Privilege Blog

If Only Leprechauns Could Calculate Taxes, Or, Saturday Morning at 10:02am

Today, while some roust out St. Patrick’s Day finery, and leprechauns, others face a devil’s chore. It’s income tax time in the United States.

I do not resist taxes, in principle. The only good response to inherited privilege is a gracious paying of one’s dues. But I downright despise the process of getting a check in the mail.

I confess I have no right to complain. I have never, not once in all my born days, calculated taxes myself. When I was young, if I remember correctly, the trust bank did them for me. Eventually, one accountant or another. I like the woman who does them now, she’s practical and funny. She went through divorce, right about when I did.

The trust bank of my past had large quiet elevators, and swooshing doors. Beige carpets, lit with Atlantic sun through tall windows. I recall the artifacts of money in the same way I remember childhood beaches. By sense. Substitute the metallic smell of printed financials for the tang of sunscreen. We were a Sea and Ski family. Others swore by Coppertone. We drove Fords, not Chevrolets.

I might have gotten better about taxes, over the years, but instead I got worse. The realities of a fading family fortune and a need to work to live might have brought rigor, but they didn’t. I’m absolutely terrible at arithmetic, allergic to spreadsheets. I don’t even do the preliminary sheets accountants give you to fill out. I amass an unruly pile of papers and hand them over to people in offices, feeling mild dread even at that simple process.

Let’s be honest. There’s only so much enlightenment, deconstruction, and refining of moral fiber, any one person can manage. Right? I’ve given up on tax prep. Surely I’m not alone? We’ll substitute getting better at kindness, and bargain hunting, OK? I will cook the fairy of diligence and accuracy dinner instead. Fair deal.

I do take pride, however, in the fact that my daughter does her taxes herself. Go you new generation, I stand to applaud. And must now start hunting for the pile of envelopes marked, ominously, IMPORTANT 2011 TAX INFORMATION. Of course it’s important, you fiends you.

Have a lovely weekend.

37 Responses

  1. One of the best things about Paul’s semi-retirement is that he is now in a position to amass all the documents and take them to the accountant, sit with her while she runs them through her system. I did that for years, always holding my breath for something I was sure to have forgotten — deep down, some fear that I would be held accountable to the point of criminality, inadvertently, unpredictably. I’m not sure where that comes from, but it sounds as if I’m not alone.

  2. This post made me laugh (in a mirthful way). I think you and I are on the same page. I say–why do I have to be exemplary at things I dread when I am SO good at doing so many other things–and willing to develop new talents if I can avoid the things I dread.

  3. I hope there is a special place in heaven for tax accountants. My mother’s accountant was her first cousin, who by then was almost 80 himself. He would start calling to remind her and her elderly friends (whose taxes he did as well) on February 1 to start getting their papers together for him. One year I was at mother’s house on April 14th when he called, and she told him that she had gotten at least some of it together, but now she couldn’t find it. He started asking her where she had looked, including under the bed. Mother didn’t seem to understand why I thought this was so funny, nor did she understand when I told her how lucky she was, because most accountants don’t operate that way!

  4. I <3 TurboTax. I've been doing my own taxes since I was a teenager. Of course, I don't have anything complex to deal with — just W2s from a job or jobs, mortgage interest deduction, and the piddly amount of interest my bank accounts bring. I hire someone to keep my lawn cut in the hammering heat of summer, though. Yes, only so much diligence, I suppose.

  5. For me, tax prep is neither noble nor necessary to take the DIY route. Besides, our benevolent accountant, Krish, likes to discuss topics like “how your children can use their talents” and “why we know dogs really smile” as well as allowable expenses, etc.

  6. Your post reassures me that I will never want for work.

    I function as the paid intermediary who organizes a year’s worth of bank statements, credit card receipts and investment reports to come up with the figures for those tax worksheets….

    Every year my clients are relieved, not only to hand over a Whole Foods bag full of receipts and paper bits for sorting and review, but to pay my hourly rate rather than the one charged by a tax accountant.

  7. I stopped doing my own taxes many years ago when a lightbulb went off in my head when I realized that turning over the chore to others wasn’t evidence of a lack of moral fibre or a failing on my part. I, like you, simply hand over a pile of papers to the marvelous man who has done my taxes for years. He is now in his late eighties and remains sharp as a tack, and I adore him. My father labored over the family tax returns when I was a boy, sweating and swearing over spreadsheets and statements, and did them himself as a matter of pride and discipline. Ah, well, that was his decesion and not mine…

  8. I despise doing taxes…and so does my husband so we have an accountant and have done for eons…
    I thought you’d be great at math, I don’t know why I just did.
    I am pathetic with math and that’s OK!

  9. I suppose I could do my taxes … but I just don’t understand WHY I would. My fiance and I have a lovely accountant who takes care of our investments and our taxes and charges a reasonably small amount of money for them.

    When it comes to budgets and day to day expenses – those I control carefully. I’m comfortable with them. But taxes scare me, possibly because of what can happen when they go wrong.

  10. My husband the mathematical scientist would consider it a personal failing if he didn’t do our taxes himself. But it’s still a chore, and I freely admit that there have been years that he didn’t get around to it until the first week of April. This year, the problem of the “fading family fortune” resurrected itself (some stocks were sold just ahead of a death spiral), but he resolved to tackle them early, which was a great relief to me.

  11. My husband and I suffer from the curse of all engineers, and cannot leave the numbers to someone else. However, like other posters above, our taxes are pretty simple, few investments, mostly wage earning jobs and an array of charming tax deductions (my daughter is clearly the most charming, but the house isn’t bad.) We spend a few hours every February burying the dinner table in papers, and run it all through TurboTax.

    1. Althea, I am married to an engineer. Even though I 1. have an MBA, 2. worked at the IRS for a short time, and 3. did my own taxes for the entire time before we were married (we married when I was 44), he wants to do the taxes.

      It took me three years to convince him that I could do his expense reports. I didn’t see the point of his spending his limited free time doing them when I could do them in my vast, need something to do with my life hours.

  12. That is my day tomorrow. Others are running a marathon. Quicken and I will be preparing reports and wondering how include make so many errors.

    Then off to the accountant.

  13. I did my own taxes in the U.S. for years, but then my situation got more complicated, and I found a great older accountant who not only found more deductions, but also the IRS is less likely to question the word of a professional–even if all is 100% correct, you don’t want an audit!

    In Taiwan, filing taxes for foreigners is a pleasure. The tax bureau will help you fill out your forms, they are friendly and caring, and can be counted on to give the best deal.
    –Road to Parnassus

  14. Don’t shoot me — I filed my return myself several weeks ago. I can’t help it that I’m good at finances :). You are lucky to have a person to rely on so you don’t have to worry about it.

  15. Oh my, THAT is still before us.
    Usually my hb has done them, left them to the last hour, asked for more time, and finally stuffed everything a s s u c h in an envelope.
    Naturally acting this way, we have missed a huge amount of tax deductions over the years (;
    As a private entrepreneur now, someone else fills his papers, but our private ones are still performed in the way described above.

    1. The gold digger,
      Thank you for the advice. Over here, I guess?, deductions can be sent later on, not sure for how long though.
      Unfortunately, filling the tax papers is such a stressful job for my hb, that he wants to ” forget everything ” as soon as he closes the envelope, and I have no idea, where to hunt for the missing papers (;

  16. I did my own taxes for years, simply because it was, well, simple – I had no money, assets or property. These days, my “I-develop-accounting-and-merchandising-software” husband does our taxes, for which I’m exceedingly grateful; like you, I am allergic to arithmetic.

  17. As a reformed piler, now filer, married to a man that pours through tax codes for fun just to see if the accountant reaaaalllllyyyy knows his or her (God bless her soul) stuff, did I ever get a good chuckle here!! LOL

  18. As someone who is in the midst of going to school and taking the CPA exam so I can be a tax accountant, this post made me happy. I love doing taxes for my friends. I love the worksheets, the rules, the order. We couldn’t do what we love to do if it weren’t for people like you.

  19. I do them myself as part of my budget duties. They are not that difficult so it’s ok. One learns over time, just like with electronic and mechanic devices. What I like about doing them myself is the fact that I can think ahead with my expenses and know how they’ll be useful deduction-wise. Always having to ask someone would irk me, being an impatient person.

    Besides, having ailing people to care for I need to make sure every cent goes where it belongs. But I readily delegate cleaning, the most boring and futile chore on earth. Aahhh!

  20. I’ve never done my own taxes either, and I don’t even go into banks. I despise all things financial. It’s my most childish quality, but unlikely to change.

  21. Taxes and maths are my creations..while others’ paint master pieces,designer gardens,clothes..I live and breath figures.

    For my inheritance I have to use an accountant,but my taxes for business/property/personal money are managed by myself.

    I get a great thrill by making sure my money works well for me. Ida

  22. We operate a number of rentals and for that reason, our taxes generally take me an entire weekend to prepare. Part of it is filing and arranging paid bills in order. Much of it I can do myself, but much of it requires DH’s review. One year, we tried to skip his review and it ended up costing us money. I did all this last weekend, delivered it to the preparer, and we could have picked it up today! Too easy.

  23. This year I learned I actually OWED taxes for the first time ever. Imagine my surprise, when I had planned to use the imagined refund on some fantastic trip. Ha ha, sigh.

    Ironically, I am also taking an accounting course this semester, and procrastinating my homework right now! Oh, Excel.

  24. I have never, ever done my own taxes. First I used the family accountant. Then he retired, I grew up, and found another fabulous accountant on my own. (OK, my now-widowed mom referred him to me.) Any of the do-it-yourself programs are software programs, but they will never, ever be able to match or top the skills of a CPA.

    My ex, a tax attorney, told me that the CPA exam was much more difficult than the bar. A CPA knows tricks, maneuvers, and strategies that Turbo Tax doesn’t have a clue about. Plus, if you’re audited, a good CPA goes to battle with you and is ready to provide legal reasons for anything s/he did during your tax prep. Each year, my tax prep costs me $750. Worth it? Oh yeah.

  25. As a newly retired tax accountant, I have to tell you that I, too, really enjoy the process. Something about knowing the rules and bringing order out of the chaos is SO satisfying. And yes, creativity plays a part, too.

    But all the references in the comments to “doing your taxes” remind me of an elderly client, raised in Nova Scotia, who called every year to ask me to “make up his taxes.” I would carefully explain that I couldn’t really “make them up” but that I would be happy to prepare his tax returns.

    I appreciated all the kind remarks about tax accountants and tax preparers, too. I find that I’m feeling somewhat as if I’ve closed a book before I finished it; wanting to know how those carefully nurtured businesses are doing this year and so forth. Sometimes it seemed as though I knew more about my clients than their family doctors……….and I found the advisory role very rewarding.

  26. I did “mine” for years, and “ours” for quite a while, and tried to persuade myself that it was the responsible thing to do. And, oddly, I kind of liked the challenge of it as it grew increasingly complicated. About five years ago, the rest of the family was on a bike ride, and I was sitting at the desk, and that was it. No more. I still think gathering all the stuff is maybe the hardest part, tho, especially since I usually forget to print at least one important form or statement each year.

  27. Oh my. I don’t do the taxes, although I did before I was married. Usually I do the spreadsheet thing though so the accountant just has to plug the numbers into his trusty program. In the past I could not bring myself to just throw things into a box or bag, I would just log them into my spreadsheets as they came in. I suppose I could have done the final taxes, but I had no interest in that.

    This year however, we moved and lived in a hotel and everything is still in boxes and I dread ferreting it out. I may yet mail it to the old accountant in a box, or I may pull myself together.

  28. I’ve been putting it off. I don’t do my own taxes, either, but I have to spend hours gathering and organizing all the paperwork and spend a couple hours filling out the form so my accountant can spend 10 minutes plugging my info into the computer. And itemizing charitable donations is something I also put off, to the point I often forget what I gave.

    Oh, and we were a Ford/Sea and Ski family, too. Right this moment, at dark o’clock, I would love a huge whiff of that lotion on sun-warmed skin intermingled with hot sand baking in the sun and the pungent aroma of salt, seaweed, dune grass, lemonade, and the lanolin from my white wool blanket.

  29. Oh HELL no…………. “Auntie Em! Auntie EM!” WOW! ONLY in California. ONLY. Did the print pants, while in daring San Fran…. Did the flowing-layering whilst in San Diego…. Not much of either made it’s way back to the Atlantic shores lol lol lol Days long gone.

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