Wednesday, February 17, 2010

My Life in Taxes

I am truly amazed that I got a tax preparer job so quickly after starting to look for one. I sent out only about twenty inquiries, and got five interviews and three job offers within three weeks. Granted, tax season is underway and the workload is peaking right now. So my timing was good. And it also helps to be vastly overqualified(!).

I took a job with a small CPA firm about 12 minutes drive from my house, on the other side of the river. The little tan building on the left in this picture is my new office. Its on Main Street in North Little Rock, and I love it that I get to cross the river every day.

There are three CPAs in the company and five support people. Everyone but me is a native Arkansan. Clients are mostly mom-and-pop business owners, although the firm also provides bookkeeping services for several local churches and nonprofits.

I spend all my time doing tax returns. Sounds awful, I know, but honestly, I really enjoy the work. Call me a voyeur, but I love peering secretly into people's financial lives.

There's the truck driver still working at aged 71, and the single mom school teacher who qualifies for poverty tax credits because her income is so low. One retired lady had about $30,000 in income last year, but gave away about $9000 to charity. Another lady's business was down 75% from the year before but she didn't lay off anybody because every employee is a relative. People have refinanced their homes and tapped their retirement savings to keep afloat. It looks pretty bad.

But it feels pretty good to be helping these folks maximize their tax refunds and minimize their tax expenses. Take the school teacher, for example: taxes make up her single largest expense, other than her house payments. It really helps her if we can shave something off her tax bill - and we did.

I realized that I might meet some of these folks face-to-face sometime, (which kind of puts a damper on my voyeurism). And then that very thing happened: Mick and I had lunch at a small restaurant near my office and the next morning, I was handed the owner's tax return to prepare. Its kind of like being caught peering into his bathroom window, now that I know exactly how much the business lost last year, and that his parents are still supporting him. I'm going to have to ponder this situation a bit. Figure out how to handle it.

The downside of my new job is that I spend less time with my own family. I had grown to enjoy hanging out so much with Mick and I miss him. I also miss being able to make a last-minute trip out to Perryville to see Katie. We did get to babysit for Honey last Saturday, and tonight, Katie and Honey were in town for dinner with us. Every time I see her, Honey has a bigger vocabulary and some new tricks. At a birthday party last week, she adopted the phrase "Happy Birthday!" and now she says it about 80 times a day. Its her favorite expression. Imagine that!

All week, I've been working with a new tax client, the father of four sons who recently brought his family to Arkansas from the port city of Karachi, Pakistan. [Side Note: I was assigned this client because no one else could understand his accent, and they hoped I would be able to understand him, since I'm also a foreigner.] Anyway, he is a ship's captain who had been unemployed for nearly two years before landing a job here in Little Rock last winter. He'd never paid taxes in the US before and I got to tell him that most of the money withheld from his paychecks would be refunded as soon as we file his return. Now that was a rewarding conversation!

My job will revert to part-time after April 15, and that will be fine with me. Meanwhile, the work reminds me that everyone has issues, and that some are making even greater transitions than me, and hopefully, all of us are landing on our feet.

My fondest hope is that everyone will be in happier circumstances when I do their taxes this time next year - that the worst is behind us now. Its a modest hope, I know. But gee, wouldn't it be nice?

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