Jessie Raymond: Reluctant accountant gets surprise
As the reluctant bookkeeper for my husband’s business, I dread this time of year: It’s tax season. I hate thinking about money, much less keeping track of it, and I don’t really understand accounting.
It’s not that I’m bad at math; back in my school days, I never met a cosine I didn’t like. But my accountant insists that fun stuff like vectors and rational coefficients aren’t appropriate for small-business accounting, and that I need to stop using the quadratic formula altogether (apparently, it’s screwing up payroll).
Accountants are so uptight.
To get ready for my annual tax meeting with him this morning, I spent the last week stressing about all the work involved. I ran reports. I submitted W-2s and 1099s. I made sure all of our quarterly and annual filings were taken care of.
There were a lot of forms, and I don’t fill them out often enough to make the procedures stick in my memory. Mostly I struggled with government tax websites. I hate them — they’re long on forms WH-434, C-101, B-52, R2-D2 and such, and short on cosines. I am completely out of my element.
My ignorance of tax codes and anything more financially technical than management of a basic check register makes me feel especially vulnerable when going before an expert in tax matters. I dug out any papers that looked like they could be pertinent — not just receipts, registers and statements but also shopping lists and knitting patterns — because I was terrified of showing up unprepared.
My mind raced all night. Are vet bills deductible for a construction business? Are there any large capital expenditures (such as the purchase of a corporate jet) I forgot to make note of? What if Quickbooks is wrong and we owe, say, $200,000 in taxes?
Between nerves and a lack of sleep, I arrived at the accountant’s office in a highly excitable state. So when he reached out to shake my hand, I screamed, flung my manila folder at him and dove behind a ficus tree.
Moments later, while we collected papers off the floor together, I apologized for my outburst. He waved it aside — causing me to flinch — and assured me that clients had nervous breakdowns in his office all the time. Then he offered me some decaf.
We chit-chatted for a few minutes, and I had just begun to calm down when he started asking me panic-inducing questions.
“During 2016,” he said, glancing at a page in my folder, “did you amortize the cost basis for any non-compensated asset with malice aforethought? Or did you defer substantive recourse to a subsequent period, not to exceed 90 days?”
I squinted at him for several seconds. I could think of three possible answers: “I’m afraid that’s classified,” “How dare you speak to me that way!” or “You’ll find the answer on line 17 of form H1N1.” I went with the last one, which I thought struck a nice, professional-sounding note.
He closed his eyes and rubbed his forehead for several seconds. The poor guy works too hard at this time of year.
But we muddled through. I had all the documents he needed, and more — he seemed especially impressed with the owner’s manual to my blender. And in an hour, we were done: Another year of forms and reports and files and numbers, all taken care of.
What a relief. I got home and dropped into a chair.
Then I noticed, in the day’s mail, a letter from the state of Vermont. It read, “Your business has been randomly chosen for a tax audit for the year 2015. In addition to check register, journal entries and payroll records, please provide the following 2015 forms: W-2s, 1099s, WH-434s, C-101s, B-52s and R2-D2s. Attach supporting documents to form WD-40. Please respond to this letter within five business days or we will break your kneecaps.” (I’m paraphrasing.)
And suddenly it was back: that familiar numbers-averse, tax-ignorant anxiety clutching at my chest — some 51 weeks earlier than usual. It was too much. In purple pen, I wrote the quadratic formula on the back of the letter, then added a smiley face, and mailed it back to Montpelier.
In a few days, we’ll find out whether auditors are as uptight as accountants.