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Who’s Afraid of Tax Reform?

The last time I saw the family dentist while I was in college, he asked me what I was studying. When I told him I was studying tax accounting, he got a strange, smug look on his face and asked, “what are you going to do when there is a flat tax?”

It’s been almost 30 years since I saw that dentist, and so far I’ve dodged the flat tax bullet. There has been one big tax reform since I started public accounting, and next to getting fired by good old Price Waterhouse, The Tax Reform of 1986 has been the best thing that happened to my career.

The 1986 Tax Reform Act’s 25th anniversary is tomorrow. With talk of radical tax reform in the air, from Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 plan to Rick Perry’s embrace of an old-fashioned flat tax, young tax nerds may lose sleep worrying that this time tax careers really will be legislated out of existence.

Go back to bed. For young tax nerds, radical change can be a huge career boost.

The 1986 tax reforms were enacted during my third year out of school. The local office of my national firm was going to put on a big client seminar, and I was put in charge of organizing the presentation. In the pre-Internet days, we got one paperback copy of the legislation, which I tore apart at the bindings so the presenters could have their part of the law. I proofread the slides, sent them to the photographer, and then manually arranged the presentation in the slide carousel (there was no PowerPoint, kids).

The seminar came off well (I did passive losses), which helped keep me (and the evil manager who didn’t like me) from getting me fired again. But in the following weeks the real benefit began to dawn on me — thanks to tax reform, I suddenly knew more about most of the tax law than everybody in the office who outranked me — including the evil manager. It got me promoted quickly, and it gave me much-needed credibility a few years later when a bunch of us went over the wall to start a new firm.

If there is radical tax reform, it will trash a lot of accumulated tax trivia knowledge that experienced tax nerds trade on. But it will also create huge opportunities for young, smart nerds who are willing to learn the new rules. It will be a great leveller in the profession, and a huge advantage to the young and strong.

But it will probably make it almost impossible for me to sell my collection of 1986 Tax Act books for a good price on e-Bay.

Fraudbusters Get a Lesson in Internet Stalking

Yesterday I sat in a session at the ACFE Fraud Conference and Exhibit entitled “Effectively Using Social Networks and Social Media in Fraud Examinations” with a few hundred [?] fraudbusters and I got the impression that few people in the room were social media savvy (in the stalk-y sense, anyway). I came to this conclusion after watching most of the hands in the room go up when asked “who thinks social media is a waste of time?” and saw nearly same amount of hands raised when asked “do you have some sort of social network presence?”

Cynthia Hetherington, President of Hetherington Group, described herself as “[A] librarian, a technologist and licensed private investigator. So, I’m a nerd, I’m a geek and I’m a dick,” was the speaker for this particular session and a lot of her talk introduced the crowd to the idea of stalking people on the Internet. She knew her crowd well, as a joke about Laverne & Shirley’s apartment got plenty of laughs, while a quip about Snooki got crickets. This reinforced my suspicion that the idea that of curating information about financial crooks using Facebook and Twitter was new to many in the room.

Now, the majority of people listening may have known it was possible to find partially-nude pics on someone’s Facebook profile or Twitter account (which she demonstrated in one non-Anthony Weiner example) but maybe they hadn’t considered that they could learn a lot of other useful information about someone they were investigating.

In short, Ms. Herrington explained to the biz casual crowd that you can find out a lot of information about a person just by poking around their social media accounts. Whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn, you can learn someone’s likes, dislikes, their political leanings, where they’ve lived, who their friends are, etc. and use that information to build a profile, analyze behavior or in some cases, find out where someone maybe hiding.

What does all this mean? Opportunity my friends. If you fancy yourself social media and Internet savvy, you probably have a leg up on many of the vets in the fraud and forensics business when it comes to poking around the Web and finding information on people of interest to you. Sure you may not have their years of investigative expertise, extensive contacts or an aging wardrobe but you may have successfully Web-stalked ex-significant others, crushes and completely random people to learn things that they’ve volunteered into cyberspace. And here you thought your creepy behavior was completely worthless.

Confirmed: There Is a Shortage of Good Accountants in the Sex Industry

Way back in March of 2010, we shared with you a plight in our country: there simply are not enough good accountants serving professionals working in the sex industry. At the time we learned of Companions (NSFW unless looking at semi-nude women is kosher), an escort service in Salt Lake City whose proprietors slightly underreported their income which resulted in a tax evasion conviction. We wondered if this particular industry was dry of good accountants and tax advisors who might be able to assist entrepreneurs such as these and the professionals they employ to avoid similar situations.

As happens from time to time, someone with direct knowledge reached out to us and we now have at least one person on record confirming our suspicions:

Hello Caleb,

I came across your March 23, 2010 article, Is the Shortage of Good Accountants in the Sex Industry an Opportunity? and felt compelled to write. You see, I am a tax preparer that has been servicing the adult industry since 2006, doing my best to help those in the industry with knowledge and compassion. What began as helping a few phone sex operators and dancers file their tax returns with dignity has grown into a big part of my business. So, the answer to your question is, yes, the shortage of good accountants in the Sex Industry is indeed an opportunity – for those who wish to practice with ethics and respect. If you wish, you may find more about me and what I do from my website

I am now eager to peruse the rest of your website.

Lori, The Tax Domme

For anyone in need of services, the Tax Domme has a new office location in downtown Seattle and if you’re looking to carve out your own niche practice, you can get in touch with Lori for tips on anything you might want to know. For example, what happens when a well-to-do john needs a companion on a round-the-world trip? If animals are a regular part of the business, is it better to lease or buy? Would whips, chains, spreaders, etc. purchased by dominatrix be eligible for a §179 deduction? All relevant questions that have no doubt come up in the world of the Tax Domme.

So here’s an opportunity to be had people. As long as you manage to keep things professional you can cater to a virtually recession-proof industry. Can’t say we never told you.

Should a Content Big 4 Associate Jump Ship for a Controller Role?

Welcome to the Rapture fire sale edition of Accounting Career Emergencies. In today’s edition, a perfectly happy Big 4 associate has the opportunity to land a controller position with a small company. Should he leave the friendly confines of Big 4 and take a pay cut for the growth potential?

Looking for semi-sound career advice? Need to deflect some blame? Dealing with crazies in your office? Email us at [email protected] and we’ll make sure you’re ready for whatever might (but 100% sure won’t) happen.

Meanwhile, back to opportunity knocking:

I’m in a great spot with a Big 4 firm on a large client in a growing market. I’ve “exceeded expectations” on all my performance reviews the last two years and am up for promotion in July to Sr. Associate. Pay is good, I’m not actively searching to leave, but I don’t feel I’m on the partner track (I’d like to see my family and raise children while staying involved in their lives). At some point I’d love to have my own business – CPA firm or other small business partner.

That said, I’ve also been offered a job with a former small business employer which I interned and worked at for 2 years. They’d like me to come back in a Controller role, with ongoing career development in the position. The position also comes with a potential grooming track to CFO.

What are the pluses and minuses of leaving now for the opportunity? There is a salary sacrifice and I have job security where I’m at with my firm. There’s great growth potential at the small firm and it allows for a great (proverbial) work/life balance.


Tough Spot

Dear Tough Spot,

You wanna tough spot? Try finding a couch on the Upper East Side when you’re accused of rape. You’ve simply got simply have to make a choice about where you want your career to go. And in your case, the decision is easy: take the controller gig.

Here’s the thing – opportunities like this don’t come around every day. You have the good fortune to already be familiar with the company that is making you the offer. If you had little or no idea what this company was about, I’d say this would be a riskier move, especially since you’re being offered a controller position. But because you know the ins, the outs, the whathaveyous, that makes this an easier decision, in my opinion.

I will warn you, however – you will not have a “work-life balance.” You will work. A lot. If the “controller role” is a true controller role, you’re going to quickly find out what that means. You’re going to be in charge of the accounting department; you’re going to have people working for you; you’re going to be answering the C-level execs of the company. That’s not typically conducive to work-life balance. I’ve known people that have taken controller roles at your experience level and there is, without fail, a big learning curve that involves putting in tons of hours. Even people that have triple the experience that you have, realize that running the show involves way more work than they anticipated when they left Big 4. And you’re going to a company with “great growth potential.” Since when does “growth potential” equate “really don’t work that much”?

But from the sounds of it, you’re up for, and capable of, handling this type of challenge. Go for it like there’s no tomorrow.

IRS Announces New ‘Come Out with Your Hands Up Holding Your Offshore Bank Account Number’ Program

Back in 2009, the IRS ran a relatively successful program that encouraged those with offshore bank accounts to cop to their shady tax evading ways and all would be forgiven…with the exception of a small penalty of the assets stashed out of sight. This particular program was primarily focused on UBS customers and for those not willing to play ball, the IRS and DOJ put the screws on the Swiss bank and got them to name names.

The IRS had been hinting that maybe Offshore Amnesty 2.0 was coming and today, they made it official.

From the Times:

The Internal Revenue Service announced a new initiative on Tuesday intended to lure tax evaders, but with stiffer penalties than those offered by a previous program. Under the initiative, Americans with hidden offshore accounts have until Aug. 31 to come forward voluntarily and report the accounts to the I.R.S. in exchange for penalties that, while below what they would ordinarily pay, are still higher than those offered in an earlier amnesty program.

The good news is that the IRS swears – SWEARS! – that you’ll come to no harm, in the criminal sense:

The program makes clear that Americans who come forward will not to face prosecution for tax evasion — something tax lawyers say was more of an open question under the previous program. “When a taxpayer truthfully, timely and completely complies with all provisions of the voluntary disclosure practice, the I.R.S will not recommend criminal prosecution to the Department of Justice,” the I.R.S. said.

So unless the possibility of jail time sounds inviting, we suggest you get on this. We’re all dreaming of August right now.

I.R.S. Offers New Amnesty Deal for Offshore Accounts [NYT]

Area CPA Parlays Clients’ Need for Tax Advice, Love of Guns

Richard Grassano is a CPA in Athens, Tennessee who just so happens to also be a gun shop owner. At some point in his 35 years as CPA, Mr Grassano noticed that during the traditional tax season he also saw a bump in gun sales at his gun shop (that just so happens to be next door to his office, in the same building). Being a savvy CPA, Grassano saw an opportunity:

All American is advertising tax preparation services along with a bonus gift card for use at the neighboring gun shop. The gift cards range from $5 to $25 based on the amount of the tax return. Grassano said he’s noticed that gun and ammo sales pick up every year around the time people get their tax returns. Tax season also is the busiest time of the year for his accounting business. “It’s cross-marketing,” he said. “We were looking for a way to tap into that increase in business that occurs every year around this time.”

Clearly Grassano knows that tapping into Americans’ distaste for taxes is a great opportunity for his gun business. Regardless if a client receives a refund or not, the mere idea of having to comply with the tax law and the IRS can send some people into a frenzy. A frenzy that may just cause someone to want to shoot something. So gift cards are a natural catalyst to help these people satisfy their desire for a little Remington steel.

But Grassano’s also no dummy when it comes to being familiar with his surroundings:

Athens, with the highest per capita number of concealed carry permits of any municipality in the state, according to the Memphis Commercial Appeal database, is obviously a great location for a gun shop. “I’ll have little old ladies walk in here, put an old pistol on the counter and say, ‘I don’t know what kind of bullets this gun takes, but can you get me a box?’ “Grassano said.

And btw, those little old ladies pay taxes.

Ready, aim, file! Accountant gives refund gift cards to use at gun shop [Knoxville News Sentinel]

Is the Shortage of Good Accountants in the Sex Industry an Opportunity?

Okay my friends, this is a serious problem in our country that needs addressed. The vast shortage of competent, professional, tax advisors and accountants for escort service businesses, brothels, and your run-of-the-mill houses of ill repute can go on no longer. If not for the business opportunity, then for the good of your fellow Americans and maybe your state’s dire fiscal situation.

Today we learned that the one of the proprietors of Companions, “a call-out escort service” in Salt Lake City that was convicted of one count of tax evasion. Jodi Hoskins and her husband Roy were both convicted of dodging taxes (he in May 2009) for the year 2002. They managed to underreport their gross receipts by $1,204,354 which resulted in evaded taxes of $485k-ish. As you can tell, this is a bit of a problem. And with all challenges/problems/giant pains in the ass, therein lies an opportunity.

Our position is that these businesses simply cannot go on without more accountants and tax professionals stepping up to help these pillars of the business community run their whorehouses better. This means you, GC readers. Your knowledge of the double-entry accounting, inventory, derivatives, and payroll will be invaluable for these entrepreneurs and their employees.

Plus! If more of these businesses are in compliance with state and federal taxes, that’s one more step to states becoming fiscally solvent AND Tim Geithner can give the cash printing machine break. Everyone wins!

Escort Service Operator Convicted of Tax Evasion [Web CPA]
Companions Website [Warning: NSFW]

KPMG’s Layoffs in Advisory May Have Made Room for Some Auditors

Happy Hangover Thursday, folks. Hopefully the green food coloring washed off easily this morning.

I was out networking with my Irish brothers last night in midtown New York, quite a few blocks north of my normal after-work locale. Second Avenue bars full of cold beer and burned out white collars, St. Patty’s Day was a welcomed Wednesday relief for those in busy season. The day was over, the night was turning late and, for once, shop talk was put on the back burner. That is, until I heard the phrase “Uncle Peat” used as the object of affection bitterness for a toast.

Obviously, I couldn’t resist.

DWB: “Are you guys auditors?”

Auditor 1: “Yeah, over at KPMG. Hopefully not for long, though.”

DWB: “Nice, nice. Moving on to better things?”

Auditor 2: “Hopefully.”

Auditor 1: “Not soon enough.”

A round of drinks later (toast to Uncle Peat not included) and these Irish-for-the-day gentlemen filled me in about an email circulating around KPMG’s NYC audit practice regarding a temporary rotation into the Transaction Services (TS) practice. TS specializes in mergers & acquisitions work and was — most likely — hit steeply by the rounds of the falling guillotine back in 2008 and 2009.

How does a practice that was hemorrhaging money and resources a year ago now have business blowing through the door at such a fierce rate? If you read anything beyond the usual busy season distractions, it’d come as no surprise to you that the markets are slowly picking up. But service firms typically lag in response, both on the positive (Woo-hoo, new business!) and negative (Sorry, this isn’t about you – this is about the numbers) sides of the equation. Nonetheless, Uncle Peat’s auditors should be leaping at this opportunity. A rotation out of audit can be refreshing, even in the quieter months of summer.

Did KPMG’s advisory shake up and realignment pay off? Is the firm’s leadership blowing smoke to perk up the down-trodden auditors currently drowning in busy season? Was a picture of a giant carrot on a string used in the email? If you received this email, I’d love to read the text. Last night’s informants promised to send it over, but they probably called in with emergency doctor “appointments” this morning.