Burnout sets in post-tax season. Long hours working leads to exhaustion only to be repeated the next day eventually takes its toll. Recovery is less certain than in the past. Age is part of it, but the new tax code and demands from a wider audience also play a role. Due to these factors there will be significant changes to this blog going forward.
The most notable change will be the publishing schedule. Tax season became so overwhelming something had to give. I reduced the publishing schedule from three times a week with a “Stalking” edition on Saturday to twice per week.
What surprised me was the increase in traffic when I reduced the amount of material published! I was warned about this by several bloggers. Nailing the equivalent of five or more average-length novels per year to the blog can burn out readers. It was even causing some to unsubscribe. I might be slow, but I eventually catch on.
The end of tax season may account for much to the uptick in traffic after the publishing reduction. Regardless, my desire to write in other venues is growing. Whether traffic climbs or not, the new publishing schedule will remain. Monday and Thursday are the new publishing dates, replacing the Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule in effect for the past year or so.
The “Stalking the Accountant” posts are reduced from every Saturday to the last Saturday of the month only. (This “Stalking” post fulfills next week’s weekend post.) I’ll share some of my personal activities in “Stalking”, as always. Other matters will also be addressed where regular posts would be inappropriate.
Since our last “Stalking” publication we had a few drawings for money! On March 30th Gina V. of Florence, S.C. collected a $50 Amazon gift card for opening an email of the latest TWA post. In honor of the end of tax season a drawing on April 16th from a list all of subscribers made Charlie M. of Las Vegas, Nevada the proud owner of a $250 Amazon gift card.
My previous writing schedule made it difficult to honor my commitments to other writing projects. With the extra time I will work hard to mend bridges ignored. When I publish in other venues I’ll keep you updated on social media and weekend editions here, if allowed.
A reduced writing schedule also means I can focus more on quality. Quantity is fine for certain issues, but digging deeper is required in many instances and if time is short the quality tends to be the same.
Five or so years ago I wrote a series of articles on a content farm dealing with and winning an IRS audit. The articles were short, yet valuable. Changes at the IRS and in the tax code require I update these pieces. I will re-write the entire series with a massive expansion. Because these articles will be a virtual bible for the accounting industry they will not be published in the traditional manner here. Each section will be unavailable until the entire series is complete. Each section will be available for purchase with the whole series available at a lower price than individual article purchases combined. People who want to audit-proof their return may wish to buy that specific article. Tax professionals will want the entire guide. The best part is I will update these articles in real time so once you purchase a section you will have access to future updates. The IRS Audit Manual should be available by late summer or autumn 2018.
Warren Buffett has a 20-slot punch card philosophy to investing. I will apply the same methodology to this blog.
Over the decades I’ve written more material than I can count. Writing for me is personal with a side benefit of a modest income. My interests are catholic (little c) so writing the same genre for too long starts to feel stale to me. When I decided to become proficient writing flash fiction I set a goal of 2,000 stories. When I hit 2,000 I was done. The end. Finito. Goodbye.
The Wealthy Accountant has been my most enjoyable writing to date. I write what I know and enjoy talking about. But money is more a side discussion in my personal life. I’m more of a business type of guy than a money talker. Truth is money is pretty straight forward. Control your impulses, spending less than you earn and invest the excess. Even a bad investment is better than no investment. A million words on frugality and investing starts feeling stale to me.
Business is a different story. Writing about running a successful enterprise is endless. Reading another story of how someone paid off debt and retired at any age seems rote. Business is a bit more challenging; value creation more involved.
Over the last several months I’ve included hints of the future around this blog. I published Countdown Clocks. It should have been a dead giveaway. Subtle hints didn’t seem to connect unless readers are keeping it a secret from me. Then I made it less obvious.
On the Where Am I page below the calendar are the words “All good things. . .” printed backwards. Below this is a large bold number. The number is a countdown clock. When it reaches zero this blog will have 500 published articles. The IRS Audit Manual and other private publications here do not count toward the total. When the clock reaches zero I will stop publishing here. By applying a sort of 20-slot punch card approach I will need to focus on what is most important rather than filling column inches. Everything has an expiration date and so does this blog. (Come to think of it, so do I.)
What I’m Reading
The Master Algorithm: How the Quest for the Ultimate Learning Machine will Remake Our World by Pedro Domingos. Not only interesting, but concerning. Computers are starting to learn from the massive reservoir of information gathered each day. The future will be radically different from even the recent past. With all good comes some bad is all I can say.
What I’m Watching
Brian Greene on the B-Theory of Time. I’ve been thinking a lot about time lately; the kind of time experienced in an Einsteinian world.
What I’m Listening To
There is a publishing opportunity to write a story on the rollercoaster ride of blogging. The Karen Carpenter story will play a central role.
Now I’m off to spend more time with my family. I’m sure you understand.
Yesterday was April Fools’ Day; it was also Easter. I couldn’t bring myself to pull a prank on the day celebrated by Christians of Jesus’ resurrection. But today is fair game!
To lighten the mood as your favorite accountant traverses the bowels of the late stages of the current tax season I decided to publish something fun. (Well, it was fun to me.) Be forewarned. After two months of sleep deprivation there is something seriously wrong with my head. While I think this is funny, you may not. Of course this doesn’t belong published on a personal finance blog. That’s why I published it.
Have fun with this, kind readers. The tax season finish line rapidly approaches. Nothing scares the bejesus out of you like the mind of a stressed accountant. That’s why it’s so entertaining!
If you pay careful attention you might find a few hidden gems you can secretly use yourself to save money. I won’t say a thing if you don’t.
- One Sheet of Toilet Paper per Event
Sheryl Crow popularized this awesome method to reduce bathroom waste. Not only do you save money, you defend the environment. Considering what TP is used for, limiting TP use might be the least of Mother Nature’s concerns. Mass extinctions have started over less traumatic events.
Once word spread, Crow backtracked on her original recommendation. I’m not buying it! Crow is a one sheet of TP per episode type of girl. I can see it in her eyes. I fully endorse this time honored way to reduce spending by implementing this practice in my household. My team isn’t nearly as psyched as I am. Might need a motivational rally.
- One Set of Clothing When You Travel
I ran across this several times now. If I ever hit my head and decide to take up world travel I’m going to use this idea. As a light packer when on the road this idea resonates with me.
The process is simple. You only need one or two sets of cloths when on the road. You shower with your clothes on, lathering up and rinsing off without the hassle of undressing and dressing! After walking around for half an hour your clothes are dry anyway, except in the tropics where if you started with dry clothes they’d be wet within a half hour.
Think of all the luggage fees you don’t have to pay anymore.
- Steal Hotel Soap
Sure, your moral compass makes this sound horrible, but stick with me. I personally keep partially used hotel soap. Why waste a good product! The goal here is to outright steal the stuff or keep using every bar of soap at least once so your conscientious is soothed. Either way, you can save $3, maybe $4, every year with this one simple habit.
Remember, it’s easier to ask for forgiveness if caught than to ask for permission.
- Don’t Change/Launder Your Clothes
Before you retch, hear me out. We all know people wear clothes longer between washes as they age. Heck, grandpa wore the same sweater for 22 years before it disintegrated off his back! As a responsible blogger I will NOT ask you to go that far.
What I’m suggesting is a planned attack on laundry. If the shirt or pants you wore today isn’t visibly dirty put it to the side for a day or two and wear it to work again. (Don’t wear the same thing to work for a week straight. Co-workers will notice and file a complaint. Yes, I know the smell is all in their head, but who needs the hassle.)
Underwear and socks are another issue. I always go for the sniff test. It’s important you do this right. You can’t just pull off your shorts and bury your face in them (as much fun as that sounds). Walk outside to acclimate your olfactory nerves to freshness before returning to undertake the sniff test. (Note: put on another set of clothes before walking around outside. I’m sure I didn’t need to say that except for maybe 20% or so of readers. If you get arrested for indecent exposure I’m not bailing you out.)
Guys, don’t do the underwear/socks sniff test in front of the wife and kids. Dad, let mom handle her own sniff tests. (I warned you at the outset this would cross the line. You, of your own free will, traveled this far. Don’t blame me.)
The few simple steps outlined here should cut laundering expenses 80% or more in most Western households.
- Cut Your Own Wood and Cook Outside
I joke I cut my own wood and cook meals outside as soon as weather permits here on the family farm in NE Wisconsin. My 10 acres of the world has enough trees to keep the stove hot all summer.
Country living makes it easier for me. City living still has opportunities for people willing to think outside the box. Let’s just say every city I’ve ever been to has a t least one park with trees. Need I say more?
If the cops show up you didn’t hear it from me.
- Free Hot Water for Showers All Summer
This frugal idea is an itch I want to scratch so bad it hurts. The concept is simple. Buy a couple hundred feet of black garden hose and place it on the roof of your house. A few strategically placed nails should allow you to spread the hose out for full exposure to the afternoon sun without the hose coming off the roof.
I was this close to using this money-saver when I had calves. I could have used the God-given hot water to mix the milk replacer for the little guys. Mrs. Accountant caught me with the ladder and the whole plan crashed to the ground.
Summer is once again approaching. Late afternoon hot showers are on the menu. (If Mrs. Accountant doesn’t catch wind of my little plan.)
- Reusable Toilet Paper
Before anyone says a word, this is a real thing! They (whoever “they” are) call it “family cloth” and you can buy it on Amazon. Once again we have an opportunity to save the environment and money!
Now I know what you’re thinking, my frugal friends. You think I added an Amazon link to these reusable butt wipers to cash in on the craze. And you’re right. I don’t expect to see sales for any of these things, but if I do I’m calling you out. Got it?
- Don’t Flush Until It’s Full
Remember grandpa again. He always said, “If it’s yellow, let it mellow; if it’s brown, flush it down.” It’s a time honored practice preserving the family budget since Julius Caesar took over in Rome. Don’t go against a tried and true method of frugality.
I’ll let you decide when to use the little lever on the side of the toilet.
- Get a Gym Membership so you don’t have to Shower at Home Ever Again
This one is just plain stupid, as George Carlin would say. Why else would you have a membership? To work out! Really! If I wanted to work I’d get a job. I belong to the gym for the steam room, fellowship (because I don’t attend church as much as I should) and the free showers.
I’m not going to say I never shower at home, but it’s rare. I visit the gym three or four times a week and shower when I’m done steaming, ah, working out. Every time! This saves on the water bill and the cost of heating the water. Smart people like me is why so many gyms go out of business after a few years. Hey! Don’t blame me. They signed the contract too.
- Don’t Wash Your Hands after Using the Bathroom
Speaking of George Carlin, I’m not alone when I don’t shower every day or not washing my hands after every visit to the restroom. Check out the YouTube link of George explaining when you should and should not wash your hands. It makes perfect sense to me. (I wash after every bathroom visit, for anyone wondering.)
Bonus: Eat Your Pets
As I researched this post I found a few really neat ideas to save money I haven’t used to date. This one really resonated because I’ve done it!
You see, growing up on a farm we understood the value of treating our animals right. Then, after an appropriate amount of time we ate them. You call it hamburger; we called it Blackie or Bess. You call it a chicken wing; we called her Cluck.
Rabbits and other critters graced the menu periodically, too. I wanted to finish this post with an antidote about eating the family cat, but due the rude description in my notes Mrs. Accountant used her veto power to prevent me from sharing that frugal idea with you. You’ll have to figure it out on your own. If you’re as frugal as I think you are you’ll know what to do.
Okay, before I sign off I want to reiterate this is all fun and games. No animals were hurt in the production of this post. Tax season is wearing me down and I’m not normal anymore. My publishing schedule will be lighter until the finish line. Details are available on the Where Am I page.
I also promise to get serious, too. No more pu—, ah, cat jokes.
My youngest daughter turned 18 on Wednesday and while Mrs. Accountant and I are not yet officially empty nesters the handwriting is on the wall. High school needs to be finished and an adjustment into adulthood is in order before she leaves. The timing is the only thing undecided.
My oldest daughter (I have two girls) stuck around home milking mom and dad for all it was worth. At first the prodding was gentle. As the years passed the cattle prod was more insistent. It’s wasn’t about her behavior either.
Both my girls are well behaved and quiet. Neither took to drinking, drugs or promiscuous behavior. Brooke, the youngest, enjoys playing on the computer and working outside. Heather buries her nose in a book or online research. In many ways it was like they weren’t here.
Quiet and well-behaved doesn’t mean we didn’t enjoy quality time with the girls. We spent many hours outside throwing Frisbee. “Puss arm!” and “Butter fingers!” were shouted often as we laughed away an afternoon. Walks to the creek or around the farm are all fond memories. Fire pits, cook outs, and farm animals filled the formative years of my girls. I hope it was enough.
Where Did the Time Go?
Intellectually I knew my children were growing up and working toward a life of their own. Somehow it never sunk in that it wouldn’t last forever. Still, I managed to sprinkle each day with my wisdom and sorted humor. It’s amazing my kids survived at all with a dad like me.
It was impossible to know if my lessons were sinking in. Advice on interpersonal relationships was hardest because your choice in life mate determines a serious percent of your wellbeing and happiness. A good marriage or dedicated relationship (or whatever they call it these days) is one of the most important decisions you will make in life. Money is important, but I can be very happy and poor with the right woman next to me. I was extremely lucky in meeting Mrs. Accountant. Very lucky indeed! She stood firm through the roughest of storms. We weathered a lot and grew stronger over the years.
Money was also a common discussion. I kept repeating my mantras hoping something would stick. Instead of demanding my girls live frugally I repeated things like, “You don’t save money by spending it.” Of course I had to qualify the statement as they got older. Spending money on your health is usually a good investment. Changing the oil in your car is spending money, but it does, in a way, end up saving you a lot more.
The two areas you are told never to talk about in public—politics and religion—were common discussions in the Accountant household. We’ll skip the religious conversation for brevity and to allow time for a short detour through politics.
Remember, the original, and still primary, goal of this blog is to leave my children a legacy of my knowledge and experiences. You are here to observe and comment if you want (and do it respectfully). My political ideology is definitely centrist with mild detours to the left and right.
Ronald Reagan was president when I reached the age of majority. I liked Reagan and voted for him when he ran for a second term. It was my first presidential election. Age and experience have tempered my appeal for Reagan, but I still like the guy. The first Bush got my vote, but his performance and communications skills left me wanting.
I voted for Clinton twice. The Monica Lewinski thing didn’t bother me. I knew it was dirty politics only. Considering what we see today neither party is much concerned with ethical behavior when it comes to women. It’s a talking point until they get caught in their hypocrisy.
What I liked about Clinton was his understanding of economics and government finance. The Republicans cried about the deficit once a Democrat was in office. President Clinton knew exactly how to balance the budget and he did it! Clinton knew he could keep a strong economy with growing government spending and balance the budget if he kept spending increases to 1% below the inflation rate. A deficit at 4% of GDP was resolve in about four years on its own. I thought it was genius and few ever talked about it. I guess you have to be an accountant to understand.
Bush II never thrilled me and I voted for Gore and Kerry. My opinion of George W. Bush has improved over the years. I never disliked the man, but I felt he was ineffective and too much a puppet of the establishment right. I’d still sit and have a beer with the guy. I think he is an honorable man forced onto a very big world stage.
I liked President Obama. He was cool under every kind of pressure. I voted for Obama the first time around and would have voted for McCain f he’d have picked anyone else for a VP. John McCain would have been a good president. His just right of center ideology sat well with me. He also played fair with both sided of the isle. Something I admire as professionalism.
Trump is dangerous in my opinion and I’ve shared my thoughts personally with my girls ad nauseam on the subject. Leadership by tweet is not leadership in my world.
Back to “Where’d the Time Go”
Politics is an important discussion point to have with your children. Your children will pick up your position on the political spectrum and that isn’t a bad thing. They’ll stray when they’re ready, also a good thing.
Politics is important and an important part of this discussion because politic affects many money issues. Tax laws can help or hinder you on your way to financial independence. Retirement plans offer tax advantages. The level of advantage is an inducement toward solvency.
My disdain for Trump doesn’t cloud my judgment because no matter how much I like or dislike a political leader I know some ideas they have will sit well with me and others less so. For example, I agree we needed tax reform. I’m not as excited the final result will allow for a long-term lower adjustment in rates, but since my crystal ball is cloudy on all future events I withhold judgment. Trump’s willingness (and last I heard a soon to be real event) to have a face-to-face discussion with Kim Jong-un is something I highly approve of. I also think Trump is more qualified on this one issue (face-to-face with Kim) than any president to ever deal with North Korea. I’ll withhold judgment, of course, but am guardedly optimistic. (As I read this aloud to Mrs. Accountant and Brooke I was informed the meeting will not take place. I hope Trump reconsiders. This is his strong suit.)
And then we realize the years have got behind us and the kiddos are finally adults.
After a slow start getting off dad’s couch, Heather has shown real maturity as she gains new friends in college. She is heading to China this summer with future plans of living permanently abroad. I wanted her to get off my couch, but I didn’t think she would travel so far away.
Heather works most Friday’s in my office. She is starting to miss more and more as she continues to spread her wings. She was coming home every weekend. Now she misses some weekends. Soon she’ll be gone for a month or longer and then. . .
Yeah, I miss my sweetie. A good parent teaches and then allows, even insists, their kids build a life of their own. Mom and dad are always there as a sounding board. However, flying is a solo sport. I gave them the tools. It is up to them now. I’d be a liar if I said my heart doesn’t flutter as I watch.
The New Kid in Town
For the Accountant household there are no new kids in town. The kids are all gone. Brooke is an adult now as she reaches for high school graduation and big plans of her own. She has no plans of moving out at this time. But before long the call will be heard and eventually answered. It is the way life is meant to be.
The house feels emptier without Heather around most of the time. She stays up really late (midnight or later) while Brooke and mom go to bed early (around 8). My bedtime is in between. I love the quiet time and house to myself for reading and writing. Yet, there is an emptiness causing me unease. I doubt it will ever go away.
I don’t regret the path I’ve chosen. Mrs. Accountant was better at staying at home than I ever was. Sue raised our girls with incredible patience. She has been a guiding angel for our children and her wayward husband. I can only imagine what she feels as the house grows quieter.
Whenever the girls had an event I was there. Except for 14 months I was self-employed my entire life. The drive which pushes me incessantly also knows when to back off. When it comes to family nothing is more important. I’d rather be poor in cash and rich in family than the other way around. Money is something nice to play with and fill time, but family is the real meaning of love and happiness. Family is what makes life worth living.
Tax season keeps me in the office long hours. Early in my career the office was our remodeled basement. Since 1995 I’ve enjoyed a storefront to escape to when practicing my passion. For nine months a year I am home a lot. Tax season is a nice reprieve for the family from a crazy dad. Then it’s time for the prodigal dad to return home.
The day is fast approaching when Mrs. Accountant and I can sit alone together and enjoy uninterrupted time. It’s a skill we haven’t had much time to practice. There is a sadness in the approaching moment.
I’ve always idolized older people who have the time to satiate the lust for learning. The ability to while away a day immersed in books appeals to me. I do also understand it is better to want than to have. It may prove difficult to concentrate when my thoughts keep straying to the years when my girls roamed the house.
I hope I don’t second-guess myself. That would lead to misery! I made the choices I made because I thought they were right at the time. There is no value in torturing myself with paths I didn’t take.
The lessons have been taught. All that remains is gentle support and guidance. It is a bittersweet joy raising children. Never once did I dream I would feel like this. Honestly, I can’t remember a time when I thought about the instant my last child would leave our home to live her own life. I never prepared because I was unaware of what should have been obvious.
Still, I have no regrets. I brought two fine young ladies to adulthood. For all my flaws they turned out darn good. There is no doubt Mrs. Accountant had a lot to do with it.
Even Pinky, our cat, sits in the front window more now. She stares to the distant horizon and chirps with thoughts I can’t even begin to imagine. Pinky probably feels it’s time for her to roam free too. She might also want to consider the difference between wanting and having.
Soon the house will be empty. Then I can start dating that young lady again I met oh so many years ago. No kids. We can dream again of our future.
Today we have a special guest. My youngest daughter, Brooke, is 18 today. I have two daughters and I managed to keep them alive until adulthood. In my mind I’ve done my job. There is some trepidation, however, which will become clear in a moment. I raised my girls to the best of my ability. They’re fine young ladies. But their path to financial independence is a unique one.
Brooke is finishing up her senior year of high school and has some pretty big plans. I asked her to share her story. She listened to me talk around the house for years. She can repeat my financial rules with perfection. I think you’ll hear a bit of dad in her voice. Enjoy.
Why I’m Retiring the Day I Graduate from High School
By: Brooke Schroeder
I’m different. I’ve always been different. I was born with a big disadvantage. Before I was a year old I had more surgeries than most people in a lifetime. At twelve I started taking over a dozen medications. Pill after pill is cut and placed in a dispenser like that of a 90 year old man.
Dad picks on me that all the pills I take are a meal in itself. My parents are supportive, but they have no idea how much of a pain it is to be sick all the time.
I’m also different from my family in other ways. My sister wants to travel the world and teach English (more on that later). My dad hates traveling past the mailbox at the end of the driveway. He says he wants to build a wall around the farm. When Trump came out with his wall on the Mexican border dad said he needs to talk to Trump and see if he could get a section built around the farm.
Everybody in the family reads a lot except me. It’s not that I don’t read, I just don’t want to do it twenty hours a day!
My mom stopped working a normal job when she was around 30. My dad is a workaholic. He gets crazy ideas and can’t help himself. He has the farm and his tax office. Then he writes his blog. He is always starting a business or doing something. And he reads more than my teachers at school. He reads everything. You would think it would get boring after a while.
There is one trait I share with my family: frugality. My dad is tight with money; I mean real tight. I’ve seen my dad pass on an ice cream cone just to say he didn’t touch the money in his pocket for the entire month. Like I said: tight.
I try not to spend too much money either. I certainly spend less than my friends. Every dime I earn goes into an index fund. My first money when I was a baby was invested. It wasn’t much, but it got the account opened.
While everyone else is reading I head outside. When not working with my hands I play with computers. I’m not 100% sure yet, but I might go to college someday to learn more about IT. Too be honest, I’m in no hurry to go to college. I like school and get good grades. My friends are there too. As graduation approaches I already miss them.
My friends all have plans. A few plan on getting married. Many are going to college. I guess some will buy a home and car and all the other stuff that messes with your happiness in life. The kids at school don’t share my frugal ways as much as I do.
I started working for my grandparents when I was like eight or nine. My dad has an accounting business and I help out over the holidays getting organizers ready to mail, but my heart is outside an office. My grandparents (dad’s parents) have a landscaping business. Digging in the dirt doesn’t bother me and once I learned a few tricks of the trade there can be real money in it.
When I was younger I worked summers and weekends landscaping. Winter was either a few hours at dad’s office or homework. The money was slow during the school year back then.
My dad was adamant I save most of my income. I stuffed my Roth IRA and regular Vanguard account every year. After all these years I have amassed $487,916.12. (My dad made me look it up because he says it’s impressive.) The stock market had a lot to do with it too.
The last few years my income exploded while my expenses stayed near zero. I use my dad’s old 2000 Honda Accord with duct tape holding on the spoiler in back. My plan is to milk that car until it dies. Dad picks on me he is kicking me out on my 18th birthday, but I’m staying. Free rent is good.
The income part has grown nicely over the years. I discovered I could find plants and supplies and sell them in projects for a lot more. We also have a 10 acre farm where I grow trees, flowers and other landscaping plants.
My sister is going to China this summer to teach English and is staying with a host family. I decided to not go to college, at least not right away. After graduation I plan on visiting my sister in China for two weeks. After that I have a few landscaping gigs I need to get back to.
When summer winds down here in Wisconsin I hope to live someplace warmer in the winter. (Dad keeps the house 60 so I have plenty of motivation.) I’ll probably travel the southern U.S. mostly this winter and the Mediterranean the next winter. It is hard finding people my age to travel with, however. They all have to work jobs.
So that is the plan my dad wanted me to share. I saved and invested. My investments are now big enough so that I don’t have to work after I graduate from high school. Like my sister, I like to travel and see stuff. I give my parents credit for teaching me how money works. I’ll probably always do some landscaping work on the side. If you know what you are doing you can make a year of income in a few summer months. Just finding one big rock a rich person wants in their yard can bring over a thousand dollars!
My dad isn’t kicking me out no matter what he says. If he does I’m still not leaving. My health is reasonably good right now, but with all the medical stuff I deal with it is no guarantee. People with my condition usually live to their 40s at most. Medical technology will probably let me live a long, normal life. But just in case, I saved so I didn’t have to waste time with a demanding career. There might not be enough time for me to do it the normal way so I’m making the most of the time I have.
This is where dad swallows hard. I’m so proud of my girls on one hand and sad they are living their own life of which some will be without Mrs. Accountant and me. Brooke is 18 today. She has a plan. I taught her all I know. I hope it is enough.
Less than two months ago I faced the second largest ethical dilemma of my career. About eight years ago I faced my biggest ethical challenge. I will share both stories here today and the outcome. My struggles should prove fertile ground for contemplation of your own moral judgment.
As a society we think of certain people as more prone to ethical lapses. This might be the result of the professions involved. Police officers make repeated ethical decisions every day. Judges, prosecutors and even jury members must deal with their personal ethics and that of others. But law enforcement or military personnel aren’t the only ones thrust into serious choices. Attorneys and doctors are forced into making decisions that might not seem ethical at first, but they are often forced to make a choice and fast. No choice is an ethical choice all too often with serious consequences.
Your favorite accountant also faces ethical issues. I’m enrolled to practice before the IRS (EA) and that means I have an ethical code of conduct forced upon me (Treasury Circular 230). But it isn’t enough! Every decision I make in my office has some level of ethical consideration involved. The bare-bones guidelines governing EAs is only a framework. Many decisions must be made quickly in the gaps.
Non-professionals also deal with ethics. The demand to choose the most ethical route might be less rapid-fire, but everyone still faces tough choices from time to time. By revealing my two most difficult decisions of my career I hope to get you thinking about choices you make in life and the moral and ethical issues involved. There is no doubt the comment section will be lively with this one as opinions vary widely when ethical choices are discussed.
I Did it Right and Paid Hush Money
This one happened less than two months ago and is still a festering thorn in my tail.
In Wisconsin we have a personal property tax for businesses only. In January a form comes in the mail to list all the business assets outside the building. Computers are exempt from the tax, but desks, phone systems, copiers and faxes do count. The value of the property is decreased each year for depreciation in estimated value. The value is then taxed at the rate real property rate.
My client received his personal property tax forms in January two years ago. The report is due March 1st. This is a serious issue. Most business clients don’t have their financials in to me by the time I need to file the personal property tax report. When most clients are quizzed on new purchases they generally draw a blank until they need a deduction on their income tax return. By then it’s too late for the personal property report.
As preparer I’m required to sign the return attesting the report is true and accurate to the best of my knowledge under threat of perjury. Even though the return might be wrong, I don’t know this until after the fact and usually after the due date.
The client in question purchased a large piece of equipment two years ago. It was missed on the first return for the reason listed above. Then, last January, we added the new equipment to his disclosure. This added close to $100,000 to his business’s personal property. His bill from the municipality would jump from a few hundred dollars to $2,000.
Last December the bill came in and he flipped. We did everything right, but he was mad we didn’t cheat on his personal property tax report. After several rounds of debate he demanded I pay him half the tax owed.
Here is where the ethical dilemma turns ugly. His business and personal return alone isn’t enough for me to even consider such an outrageous demand. But he’s connected to one of my five largest clients. Losing all that business will be noticeable. I paid the $1,000.
You can grill my tail in the comments. You are 100% right. I was wrong to pay half his tax bill in the name of saving a client.
Of course, you know what happened next, right? Well, in December he got his personal property tax bill and in January he got the forms to report this year’s information. My office manager filled it out last year and filled it out the way the client wanted this year and put my name on it to sign. I refused. I made it abundantly clear this office will neither prepare nor sign another personal property tax report for this client ever again! If he wants to cheat I will have no part of it.
My office manager hand delivered the personal property tax forms back to the client with my response. She pointed out the offending machine and he made it clear he will not report it.
Things have been frosty since. I did the right thing except for writing a check. In the end it is almost a certainty I will lose one of my biggest clients and all work connected to them. It probably would have been better if I cut ties immediately.
The ethical dilemma above is clear to see in hindsight. I did a lot right and also committed what I consider a grievance error.
Every option available creates an ethical problem. If I comply I’m an accomplice to fraud. If I do what I did I only pushed the unethical act back on the client. And if I fire the client I push the ethical issues to the next tax professional. As you can see, even no choice, standing like a deer in the headlights, is still a clear choice with ethical implications.
What would you have done? Do you think I was wrong? Would you have written a check to keep a client? Paying a client’s tax isn’t illegal. I committed no crime. I was only asked to prepare a false return and refused. Morally the ground I stand on is higher. But we are talking ethics, kind readers. The decision isn’t always so clear cut in such cases.
My Greatest Ethical Challenge Ever
I have a reputation for handling very difficult cases against the IRS. I have a tax attorney in D.C. on speed dial. Her rate starts at $1,000 per hour. For the dirtiest cases we call her in.
The case in discussion here didn’t involve outside help. I did this one all on my own.
Sometimes when an accounting or tax firm gets into tax trouble I’m called in. It makes for a unique situation, for sure. The IRS usually laughs when they see me defending the competition. When I was done with Revenue on this case the laughing had stopped.
The tax firm involved had about $800,000 of profits annually. They are a slightly larger firm than mine. An audit revealed some irregularities and the IRS assessed them with $1.2 million in back taxes, penalties and interest. It was rightfully owed.
The auditor made a few errors in assessing tax. When I pushed back I was threatened with preparer penalties. I was called into the IRS office. I brought the only paperwork I would need. The agent made it clear I was in serious trouble. This is when I pulled out the federal court paperwork already filled out. You see if you want to attack a tax professional you don’t do so in Tax Court where you need to prove your innocence. You go to federal court where you are presumed innocent until proven guilty. I finished my argument with, “You file any penalties against me and I file this in federal court. I want to see the prosecutor dumb enough to get his butt chewed by a federal judge over preparer penalties against an individual who DIDN’T PREPARE THE RETURN!”
The auditor swallowed her tongue. I remember her words clearly, “I’m glad you told me this.” I’m sure she did. Of course she could have looked at her paperwork before she levied the threat to back me off a case. As I left I turned back and very quietly said, “You’re going to regret doing this.” I was pissed.
Six months later the IRS couldn’t collect a penny and the auditor was gone.
Through a series of procedural maneuvers I backed the IRS into a corner. Eventually they sent a guy from the appeals office in Dallas. That’s a long trip for little ol’ me.
The meeting with the appeals officer, client and me happened in my conference room. My client was grilled for assets. He kept professing he had few assets. Most of the client’s income was off the table. (That story would be a long post in and of itself.) At one point the agent asked the client if he had any expensive jewelry. My client said no.
But that was a lie! He just bought his wife a $25,000 ring. I saw the receipt. That was one nice rock!
When the inquisition was finished I filed the coup de grace and had my client deemed uncollectable. Not bad for a guy who owed over a million and pulled in close to a million annually.
One of my CPAs at the time asked me if what I did was ethical. I defended myself by saying it would have been unethical of me NOT to defend the client to the nth degree. After all these years I’m no longer certain.
As happens all too often, the client dodged a bullet and went right back to the well. This time he brought a bigger shovel. I took a pass. He was no longer a client. But there is no doubt in my mind I enabled his behavior.
I take a big chance sharing these stories. I kept the details vague for a reason. All information that would lead to identifying the client has been removed.
Tax professionals are a large part of this blog’s readership. IRS agents and state revenue departments also drop in unannounced. By sharing my ethical standards I expose myself to risk of sanction or retaliation. However, these issues are too important to ignore. Hiding from the truth doesn’t make my profession better. Only by sharing my experiences and choices can the demographic grow.
When over a million dollars are on the line we are starting to talk serious money. The ethical implications are huge.
I never said a word when the agent asked my client about jewelry. If I were asked I would have told the truth. But I wasn’t asked and the IRS agent had no reason to believe I had additional information.
What are the ethical implications? If I spoke up I would have betrayed the client I was representing. Can you imagine an attorney throwing his client under the bus? I felt it was the same thing. Now I’m not so certain.
Enrolled agents have virtually no privilege with clients. People need to understand licensed tax professionals (CPAs and EAs) have to comply with most IRS requests for information or face penalties and/or sanction. Only attorneys have privilege with clients.
This final story bothers me on two levels. First, the size of the amount due was large. This wasn’t a minor issue. Once you cross into seven figures the gloves come off. The second problem for me was my actions enabled the client. He went back to digging a new hole.
The worst part of this ethical dilemma was why I did it. An IRS agent pissed me off by her low level of professionalism. I used my 30 years of experience to gut her just because I could. It sounds like smart talk, but because I won the game I actually walked the talk. And when the dust settled I had to contemplate my CPA employee’s comment: Was what I did ethical?
The real questions should be: Why don’t I fight at that level all the time? For one I don’t have the energy. And second, most cases don’t have the facts to accomplish what I did.
Time for a Debate
This is where you can tell me how wrong I am. The second ethical issue above is a large number while the first issue above is highly questionable.
What would you have done? If you hire a tax pro would you expect that kind of defense? When it comes to taxes is it anything goes? I hope not. I think my moral compass is better aligned than that.
Treasury Circular 230 is clear on the matter. Section 10.21 states tax professionals governed by the rules of Treasury Circular 230 must inform the client of errors and the consequences. In other words I have to tell you if you are cheating when you probably already know you are cheating! I also have to tell you the potential penalties. There is nothing in there saying I have to fire the client! However, I think it’s clear I’m not allowed to sign a return attesting its accurate when I know it isn’t. But I can still keep representing the client. Talk about a conflict of interest (which is covered in the circular, too).
I hope we can get a lively debate in the comment section. The personal property report issue is what triggered this post. I’m very interested in how you would handle the situations I had.
My goal is to get you to think about the ethical implications of your decisions. Many times life gives us all bad options and not much time to make said choice. Doctors make life and death decisions in a heartbeat. The police, prosecutors and judge can destroy an innocent life with one bad decision.
And tax professionals can make or break the personal finance issues of clients. Retirement, early or not, is affected by tax choices. The answers are rarely crystal clear.
This isn’t about right or wrong. It’s about making a choice when all the answers are wrong. About making the most ethic choice of those available.
The dog days of tax season are here. I’m dead tired and not as caught up as I was a week ago. Missing documents and research put me in a minor bind. Still looking good, but for the record, I took a short nap at my desk Friday. I was cooked. I’m off Saturday, but working Sunday to prepare for a phone meeting with Mr. Money Mustache. The quiet, empty office is conducive to massive productivity. You’d be surprised what no interruptions can do to a guy’s efficiency.
An AWOL winner from our last drawing made an appearance.
Rich S from Philly collected his $50 Amazon gift card and wanted me to remind everyone his Eagles are the Rockin’ Super Bowl Champs! Rich is on a roll I would say. Congratulations and thanks for visiting.
Talking about money being given away and drawings, we have yet another drawing this upcoming week. Check the details on the Where Am I page. Consider using your winning with the Amazon link from this blog to recycle cash back into the system. It all goes to a good cause: charities and you.
I forgot to mention some tradelines news. I talked with Darren a few weeks ago and promised to mention they are experiencing high demand. If you want put some serious coin in your pocket read the previous articles I published on the topic.
Or just contact Darren to start earning some ca-ching fast.
2534 State Street, Suite #433
San Diego, CA 92101
Mention The Wealthy Accountant to receive a bonus on your first tradeline sale.
There were some concerns when I first announced my suggestion to use Tradeline Supply to sell your tradelines. It seems my earlier work was well worth it as the concerns were unfounded and Darren and his team have grown into an industry leader. You can expect to earn anywhere from a few hundred dollars up to a thousand per hour invested in selling tradelines. This is one of the most powerful side gigs I know of. If you understand tradelines you can retire before you ever start it’s so lucrative. Check it out.
Back to taxes. Time is running out. S corporations and partnerships are due next week Thursday. File an extension if you need it. If you need help use the contact button to see if my office can fit you in or at least get an extension. We are getting more selective as our schedule tightens, but are still looking at all requests. If you do your own return, consider the link below. You will have access to the same commercial grade tax software used by nearly 50,000 tax offices, including mine.
Finally, I have a volunteer to help with Camp Accountant. I haven’t had a chance to confirm due to the weight of tax season bearing down on my shoulders. Karen K, I’ll be in touch soon.
Enough about business. It’s time for a break. Here is some entertainment I’m sure you’ll enjoy!
What I’m Reading
Yesterdays post forced me to bring out a blast from the past. Nick Murray’s book, Serious Money, was an integral part of the story. After all these years it was time to partake in some of the old pleasures. Serious Money is hard to find. Used copies are available on Amazon, but unless you are in securities sales it isn’t a necessary buy. It’s also pricey since so few copies remain in the world at large.
What I’m Watching
Last weekend I took both days off! Yeah, I’m just as shocked! I was so tired I spent much of last Saturday watching educational videos. I want to share a few interesting presentations here.
When I can’t sleep I watch old Looney Tunes cartoons. I was snoring within minutes with this selection. Consider it a subliminal education.
I thought this next piece by Milton Friedman, recipient of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, was an excellent way to better understand inflation.
Abbot & Costello always make me laugh and after a hard week of toil I enjoyed this piece on loafing. Ah, those were the days when a guy could join the union and get paid serious money to be a real loafer.
Finally, for all you kind readers who lust for a project that puts a few extra cents in your pocket, an experiment to get free lighting from magnets taken from an old microwave.
What I’m Listening To
I got this darn song stuck in my head all week. Now you’re infected. Sorry.
My game plan for next week is pretty short: prepare tax returns. Repeat. I keep reminding myself this too shall pass. Five weeks left.
Bulls make money. Bears make money. Pigs get slaughtered! —Old Wall Street Adage
Back in the early days of my career the investment industry and the tax/accounting industry tried to merge. To be fair it was the investment industry’s idea. Tax offices were the perfect partner to sell securities (usually mutual funds with a respectable dose of insurance thrown in for good luck). Virtually every small accounting firm took the plunge.
Accounting offices are prime for solicitation. Tax professionals have a powerful relationship with their clients. Accountants also know a lot about their clients due to the data collected to file an accurate tax return.
Before someone got the idea to enlist the tax profession, it was common for insurance and securities salespeople to wine and dine the accountants in the area to build a relationship where the accountant fed ripe clients for plucking. (Did I say that?) Then H.D. Vest Financial Services changed the face of the accounting, tax and investment industry in one fell swoop. The world hasn’t been the same since.
As many firms did, I joined the herd of lemmings to the cliff. It wasn’t a bad choice. I learned a lot from my tenure in the field. I also discovered things I found revolting.
H.D. Vest Financial Services contacted me and I was a willing accomplice. The money was very nice, but I also had a massive interest in securities. If the opportunity in securities would have presented itself before taxes I’d probably be writing The Wealth Broker. (Sounds more like an oxymoron to me.)
H.D. Vest required we attend two major seminars around the country each year. (They had me with the traveling schedule.) Every December we met in Dallas (not far from the FinCon hotel last fall). The other event floated around the country.
A Story from the Brickyard
The keynote speakers at H.D. Vest events were influential members of the community. The one speaker who stuck out the most for me was Nick Murray.
Murray cut his teeth in an earlier age when hawking mutual funds took some effort. By the 1990s selling mutual funds in a roaring bull market was easier than taking candy from a baby. Murray’s advice and stories always stuck with me.
The age-old question was front and center: Where is the stock market headed? Clients are always nervous about investing. They’re afraid the market will tank the moment they buy. Murray had the perfect retort. He said he had no idea which direction the next 20% move in the market would be. He didn’t know the direction of the next 50% move, or 75% move or even 90% move. It could go either way. Up or down. But he guaranteed his clients the next 100% move in the stock market is up, not down. He ended by saying if he was wrong there wouldn’t be anyone around to sue him or complain.
A Story from the History Bin
Murray was on to something. Using the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) as a yardstick we can check how well Murray’s advice stood the test of time.
Charles Dow published his first index, a precursor to the DJIA, on February 16, 1885. The current industrial average was first published on May 26, 1896. We will use the May 26, 1896 start date for our history lesson as before that the average was more a transportation index and in fact is the basis of the current Dow Transportation Average. The DJIA started with fewer stocks, but by the late 1920s had the familiar 30.
One thing we are familiar with is the sound of the business news broadcasts saying, “Today the Dow Jones made a new high . . .” It happens a lot. There are certainly lulls between new highs periodically, but the upward pace almost seems to be persistent.
With so many “new highs” in the DJIA (and broader indexes) have you ever wondered when the last time was when a new low was made? Well, I have the answer if you’re interested. On August 8, 1896 the DJIA hit its all-time low of 28.48. We haven’t heard a new low in the Dow for over 100 years! The last time a “new low” was made was in the late 19th Century. 19th Century!
The chart in this post illustrates the relentless climb higher of equities. Notice the pimple about an inch from the left side of the chart. That’s the 1929 Crash and Great Depression. The scab about an inch to the left of the year 2000 is the 1987 market crash where we shaved 22.61% off the market in a day! It was a good day to buy stock in Fruit of the Loom. Now I know why Warren Buffet had to buy the company with guys wearing fruit costumes.
The most telling trait of the chart is the parabolic look the closer to the right you get. But if you pick any time in the past it usually has a similar look! In the 1980s it looked straight up. Same in the 1960s. Same in the 1990s. You get the drift. As the market ratchets higher the older areas of the chart look smaller and smaller until even major fluctuations (from the viewpoint of people living through the event) are pimples on the chart if they can be discerned at all.
Told by an Idiot, Full of Sound and Fury, Signifying Nothing
And so it goes, as Kurt Vonnegut would say. Once again we are enjoying market highs. The market has been up a very long time. We’re due for a correction, prognosticators say. Then we get a mild correction, but we still fear every shadow. We’re due for a bear market!
To top it off, your favorite accountant mentioned what he thought was an interesting fact. He moved to his highest cash position in his adult life at 52%. Half his, ah, my money went to cash in late January. How lucky can a guy get!
I got lucky because I wasn’t timing the market. Another significant business prospect (a non-public company) came my way. I don’t like borrowing money so I liquidated some serious positions. If all the money isn’t needed some will find its way back into the market. Regardless, my retirement money is still going into Vanguard index funds 100% as it peels off my paycheck. I also automatically deposit money into my non-qualified (non-retirement account for non tax people) Vanguard index funds every month on the 7th. It’s the law!
Now, with my idiotic profession of good luck earlier this year, we must focus on the only way to invest in the market. Like Nick Murray, I have no idea which direction the next 20% move will be. Same goes for the next 50% move, 75% move or even 90% move. But I guarantee you, as did Murray, the next 100% move will be up! The stock market has been doubling again and again from the beginning.
Is it any wonder the DJIA made an all-time low a bit over two years after the average began reporting without ever digging lower? Even the Great Depression couldn’t break to new lows! Yet again and again we hear news of a new high. Maybe this time is different, but I wouldn’t count on it. Business and the economy keep growing with minor hiccups along the way. Bear markets are scary from the inside because somebody is in the corner crying, upsetting all the nice people milling about.
Bear markets are temporary; bull markets are forever.
There is one final argument to stay invested in broad-based stock index funds no matter where the market is at. It involves the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962.
For 13 days (always a lucky number to make you feel comfy when playing with nuclear weapons) the United States and the Soviet Union came within a whisker of a full scale nuclear confrontation over imminent deployment of nuclear weapons in Cuba. President Kennedy went on television to inform the American people (and warn the Soviets watching) the U.S. had target 50 Soviet cities with nuclear weapons. It was assumed the Soviet Union had targeted an equal or greater number of U.S. cities.
The DJIA only lost a mere 1.2% during the nuclear crisis. That didn’t mean panic wasn’t under the hood. There is the story of a young stock broker who started screaming to sell when an older, more seasoned, broker in the office told the young broker to calm down. The young broker yelled the world could end at any moment and he had to sell. The old broker put a hand on the young broker’s shoulder and said, “Buy. If the nukes don’t fly the market will rally.” (The DJIA added over 10% by the end of 1962.) “If the nukes do fly the trades will never clear.”
The same is just as true today. Could President Trump really cause the end of the world? Maybe. But if the world doesn’t end you’re going to look mighty foolish.
Human history is marked by perpetual growth for many thousands of years. The growth trend has been marred by periodic declines, even extended ones. In the end it was always a losing bet to bet against humanity. Progress has been unrelenting for a very long time.
It always looks like a top. Always! But then we go higher. And if I’m wrong the trade will never clear. (Or at least nobody will be around to tell me how wrong I am.)
And for the record, bulls make money. Bears and pigs both get slaughtered.
Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning. —Winston Churchill
It was an exciting week in the Wealthy Accountant’s world. Facebook decided they didn’t want me to use the name Keith Taxguy. Now if I were a Russian meddling in the election I would’ve had no problems at all. It all ended well (so far).
New policies instituted in the office this year are paying off. For the first time since I showed up in the blogosphere people are surprised how fast I’m getting work done. After tax season I’ll spill the beans on my experience so other tax firms can experiment with the same tools. It should help other business owners and those with a side gig formulate ideas to increase their efficiency. This means less work and more profit. Isn’t the modern world awesome!
I found a gapping problem in the new tax law this week that will cause serious issues next tax season. I stumbled upon it by accident (asking clients questions). Monday I’ll have a full write-up. This issue is for more than accountants. Anyone who files a tax return is affected. I estimate 70% of taxpayers will need to adjust for the error or will have a nasty surprise when they file their return next year.
A few reminders before we head into the entertainment part of the weekend. Do-it-yourselfers should consider 1040.com through this blog. I like the program and use the commercial grade program in my office. Since this blog’s profits go to charity (increasingly supporting agencies helping abuse survivors) it’s for a good cause.
We have another nifty drawing to give money away again in the upcoming week. Don’t miss your chance.
Looking to manage your growing stash better? Personal Capital is a resource many are using to visualize all their investments in one spot. Best of all it’s free!
In the near future I will share my experience using PeerStreet. I think it is an excellent addition to many portfolios. Over the last year or so I’ve wound down my Prosper and Lending Club investments for a variety reasons I’ll outline in the future post. I’ve added PeerStreet to my investment mix and so far have been very happy. I also like the added protection of real estate backing the loans I’m investing in.
And now for some weekend entertainment.
What I’m Reading
Tax season limits my reading time. (Notice my sad face.) I’m working on a really good book I hope to report on next week. I also have been catching up on some neglected issues of National Geographic. The short articles fit the schedule easier this time of year for me.
What I’m Watching
Tax season quickly turns into a real life edition of Groundhog Day. Each day melts into the next, only to repeat again and again until we get it right. With this in mind, I’ve never seen the movie Groundhog Day. I know, I know. Everybody has seen the darn movie except me, until now.
This weekend I went to the library to checkout Groundhog Day. (I actually sent Mrs. Accountant.) Now we can officially declare every living human has seen Groundhog Day. So much for my reputation as an early adaptor.
For the record, I actually watched the movie; something I rarely do. Normally TV is background noise or a sleep inducer. Bill Murray earned his keep. I watched, yes watched, the entire movie. Of course they had me when the groundhog was driving.
Here is a YouTube video everyone MUST see. Elon Musk hits the nail square.
What I’m Listening To
I worked in silence most of the week as I was on a mission from God. The work was peeling off at a rapid clip. Here is one soundtrack I noticed in my YouTube queue from earlier in the week.
Be good, kind readers. One month of tax season is nearly in the books. See y’all Monday.
(Now I’m off to read a book. I am taking the whole weekend off! All of it.)