Jack TenneyExtra Point

by Jack Tenney, Publisher

April 2005

April Fools

It's no coincidence, I think, that April Fool's day and the due date for our personal tax returns fall in the same month.

As a lad I did a few seasons in tax preparation sweatshops. Lighting and equipment were better at the CPA firms than at Sam the Taxman's storefront in Dorchester, but the effect on me was about the same exhilaration. I replicate that feeling now if I can complete a crossword puzzle quickly, in ink and not have any cross-outs or overwrites.

Whether combining the results of a dozen or so partnerships in oil exploration programs for a high-roller or making sure all the deductions for the rental on the other half of the two-family for a union worker would stand muster, accuracy was important, but speed was critical. It was like washing dishes in a restaurant. Of course the dishes have to be clean, but you sure as heck can't dawdle. You might get yelled at occasionally for the quality of your work, but if you were slow well, that would be a career killer.

When I worked for Sam, we did a basic long form federal return with itemized deductions and rental schedule most of our clients lived in two- or three-deckers and a state return for $17. If the client also had some sort of side business that called for a Schedule C, that return could go as high as $25. Obviously, speedy process was a key. Interview, form preparation, proofing, final return presentation to the client: Those folks got a lot for their $17 to $25.

At the CPA firms I worked for, a basic return cost the client about $800. That paid for about 20 hours of clerical, staff and partner review. Most returns were far more complicated and hence billed out for more than a thousand.

Everyone worked accurately at both ends of the profession. And fast: no gassing, no coffee breaks on the client, just steady, good work.

I confess, working for Sam was more fun. Finding an extra $45 deduction was usually worth about $10 for the taxpayer and sometimes even more for Sam. I liked to keep both happy. The process worked something like this:

"So, your brother-in-law installed the new linoleum in your kitchen, as well as in the kitchen of the downstairs people, but he only charged you for the downstairs people?"

"Yeah, right, I paid him 45 bucks."

"Well, you're entitled to deduct what you paid your brother-in-law, but he should report that on his return. Do we do his return?"

"Uh, I dunno."

"Well, you should have him come in. Soon. No fooling."

I was good.

No fooling.