Peter Desmond

Peter Desmond

A weeklong electronic journal.
April 14 2000 9:30 PM

Peter Desmond

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I manage to do a couple of interstate returns for college professors; they've been politely anxious about getting their stuff back, and I feel guilty for having postponed the work three weeks. About 10 percent of my clientele are college teachers, including migratory academics who roam from state to state but keep in touch.

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Tax-preparers can end up in specialized fields: They'll do cab drivers, or day-care center owners, or retired military personnel in their town. My clients tend to be writers, musicians, and artists, mostly free-lancers, but it's still a smorgasbord and I enjoy the variety.

I know an accountant whom I used to run into a lot on weekends; he and I belonged to an informal party circuit, and we'd phone one other with addresses each Saturday night. During the course of the 1980s he grew tired of dealing with taxpayers and moved into financial planning, which, I concede, is steadier work year round.

Nonetheless, I never understood his decision, since he was obviously a people person. Sure, some clients are pains in the neck, but most are nice, and the ones you fall out with don't come back. Besides, the idea of offering financial advice gives me the willies. Who can predict the markets?

Every mutual fund prospectus says, "Past performance is no guarantee of future results."

I prefer the law, where precedent counts for something. A psychotherapist I represented was audited; we had written off her shrink bills as a business expense. I handed the auditor a photocopy of a case where a licensed social worker was allowed to deduct her personal psychotherapy on Schedule C (Profit or Loss From Business). Deduction sustained. That sort of stability, and continuity, and reliance on substantial authority, is satisfying.

The topsy-turvy mindset of tax preparation, where high expenses are good and business losses desirable, also has its twisted appeal, which can result in gales of raucous laughter at a tax session. And a two-refund tax appointment can leave a client glowing with gratitude, even though the doing is not mine.

The one thing you can't do is get away from the clock. I'll be seeing 10 people this weekend and talking to a dozen more. I've tried to take nights off recently, but it's hard to relax. Last week I visited the neighborhood branch library to hear a client read a short story. I was caught up during her telling of it and congratulated her. But eating cheese and sipping seltzer afterward, I misread the banner hanging above the food table. It said "Young Adult." I read the second word as "audit."

Gotta run; a client's about to arrive. If you need a federal extension, download Form 4868 here. For a state one, click here