Tuesday, February 21, 2017

I’ll Take Succession for $1,000 Alex

Last week, I spoke before a chapter of one of the large state CPA societies in the Northeast on one of my favorite subjects – the CPA firm of the future.

Prior to my presentation one of the attendees jokingly turned to a colleague and asked what I considered a terrific trivia question – which musical group performed the one-hit wonder The Night Chicago Died?

The truth be told I knew the answer immediately due to my penchant for storing multiple gigabytes of arcane and often useless information. Too bad I was rejected as a potential Jeopardy contestant on two occasions.

For those keeping score at home, the answer was Paper Lace and the year was 1974.

Think about that for a moment.

Richard Nixon was still President – albeit he would resign from the Oval Office in a matter of months. Gas was 53 cents a gallon, the average household income in the U.S, was just under $9,000 and the price of a Big Mac was 45 cents. Oh, and you could mail a letter for 6 cents.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Tax Reform – The Endless Sequel

This week, I’m scheduled to meet with Rocco, my faithful tax preparer for the past 26 years. Every February, we meet under the historic clock in Grand Central Station during the morning rush hour for the ceremonial exchange of my tax organizer.

It’s sort of a solemn ritual, where after few opening pleasantries are exchanged, we both go on with our business.

In keeping with that tradition I always keep my fingers crossed that some small refund will emerge at the completion of my 1040.

However, while death and taxes are certain, I can also bank on that the refund largesse, whatever the amount, will be preliminarily spent by my spouse and daughters long before it ever reaches my wallet.

Recall the opening credits of the classic 80s TV comedy “Married with Children” when Al Bundy, the hapless the shoe salesman patriarch of the downtrodden Bundy family holds out a handful of money and each member in turn extracts a portion of it. For those of you who have children in college or those whose sons or daughters have graduated but remain on the family payroll, I’m sure you can relate.

And while we’re on the subject of taxes, I was asked just the other day whether under this new administration, we’ll finally see some changes to the tax code, despite years of promises and abandoned strategies for IRC reform.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Virtual Commuters

For nearly a quarter century, I did the commuter thing to work.

Depending on where my office at the time was located, my routine consisted of a 15-minute drive to the train station where I would catch the 7:15 express into New York City and then either a long walk or a subway ride sardined with fellow commuters.

Next month believe it or not I will mark my 5th anniversary as a remote worker or telecommuter. I won’t lie and tell you that it didn’t take a while to get used to it. When you’ve worked within the confines of a traditional office since the Reagan Administration, it’s a radical lifestyle change to put it mildly and adoption does not come overnight.

But that was then and this is now.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Zen CPA

In ancient times, about the same period when religious contemplatives pondered such esoterica as how many angels can fit on the head of a pin, Zen Buddhist monks often strengthened their focus and meditation skills with koans – a paradoxical anecdote or riddle for which there is often no answer.

To wit, a common koan would be “what is the sound of one hand clapping?” or the more well-known – “if a tree falls in the forest and no one is around, does it make a sound?

I have a few of my own, albeit with a more updated relevance.

For example why does Hawaii have interstate highways? Or, why does the owner of the annual Publisher’s Clearinghouse Sweepstakes never live in an apartment building?

Sadly, same can be said often about succession planning – sans the humor.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Where Does the Time Go?

The other day I received a message on Facebook and it congratulated me on my “anniversary” per se, in that I have been a member of that social media platform for eight years.

That was a fact that both surprised and disturbed me.

The disturbing part was that I have little or no idea where those past eight years went. To think my youngest daughter who is four months away from graduating college had just turned 13 when I decided to take the plunge and officially become a “poster.”

About the only thing I do recall about my initial enrollment was having a verbal knock down drag out with the IT director of my then employer who wanted my staff to opt for a Twitter account instead. Facebook, which at the time had roughly 150 million users was both overrated and doomed to collapse within two years was his professional opinion.

I’m glad I politely said no. Hmm maybe it wasn’t all that polite.

In any event, some 1.9 billion users later, Facebook has become the largest social media platform by far. By contrast Twitter has some 317 million active users – certainly nothing to dismiss to be sure.

My next leap into the social media arena was LinkedIn, where my connections now number into hundreds and in full disclosure I turn down as many invitations as I accept. I follow a simple rule; if I don’t know your or have never heard of you, the request gets tossed into the electronic circular file so to speak.

I regale you with my not-so-brief personal history with social media because during that time, I’ve seen CPA firms do the proverbial 180 degree turn on their attitude toward the various platforms.

Many sarcastically used to refer to the practice as social “notworking” and implemented system “blocks” preventing their respective staffs from access.

But that was then and this is now.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Sometimes they’re just not worth it

Legendary Hollywood producer and manager Jerry Weintraub, who once guided the careers of such stars as Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley, also at one time had  folk crooner John Denver as a top client.

During a tour in Europe, the often moody and demanding singer angrily phoned Weintraub complaining about everything from the hotels to the food to the concert venues and demanded he fly and meet him in London.

Once there, Weintraub assured Denver everything had been straightened out.

“How? asked Denver.

“I fired Ferguson,” he replied.

“Who’s Ferguson?”

“Ferguson was the guy who was responsible for arranging all this. I told him you were unhappy and so I fired him.”

That night at dinner, Denver began to experience guilt pangs over the dismissal. He told Weintraub he felt terrible, considering it was so close to Christmas and Ferguson probably had a family.

Weintraub assured him that when he returned stateside, he would look for another job in his organization for Ferguson.

In case you haven’t guessed by now, there was no Ferguson. Weintraub, notoriously quick on his feet, had simply invented him.

Now, no one expects the average CPA to be as wily as a veteran Hollywood manager when dealing with difficult clients, but you sort of get the idea.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

1040 Follies

As January winds down, I, like many of you I’m sure, have been slowly receiving assorted tax documents in preparation for my annual sit-down with Rocco – my accountant for the last 27 years.

Rocco usually manages to find my wife and me a small refund, provided my deductions are within the parameters of reality. In the 12 years I spent covering the accounting profession, each January I would compile what I considered an entertaining list of outrageous attempts for tax deductions that most filers wouldn’t be within three area codes of considering.

And somehow every year, some not only stretched the boundaries of credulity but were so out there I’m guessing both the filers and their accountants were sharing large quantities of prescription pharmaceuticals as they prepared their 1040s.

So without further ado here’s my abbreviated roster of what I view as the most outrageous deduction attempts of the past year.