In Which I Praise Accountants

John Scalzi

Got back our taxes from the accountant today. This year’s taxes are, to put it charitably, a tangle: not only my usual hodgepodge of royalty and option statements, but also matters attending to the church and its renovation, our rental property, interest and investments, and a bunch of other stuff that, were I trying to handle it all myself, I would have set myself on fire and run screaming into the night. But our accountant was all, like, “oh, all this? No problem at all” and just dealt with it. And got our taxes to us well in advance of their final filing date.

This is yet another reason why I am grateful for the people who do things for me I can’t or don’t want to do, and will do it happily, and cheerfully, and all I have to do to get them to do it is throw money at them. Yes, a privilege, certainly! But if you have the privilege, what a wonderful thing. My accountant is one of my very favorite people, professionally speaking. I assure you I do not take the financial skills she wields for granted. She’s friggin’ magic, I tell you. Julie Boring of Boring and Associates, if you’re reading this, just know: I appreciate you. Like, a lot.

If you have a tax profile that is in any way complicated, and you can afford it, I strongly encourage you to get an accountant as well. They’re tax deductible! And will make your life so much easier, at least in the month of April.

— JS

45 Comments on “In Which I Praise Accountants”

  1. I work in Accounting but still use a Tax Accountant at EOFY returns because that’s what they specialise in & they know the rules & regulations

  2. We filed our taxes a couple of days ago. And, as I have for the past couple of decades, I used TurboTax—cursing the whole time. Not because of the need to pay taxes but because the tax-industrial-complex forces me to pay $50 to a private corporation to get it done. Our tax situation is modestly complicated. Not enough to require services of an accountant, but more than a simple spreadsheet. Like paying for healthcare and higher education, other countries manage this public task without forcing citizens to rely on commercial agents to get it done. Some of us are lucky enough to regard this as just a nuisance. Others are not. This should be a cause that cuts across political lines!
    (Here endeth my annual rant. Thanks for providing an excuse!)

  3. It’s nice to see someone appreciating tax accountants. Those of us who make our living doing other people’s taxes sometimes feel underappreciated – sort of like dentists I guess. One thing I tell people is never ever have your return prepared by someone who does them by hand – taxes have become so complicated with phase-outs and limitations that when I do finally retire in a year or two I’ll buy Turbo Tax to do my own taxes.

  4. Amen. I have passed the CPA exam. I do almost all of the bookkeeping for my business. But I gladly pay a specialist to do our taxes because I don’t want to be forced to keep up with all of those rules.

  5. I appreciate all the experts in our society that keep it going. Yes, my tax person. But also all those folks that go out when a huge storm hits my city and I head home. They are out restoring power, handling flooding, etc… Doctors, teachers, police, and so on. I love all the people that make a functioning society.

  6. Well, tax deductible if you have a business. For everyone else, you’d have to itemize deductions, which almost no one does anymore unless you are a fairly high net worth individual. Even if you didn’t hire a professional, just buying tax software was deductible under that same rule. But it’s pretty much dead now.

    a semi-retired tax professional

  7. I realized about 8 years ago that I truly did not understand taxes (partly because that year I had to file in multiple states). Got a recommendation for a CPA and never looked back. For us, it’s worth the cost (and the cost really isn’t as much as most people think).

  8. Susan B — one thing I really appreciate about TurboTax is how it pulls from previous years taxes (assuming you’ve been using it for those previous years) and does its magic with those numbers. I’m at a loss as how to calculate and spread investment losses over multiple years, but the software just works its magic. And all I need to do for my investments is import the information from my advisor’s firm and everything somehow automatically goes into the right place in the IRS forms. I read how the average person spends a few days worth of hours doing their taxes and wonder how; all I ned to do is take a few annual documents, link to another, and in a bit over an hour my taxes are done. Yes, I do keep good records — I’ve been doing taxes for decades now and know what I need to keep, and I’m an organized person — but with the software it goes quickly.

    I do resent their extra to my mind excessive charge for filing state taxes electronically, though. I print them out, put them in an envelope, and take them to the Post Office for the clerk to tell me how much postage they need, pay the fee, and place the envelope in the mail.

  9. Oh, I remember the days of filing NJ, NY, NYC and Federal taxes every year. The forms, instructions, worksheets, tables–nevermore! My taxes are simpler now but, I refuse to do them. My Wicki is worth every tax deductible dime.

  10. Accounting is like many other complex professions (medicine, IT, etc.) in which there are many specializations. You wouldn’t go to a podiatrist for a heart attack, after all.

    I am an accountant. I am very much NOT a tax accountant. I first hired a CPA to do our taxes the year my mother died because I just didn’t have the capacity to deal with more government forms. That was in 1997, and I’ve had CPAs do our taxes ever since. They are worth every penny I pay them.

    Tax is the bastard offspring of law and accounting, with all the worst characteristics of both parents. I am profoundly grateful that there are people who are willing to deal with that bastard, because I surely am not. Glad you have found someone to make your life easier every April, too, Mr. Scalzi.

  11. I would have been in prison years ago for failure to do my taxes if not for accountants. When my prior guy retired I was in a mild panic but he recommended a good firm and I am very happy with them. I owe every year but paying the accountant is money well spent. I wouldn’t do well in prison…

  12. I know what you mean. I was amazed at how much easier shoveling snow became when I switched out my shovel for a phone and a credit card.

  13. ‘Julie Boring of Boring and Associates’ sounds like a character out of Neil Gaiman novel. Like an accountant who audits wizards and alchemists to make sure their magical exchanges are reciprocal.

  14. Thank you for this post!

    I would also like to remind folks of a tremendous free service: — free Tax Aide from AARP! FREE! For Anyone! No membership or fee required.

    AARP Foundation Tax-Aide provides in-person and virtual tax assistance to anyone, free of charge, with a focus on taxpayers who are over 50 and have low to moderate income. There is no AARP membership requirement. Tax-Aide volunteers are located nationwide, and are trained and IRS-certified every year to make sure they know about and understand the latest changes and additions to the tax code.

    Tax-Aide sites are open through April 18.

  15. In civilized countries, it is not necessary for the typical person to hire a professional to help them prepare their taxes. In most of Western Europe, the State just does it.

    OP is not a “typical” taxpayer anyplace and might still need a consultant. But for the rest of us, tax time is just Yet Another case where Americans put up with doing the State’s job for it.

  16. That’s also exactly the name you’re looking for in an accountant. Imagine going to someone like, “Jack Surprising of Surprising Accountants!”

  17. You’re welcome. I’m a CPA, CA in Canada and yes, it’s no problem at all. That being said, there is a limit to how much magic I can perform, so I really appreciate when clients provide me with all the documents needed and not just some of them in random order.

    I agree that taxes have the worst characteristics of both law and accounting. I’ve known this for a long time but only recently realized that hey, I can just tell people when they call that I’m not taking on any more tax return clients. Now my life suddenly seems so much better…

  18. I feel the same about our tax accountant. Funny how that works. Then again, she’s also a dear friend.

  19. Absolutely! We also have a mix of income, royalties, investments, etc. Our tax document was 62 pages long! I know I couldn’t work the numbers like our tax accountant did! And what a relief to have the taxes done for the year yet again.

  20. Not a tax question, but relevant to this post…
    Is this correct: “And will make you life so much easier”
    Or should it be: “And will make your life so much easier”

    I always think I am typing ‘your’ and so often find that what I typed now says ‘you’. Which is the correct word in that context?

  21. We live on about 28 acres, 27 of which my in-laws use for farming. They pay us land rent that we match to what our property taxes are, so that evens out. However, because of that one form they provide to the IRS we are unable to use the free version of TuboTax and have to pay every year.

  22. Rule of Acquisition #255: “A wife is a luxury…a smart accountant a necessity.”

    (Of course, your wife is a huge part of your management…so I rather think she’s more of a “necessity.” Special case. :) )

    I generally use H&R Block’s tax software myself…it handled all my tangle of RSU sales and cryptocurrency “sales” (which were actually just exchanges of BTC for Wrapped BTC so I could move them off Coinbase and into a hardware wallet) and got everything squared away nicely. My roommate had “royalty” payments from Twitch, so I used it to do hers as well, which was much easier.

  23. Yep. Our income comes from a mix of salaried work, real estate, investments, and performing. I really, REALLY don’t want to deal with all that, and I smile gladly and pay my wonderful accountant to handle it.

  24. I’ve always done my own taxes. But then, except for when I was paying off the mortgage on my first home, any deductions I scrape up are well below the standard deduction.

    But @ Ken Baker above “I was amazed at how much easier shoveling snow became when I switched out my shovel for a phone and a credit card.” OMG, yes, throwing money at the plow guy!

  25. For many years I have used the IRS Free File, as my income was, to put it mildly, minimal. This year a combination of circumstances resulted in a huge windfall, making me ineligible for Free File.

    But I discovered last year’s Free File company, OnLine Taxes (, will file federal taxes for free, no matter the income level. Hurray for tax software! I always file my state return directly with the state, so that didn’t change anything.

    And since my return was much more complicated than usual, I’d like to give their customer support a shout-out as well. They were very responsive to my many questions. I’ve used many tax software companies over the year with Free File and hope this one sticks around.

  26. They are only deductible on a business return. The deduction for personal returns went away with TCJA.

  27. @Beej

    Exactly. There’s a financial advisor in my neighborhood who runs a business that is actually called “Lawless Wealth Management.” I would think he might have more success if he didn’t lead with his surname.

  28. …okay, but how do you find a really good tax accountant? I have multiple friends who had accountants do their taxes and there was an increase rather than decrease in the number of errors in their submitted tax forms, and that makes me very nervous. (our taxes are in this year, but I’d really like to hand them off next year, since the in-state ones are going to be even more of a bear then.)

  29. And if your poor and don’t want Jackson Hewitt to take a huge slice of your refund, you can find a Volunteer Income Tax Assistant location near you. Just Google IRS VITA. They don’t usually tackle returns at a Scalzi level of complexity, but for most tax payers they do good work.

  30. As a Brit I have never had to file a tax return (it’s all done by the employer so only people who are self-employed have that stress) but if I did I would run straight to an accountant. I don’t think I would have a clue how to do it all myself!

  31. My tax profile is laughably simple…but, the thought of doing it myself (and I have tried) makes my head explode. As a retired teacher, no student or parent behavior ever struck fear in my heart, but doing my own taxes??? The stuff of nightmares. It’s worth every penny I pay my CPA.

  32. As a preparer taking a rare break from my job this evening, thank you for the appreciation. Software helps a lot, but unfortunately for a lot of people it can only work right if you know what you’re doing, and certainly by the time you hit the level of complexity you have, most people will not know what they’re doing because they don’t even know what questions to ask. It does take a lot of time and constant training to keep up with things, so I’m completely not surprised many people just do not want to mess with it.

  33. 12 years ago when I got married shortly after my wife to be bought a home she started worrying about doing her taxes especially if we were going to file jointly

    told her to just hire someone to do it. since i often make sure to have enough withholding to get a refund and would cover the cost

    Her: blink blink okay

    happy wife, happy life

  34. @Susan B — I could do my taxes by hand, I have a really easy tax form (one W-2, no extra income, standard deduction). But e-file and direct deposit of the refund is So. Darn. Convenient.

  35. my family uses an EA rather than an accountant, but he is absolutely worth his weight in gold.

  36. When I had a small business a tax accountant was essential. Now I’m retired and use TurboTax (almost no income makes for easy income taxes! Lol.) But I still miss my tax guy.

  37. Emma, it’s a national shame that in the US A we have to PAY someone to figure out how much to PAY our taxes. The US Federal Tax Code is a bureaucratic nightmare scheme to soak the lower classes and let the richest avoid taxes. That’s not a bug, but a feature.
    I don’t mind paying my fair share of taxes, but I do mind paying the share of the rich.

  38. Preach on, Brother Scalzi. Accountants, like movers and plumbers, are expensive professionals who are totally worth the money. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.

  39. @Eric: re “Lawless Accounting”

    .. I don’t know. Like Saul Goodman said, sometimes you need a criminal lawyer, and sometimes you need a CRIMINAL lawyer.

  40. @Gregg Bender, it is a national shame that our tax system is the way it is. One, things are this way because of Grover Norquist. Two, H&R Block and Big Tax Prep are lobbying to keep the racket going.

    A few years ago, Vox looked into this matter and said the alternative would take an act of Congress to basically have the Japanese system of taxation.

    In Japan, your tax return is prepared by its treasury bureau, and you the taxpayer audit them. You are mailed a statement of how much taxes had been paid, and if you notice you paid too much, there’s a dispute process to claim black some of your money.

    In the U.S., the IRS is already one of the biggest employers of accountants and CPAs. They are already doing about 75% of the work right now. (Some accounting grads and tax attorneys will begin their careers in the IRS to understand the audit process and the bureaucratic logic when they go into private practice.)

  41. I recall well the days when my dear old mother was failing in health, and had to be moved from one nursing home to another, nearby but in another state.
    In addition to my own taxes, I had to deal with my mother’s, and the state where the first nursing home was located didn’t believe she’d moved, so demanded to know where her returns were.
    The accountant took her mare’s nest of retirement stipends, insurance payments, deductible expenses, and more. Quickly, simply, taxes on her real estate, deductions thereof, and God alone knows what else just went whoosh. Never a word of complaint from the IRS.
    We’ve used accountants ever since.

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