the BAIT can not reduce the individuals tax below New Jersey’s minimum tax. Unused credits are carried forward up to 20 years.

 

Oklahoma

Oklahoma enacted legislation allowing the pass-through entity tax for tax years beginning on or before January 1, 2019. Once again sole proprietors and disregarded single member LLCs are not included. S corporations, partnerships and LLC electing to be treated as such are included in the Oklahoma legislation only.

The type of member determines the tax rate and is based upon the highest tax rate for the type of member:

  • 5% for individuals (the highest 2020 tax rate), and for corporations
  • 6% applies, the corporate tax rate.

Important points:

  • The election is made by filing Form 586 and can be filed in the preceding year through two months and 15 days after the close of the tax year.
  • The election is binding until revoked.
  • To revoke the election fill out Part 2 of Form 586.
  • The election revokes any election to file an Oklahoma composite return.
  • Oklahoma is similar to Louisiana in that a credit is not provided to the member. Members instead subtract items of gain and add items of loss on their personal return, the opposite of what happened on the entity’s state return. 

 

Rhode Island

Details involving the pass-through entity tax for Rhode Island include:

  • Effective for tax years beginning on or after January 1, 2019.
  • Eligible entities include S corporation, partnerships, LLCs, trusts and other entities not taxed as a corporation for federal tax purposes.
  • The tax rate is: 5.99% for individuals in 2019 and 2020 (the highest individual rate), but lower than the 7% corporate rate.
  • To make the election Form RI-PTE must be filed by the 15th day of the third month following the tax year.
  • With the election the pass-through entity will not be required to comply with non-resident withholding.
  • Member receives a tax credit.
  • Rhode Island does not address revoking the election.

 

Applying the Pass-through Entity Tax

As you can see by the details of the states that have some form of pass-through entity tax that the rules vary widely between states. Many use a credit to pass-through the benefit while others adjust income on the member’s personal tax return.

Many considerations need to be taken into account. Even if the SALT limit were eliminated there would still be instances where the pass-through entity tax would be beneficially to entity members. Even if you don’t itemize there can be a tax benefit as the entity’s state taxes are now deductible on the entity’s federal return, giving the member the state income tax deduction before it hits their federal income tax return, plus the standard deduction.

There are also reasons not to make the election (except in Connecticut where it is mandatory). The pass-through entity tax can affect the Qualified Business Income Deduction, Earned Income Credit, Saver’s Credit, Premium Tax Credit and more.

The tax professional preparing the entity income tax return and that of all the members will have an easier time determining the best course of action.

Let’s use Wisconsin, my home state, as an example. Most taxpayers in Wisconsin are currently paying 6.27% tax on their top dollar with high incomers paying 7.65%. The pass-through entity tax is 7.9% and is treated as a credit on the individual tax return. However, if there is no other income for the individual it is possible to create a larger tax than necessary. 

If all members can deduct the state tax attributable to the entity without hitting the SALT limit it probably does very little good to make the election while making the tax returns involved more complex. Likewise, those hit by the SALT limit and even those who do not itemize will normally get otherwise unrealized value.

Special attention has to be taken as it affects other areas of the tax return. The amount of state tax paid by the entity is deducted on the entity’s federal tax return. This will lower the value of the Qualified Business Income Deduction in virtually all cases. 

Using Wisconsin again, electing the pass-through entity tax can increase complexity of the tax return on the entity and individual returns. If, for example, the Manufacturer’s Credit is taken, adjustments need to be made on the Wisconsin personal income tax return. Manual calculations will be required.

There is a balancing act with this tax strategy. It appears many, even most, members of pass-through entities will benefit from the pass-through entity tax. However, the cost to prepare the returns will undo some of the gain and the loss of tax credits or deductions elsewhere on the return might make this a less appealing tax strategy.

There are numerous small businesses where the complexity will not be an issue and the benefit will effectively side-step the SALT limitations. Complex returns will require a seasoned tax professional. Talk to your accountant! Determine if the pass-through entity tax will lower your taxes and what it will take to prepare the return with the election. The pass-through entity tax is probably here to stay regardless where future federal tax laws go. And for those holding an interest in a pass-though entity it can add to serious tax savings.

 

More Wealth Building Resources

Worthy Financial offers a flat 5% on their investment. You can read my review here. 

Personal Capital is an incredible tool to manage all your investments in one place. You can watch your net worth grow as you reach toward financial independence and beyond. Did I mention Personal Capital is free?

Medi-Share is a low cost way to manage health care costs. As health insurance premiums continue to sky rocket, there is an alternative preserving the wealth of families all over America. Here is my review of Medi-Share and additional resources to bring health care under control in your household.

QuickBooks is a daily part of life in my office. Managing a business requires accurate books without wasting time. QuickBooks is an excellent tool for managing your business, rental properties, side hustle and personal finances.

cost segregation study can reduce taxes $100,000 for income property owners. Here is my review of how cost segregation studies work and how to get one yourself.