Wednesday, September 30, 2009


I’ve been thinking about what it takes to be successful at writing, accounting, farming, or any other endeavor. The urban legend that 9 out of 10 businesses fail in the first year falls far short of reality. Many desire to own a business, but are ill prepared for the reality of running a business.

Of all the skills needed to start, build, and maintain a business, persistence seems to be the most important. It is so easy to quit when things become overwhelming. Challenges unimagined will arise. How you mentally handle these challenges will determine if you are successful or a statistic.

I have some experience starting businesses. You might even say a few are successful. Tax Prep & Accounting Services has been around since the mid 1980s and putting bread on the table all that time. I make a few dollars farming. Up to fifty steer grace the back yard at any one time and I turn a profit. Now I know what everyone says, you can’t make money farming. M’kay. But I do.

Now I am about to start another endeavor: writing. I have been writing since high school and love the process. About ten or fifteen years ago, Stan Schmidt, editor at Analog, liked one of my stories. He wrote a nice note on the rejection slip: “Too graphic in sex and drugs for our readers. Story is good otherwise. Good luck placing it elsewhere.” It was last time I submitted anything, until now.

You see, I sent each story out to one editor, and one editor only, and then shelved it. The truth is I didn’t think I could produce another salable story so why bother. I feel my skills have improved since and I can produce a steady stream of quality material.

Let me show you how persistence pays off in the tax office. The toughest cases are usually the inherited ones. Two clients stick out. The first came to me via a failed tax office. He owed over ten thousand and the taxing authorities were not interested in dealing straight. It took three years and tax court, but we got Revenue to accept our offer. Another client came to me from a Colorado CPA. This client owed over 1 million to Revenue and the IRS refused to resolve the issue. After four and a half years we got Revenue to declare the account uncollectible. After ten years it is out of stat and the client will owe nothing. And yes, the stat clock is running; we check every six months to make sure it is.

What would have happened if I gave up? Poor client would have been gutted is what would have happened. One thing I can guarantee you when you start a business: there will be days that test your constitution. It will happen.

And now I am submitting a short story. It will grace every editor on the planet, unless it sells first. I have a novel ready for an agent. I have article writing gigs in the pipeline from my WRWA conference contacts. Persistence, I tell you. I will never give up or quit. So my knuckles will be bloodied. Big deal. It will not be the first time.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

WRWA Fall Conference, Part II

If you slept late Sunday morning, you missed the best speaker of the convention. John Lehman shared his thoughts on "10 Things I Think I Know for Sure About Writing and Getting Published." Lehman went into depth on each point. I will present the highlights here.
  1. START
  • S tory Ideas: Lehman feels you should have three or four ideas formulating in your mind at a time. Writing is the art of discovery and stories should lead to a greater understanding.
  • T reatment: Don't limit yourself; write everything. A poem, short story, or essay, is a glimpse; the novel, a full look.
  • A udience: Know who your audience is. Write what people are curious about. Spending time in a bookstore and watching people interact with the material can offer insight into what an audience wants.
  • R esearch: Where will your book go in the bookstore? If it doesn't fit nicely into one section, it will not find any home there.
  • T imeline: Set a schedule and stick to it. You need to write consistently and on a regular basis to build the writing muscle. When the time comes for you to produce quality material on short notice, you will have the skills to deliver and get paid for your skills.

2. Increase your circle of of identity to include editors and publishers. Lehman says we all have our circle of acquaintances and this circle must include those that can further your writing career. The right place at the right time is often knowing the right person when the time comes.

3. Journal your activities. Track your writing production and research. A good record mixed with solid goals leads to regular output.

4. Write in scenes. In every scene, each character has an objective. There is a winner and a loser.

5. Editors love metaphors. Editors want to see how characters deal with issues compared to other things.

6. Editors like titles and endings. Even though your title is unlikely to make to the final cover, a good title grabs agents and editors. Endings are the most important part of the story. If the ending is a disappointing, the story fails, and will not sell.

7. Who you know is important. Lehman enunciated he may catch flack for this point, but sticks to his guns on the statement. You need to build a circle of acquaintances in the industry. Editors buy, you need to know editors. Lots of them.

8. We are shaped by our early experiences and must move beyond these experiences. To be successful at writing, you must grow beyond your current comfort zone and learn.

9. There are stages to story development. First we absorb information, then formulate a story (a lesson learned), create the story, and finally, send it out into the world for other to see and learn (publication).

10. Writing myths and truths:


  • You are a writer.
  • To give up is hard. To give up is like not breathing.


  • It is hard to succeed. In fact, it is hard to stop. You want to write, you must write. Continued effort will lead to sales. Quiting is impossible to swallow.

As you can see, Lehman provides powerful advice for all writers, published and unpublished. Never be afraid to write, send out material to editors, or get disheartened by a rejection. Your story will find a home in time.

Monday, September 28, 2009

WRWA Fall Conference, Part I

Two speakers stood out this weekend: Barbara Poelle and John Lehman. The remaining speakers were also good, but less suited to my tastes.

Greg Peck kicked off the presentations with a disheartening look at the downside of publishing. He spoke from his personal experience with a very small publisher.

Peck spoke at length about his book, “Death Beyond the Willows," and followed-up with his failed efforts to engage an agent and editing the original manuscript down to a manageable size. He admits if he edited his book down before sending to agents and editors, he may have published at a larger house. "My experience with a small publisher may be unique," Peck said. "Other small publishers could be easier to work with." When asked if he will look for another publisher to bring his book back into print, he said he had no plans at this time.

Barbara Poelle took the stage next. She spoke so fast at times, it was hard to follow. The upside: she got four hours of information out in an hour and fifteen minutes. Poelle provided information available on most agents' blogs and websites. She touched on word count, what she accepts, and mechanics. This blogger was out of breath after the presentation. Rather than laying out Poelle's entire presentation here, review the following blogs: Pub Rants, Nathan Bransford - Literary Agent, and Janet Reid, Literary Agent. These blogs will expand on her presentation. Poelle blogs here.

Cassie Hansen, a WRWA board member and Youth Member Services Coordinator, introduced three young writers from Wisconsin. She highlighted the challenges facing young writers and emphasized the opportunities available to the persistent. The differences between young male and female writers was also explored.

Many older members were glued to their seats as Jean Feraca talked memoir. Poetry was a large focus of the speech. Connections were made between memoir and the beauty of poetry.

John Lehman and Eva Apelqvist presented Sunday. Lehman had the most engaging program of all the speakers. Tomorrow I will have a long post on the "10 Things I Think I know for Sure (About Writing and Getting Published)" as offered by John Lehman. You don't want to miss it.

Saturday, September 26, 2009


I will provide a large post on the events at the Wisconsin Regional Writers' Association conference Monday. The hours are too long for me to provide an adequate post today.

Friday Funny a Few Hours Late

Here is an idea the IRS should support.

Is this really a problem for Treasury?

Friday, September 25, 2009

Early WRWA Conference Notes

Today was all business. This afternoon I attended the board meeting and will take the position of treasurer in addition to director. What happens in the boardroom should stay in the boardroom so I will not provide details of the meeting. The important detail I can share is that five new directors will bring new blood, energy, and expertise to the Wisconsin Regional Writers' Association.

In other news: Barbara Poelle was picked up at 2:00 from the airport. All guest speakers are accounted for (always a good sign).

There were two reading groups tonight: poetry and prose. I enjoyed the prose group and shared my query. Boy, the quality of material is awesome. We have some great writers here in Wisconsin.

Tomorrow I'll provide details of the day's events.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Running Late

I have so many things to get done before leaving tomorrow. The excitement is hard to contain. There are a lot of people I want to catch up with and new contacts to make. Each evening I'll post the days events. It may get late before posting.

See you there.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Lawyer Said

I must be too small town or something. While working with a client and our attorneys, I was reminded that I owe my client absolutely nothing. I disagree.

According to this lawyer, I owe my client nothing legally. But what about ethics. I work my tail off defending clients from overpaying their taxes. When an auditor disallows something, I step to the plate and give it my all, to get it back. Most of the time I win, sometimes not. But I never felt as much apathy as the attorney elicited toward a client. Clients hire me to do a job. It is unfair to collect a fee and fail to perform a service.

I would like some feedback. How much does a professional service provider owe a client?

Note: I review all comments before they post. If you want your comment withheld, say so. Anything that is out of place I'll screen. When commenting, consider the services provided by doctors, dentists, accountants/tax preparers, lawyers, plumbers, etc.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Productive Day

I had the most productive day in a long time. The paper pile on my desk evaporated. Rather than writing a long post, I will keep the momentum going.

I promise longer posts later this week. Since I am attending the WRWA fall conference, most posts will be writing related.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Wisconsin Regional Writers' Association Fall Conference

The WRWA Fall Conference starts September 25th. I will provide continued updates here through next week. I am joining the Board of Directors and look forward to growing the organization in beneficial ways for published and unpublished writers alike.

Guest speakers include:

Barbara Poelle: “From Query to Shelf: The Business of Books”
Originally from the west coast, Barbara Poelle, literary agent, worked for a Bay Area Publisher before accepting the offer to join the Irene Goodman Literary Agency in New York, NY. A voracious reader and award winning debater, Barbara is not only able to devour manuscripts, but fight for them as well... and her very brief stint as a stand-up comic comes in handy for those particularly raucous debates, both in the office and at home. With her strong background in editing and copywriting, Barbara has no qualms about helping writers turn a “maybe” into a “yes”, and values client communication above all else. Barbara is passionate about thrillers, mysteries, historical romance, and humorous non-fiction, but will be a proud promoter of any writer with a strong, unique voice.

Cassie Hansen: “An Emerging Generation of Writers”
I am currently the Youth Member Services Coordinator for the Wisconsin Regional Writer’s Association. Through this, one of my goals is to organize a writer’s group, at either the high school or university level, in each of the six geographical regions of the Association. I will be graduating from the University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point in May, with a B.A. in English and an emphasis in Business and Technical writing. From January-Mary 2008, I was an editing/reporting intern at the Wisconsin Rapids Daily Tribune, where I currently freelance. After graduation, I hope to find a job as an editor, technical writer, designer, or any combination of the three.

Eva Apelqvist: “How Hard can it Be? Writing for Children and Young Adults”
Eva Apelqvist is the author of “Swede Dreams,” a young adult novel about 16-year-old Calista’s life changing experiences as an exchange student in Sweden (Penguin, 2007). Her first non-fiction book for teens, “Learning to Drive,” is due out by Enslow in June, 2010. Eva Apelqvist writes for younger children and has been published in a large number of children’s magazines, among them, Highlights for Children, Spider Magazine, Winner Magazine, Jack and Jill, Ladybug, and New Moon. In her spare time, she writes newspaper and magazine articles for adults, and an occasional romance short story for a Swedish women’s magazine. She is also the director of På svenska, a Swedish Language and Culture Immersion Camp for adults in northern Wisconsin. Apelqvist enjoys meeting her readers and loves doing school visits. Learn more about her at her website,

Greg Peck: “Potholes on the Road to Publication: Pros and Cons of Working with a Small Mainstream Publisher”
Greg Peck is Opinion Page Editor of The Janesville Gazette and author of “Death Beyond the Willows.” The book is a true story of rural Wisconsin history surrounding a 1927 wedding day tragedy that took place in Portage and inspired Zona Gale's prize-winning fictional short story, “Bridal Pond.” The bride and groom were married in Greg's hometown of Marshall.
Greg will review his eight-year process from research to publication of “Death Beyond the Willows” and why he sought a mainstream publisher, even a small one, rather than going the self-published route. He also will chronicle his own marketing efforts.
A Wisconsin native, Greg graduated with a journalism degree from UW-Oshkosh in 1979. He has spent thirty years working for newspapers in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin Rapids and now Janesville. Greg has won journalism awards in news, editorial, sports and column writing and was named 2007 World Champion Liar by the Burlington Liars Club. He joined WRWA in 2006.

Jean Feraca: “From 'Less is More' to More or Less! Turning Poetry into Memoir”
Host Jean Feraca is a 25-year veteran of public talk radio in the United States, and is Wisconsin Public Radio's Distinguished Senior Broadcaster and has been host and co-producer of the Ideas Network's award-winning call-in news and cultural affairs program, Conversations with Jean Feraca, from 1990 to 2003. In 2003 she started her new weekend program Here On Earth.
Jean's new book, "I Hear Voices: A Memoir of Love, Death, and the Radio", came out in September 2007. It has been selected as the winner of this year's Kingery/Derleth Booklength Nonfiction Award, sponsored by the Council for Wisconsin Writers. Conversations with Jean Feraca won the National Telemedia Council's Distinguished Media Award in l996. Jean Feraca was the recipient of The Nation's l975 Discovery Award and was named "one of the most promising poets of her generation. She received a Wisconsin Arts Board Fellowship to complete Crossing the Great Divide, her second book, which was published in l992 and nominated for a Pushcart Prize.
She is a member of Poets and Writers, Inc. and is listed in the International Who's Who in Poetry, and Who's Who in American Writers, Editors and Poets. Feraca holds a B.A. cum laude in English from Manhattanville College in New York where her honors work in dramatic literature was completed with Harvard University. She received an M.A. in English Language and Literature from the University of Michigan and completed the course work toward her Ph.D. at the University of Kentucky. She did graduate studies in drama at the University of California in Berkeley and studied studio art at Columbia University. A native of New York, Feraca has lived in Italy and has traveled extensively in Europe, the Mediterranean, Mexico, Canada, the Carribean, and the Amazon. She has two sons, and now lives in Madison, Wisconsin.

John Lehman: “10 Things I Think I Know For Sure (About Writing and Getting Published)”
John Lehman is the founder and original publisher of Rosebud, a national magazine of short stories, poetry and illustration for people who enjoy good writing. He is the poetry editor of the Wisconsin People & Ideas as well as managing partner of Zelda Wilde Publishing and-with editors Andrea Musher and Marilyn Taylor-for three years published the free, street-quarterly Cup of Poems and a Side of Prose.
John was a finalist for the Wisconsin Poet Laureate position in 2004 and again in 2008. John Lehman's collections of poetry include Acting Lessons, Shrine of the Tooth Fairy, Dogs Dream of Running and Shorts: 101 Brief Poems of Wonder and Surprise. His latest nonfiction books are America's Greatest Unknown Poet: Lorine Niedecker Reminiscences, Photographs, Letters and Her Most Memorable Poems and Everything is Changing: How to Gain Loyal Customers and Clients Quickly.
John Lehman grew up in Chicago but for the last twenty years he has lived with his wife, Talia Schorr, their four dogs and six cats in Rockdale, the smallest incorporated village in Wisconsin.

See you there.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The American Dream Revealed

I couldn't contain myself when I saw the article linked below. If you want to live the American Dream, you need to follow a few simple rules. Click here for details.

Without debt your income goes a long ways.

Friday, September 18, 2009


I've seen some interesting news articles this week that the masses should read. We already know unemployment is killing us, but China is growing double digits again and employers are having a difficult time finding help. And if you are looking for more depressing economic news, retailers don't need you either for the holiday season.

It seems China is spending 40% of its stimulus money on renewable energy, an investment that keeps on giving, compared to 12% for the U.S. There are ways we can encourage the rest of the world to save the planet. Okay, that was unfair. Makes you think, though, doesn't it? Good thing we don't spend 40% of our stimulus money on renewable energy. If we did, then we would have to deal with all those pesky high-paying jobs. And what about our friends in the middle east that need our cash? If we use less oil and spent our money here, who will do all the work? Com'on. Giv'me a break. Who needs a job. Just as long as you don't put a windmill or solar panel in my back yard. Let somebody else deal with oil rigs in their back yard.

At least we will never run out of oil. While the world's largest wind farm goes online in Denmark, we waste as much as we can and are proud of it. It's only money. The government can always print more.

When we get serious about energy efficiency will anyone believe us? At this point, we need to put our money where our mouth is. They need to see to believe.

Think about this the next time you hop in your SUV. China has an economy growing over 14% with plenty of employment opportunities. They are making serious investments in their future and have huge savings available to fund said investments. We are mired under a massive pile of debt and struggle to fund our future. And we love to drive our gas hogs aggressively and waste money anyway we can. The clock is ticking, boys and girls; the clock is ticking.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Query Quandary

The accountant in me wants things to balance every time. The real world has other ideas. Numbers are easy to quantify, add, and verify. There is nothing subjective to a number. Five is five everywhere in the universe.

Words are a different story. Words are subjective, at least taste in words are. I may love a book while you choke on the first page. I like and use certain words with greater frequency than other writers; other writers do likewise. My words are no better than your words, but certain words rankle me. I like the word rankle. If you don't, if it sounds like fingernails across a slate chalkboard, you will consider my writing poor.

Hence today's quandary. I finished a novel in early August and have struggled with the query letter I need to send to agents to get an offer of representation. The rough draft took less than three months to write, revisions half that, yet the query letter has gone through more rewrites and has taken longer. Am I too fussy? Not in my opinion. I want it right. Condensing the story to about two hundred fifty words is a bigger challenge than I first expected. I am getting closer. Soon, I will be proud of the query I produce.

My readers deserve a well written story for their money. I will do whatever is necessary to give it to them. The accountant in me will always feel a little unsatisfied. If only I could balance words like a Statement of Financial Condition.

Don't think I am complaining; I'm not. The thought process in writing is different from taxes and accounting. I find the dichotomy interesting. Excellence is the common ground in each field. Regardless of taste, the quality of writing should be apparent.


When asking a favor from a professional, consider this:

It is an excellent read.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Tell the Truth

It goes without telling (so I'll tell it here), you should be honest with your accountant, lawyer, and doctor. Why do I bring this up? Because I inherited a new client with an IRS audit issue and she lied through her teeth to me.

My job is too help you. What you tell me is confidential. If you lie to me I can't help you. You are also wasting my time and your money. For your sake, and my sanity, be forthright with me. I don't blab to the IRS. I help you formulate a plan to manage your tax situation/audit.

The lie didn't cause additional problems, however, I will no longer work with this client. When I make a client's life easier, I am tickled to death; when jerked around, I pare down the client list by one. You paid for a professional to serve your needs, treat me like said professional.

Ok, the rant is over.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Giving Back or Paying It Forward

I worked late last night with a new client. We started talking about corporate responsibility and giving back to the community. So I ask you: What is a company's responsibility to the community?

I fund several projects locally, focusing on CommunityFest. I doubt I get much in the way of new clients for the money I invest. Maybe a few of my regular clients get a warm and fussy when they see their tax guy sponsoring events.

A company lives in the community and owes its existence to the people therein. There is a duty, responsibility, and debt businesses must acknowledge. My business lives because the people spend their hard earned dollars with me. It is not an obligation, but a sincere desire to give back that motivates me. I try to place my money where the younger generation benefits, my way of paying-it-forward.

Here is the hard part. I receive about 250 requests per year from non-profit or community events. Giving $100 to each would set me back 25k, no chump change. Sometimes I get chewed out for not giving at least a little to (fill in the blank) charity. "It's for the kids, police, or fireman," I am told. I know. Still, I chose who I donate to. I tend to give larger amounts to fewer organizations. That is my choice.

A business that has the ability to help the community should consider helping at a level the owners feel comfortable with. It is not a requirement, but a nice thank you gesture to the community.

Don't berate me because I say no. Respect my decision and call again next year. Many of my choices to contribute are made before you even call, based on our previous contact. If you ride me, I remember. If you are rude I will never contribute. I want to give. I do give. A lot.

And thank you to all that made it possible.

Quarterly Estimated Tax Deposit Due Today

Don't forget to make your estimated tax deposit. You may be subject to interest if not paid on time.

Friday, September 11, 2009

7 Reasons Why...

NYT bestselling author, John Scalzi, has a wonderful post on his blog explaining why he doesn't read unpublished writers. Yesterday, he outlined how Oscar-nominated screenwriter Josh Olson won't read your screenplay either.

My focus today covers professionals in all service industries. Below is my Top 7 list of reasons why I don't give free tax advice. I think it applies to all professional service providers.

  1. I have a family. Would you love being the child of a man that works long hours for free? Spouse? Walking into my office and demanding I drop everything to deal with an IRS letter resulting from your self-prepared tax return, sits poorly with me. If I say I'll fix it for $100, don't say, "That much!" Charging you $100 is already a gift; don't make me take it back. Also, if I offer to fix a problem you created, be flexible in scheduling. Saying you are only available after hours makes me more inclined to choose more family time over your issue.
  2. The IRS has a free hotline. Yes, I know the IRS hotline is wrong half the time. But it is free. Before I give advice, I need to know my client. Prescription before diagnosis is malpractice. Get it. If you have a tax question, I am more than happy to help you. Set an appointment where we can sit down and review your full tax situation. Without seeing a previous tax return, I cannot give accurate tax advice. And I do charge for my time. Hence the term, professional.
  3. Word travels. In the old days, when I was hungry for a client, any client, I answered tax questions rapid fire for anyone, anytime. I sounded like a radio call-in show. The advice was about as sound, too. Once I started giving free advice, word spread that I was the sucker to call for free tax help. Do-it-yourselfers loved the free, over the phone, tax preparation service: professional help without a fee. In short order I reviewed my policy and refused tax advice over the phone.
  4. Finals hurt. Remember final exams from your college days? You studied your heart out preparing for a full week of grueling tests. Accountants consider those the good 'ol days. I study every day, year round, to keep up with the changing tax climate. I spend around $20,000 per year training staff and myself, including research services. I field 15-20 tax-help requests a day, triple that on Monday; higher during tax season. I have people call me at home, some visit me at home, for an answer to a "quick question." All this for free, as if my time isn't valuable. My final exams extend year round. It does get exhausting.
  5. Liability. Answering the quick question for free leads to another dilemma: liability. If I answer a question without reviewing the involved documents, I am open to lawsuit for bad advice. Think about this for a moment. I get zero income and unlimited liability. Should you trust advice from someone dumb enough to take unlimited liability without any gain? This is why you must sit down with me. I must review all relevant documents before giving tax advice.
  6. I am not paid. By now you should see the underlying issue. I want to get paid for my time. That is why I spend twenty grand a year training and why I leave my family for 10-12 hours a day. I really want to be home with my wife and kids, I really do. I work to give them nice things. Then, I want to be at home with them, enjoying life together, as a real family.
  7. I choose who I work for pro bono. I help several people a year for free or nearly so, including tax preparation. Sometimes, a long-term client, now retired, is deserving of my gratitude, so I do their taxes gratis. I take a limited number of low-income people off the street and help them without a fee. Don't call me up and say, "You did mom and dad's return for ten bucks, why do I pay $***?" The answer: I would go broke if that is all I charged. Don't ask me to charge your parent's more. I've have this request several times over the years. I give back to the community, but I need to survive.

I like new clients; love them, in fact. They are the lifeblood of my company. Use the above information to see the world from the service providers perspective. I have a lot of clients that need work done by a deadline; they come first. I am selective in who I choose to serve. Respect my decision. At the end of the day, all I want to do is go home and hug my girls. No more quick questions. Set an appointment so I can really help you. I want to get paid for my effort and talents; same as you.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Rules Are Changing

Small business owners face a challenge as the tax climate shifts. What worked for over twenty years could be invalid soon.

Let me explain. In 1986, the tax code lowered the top individual tax rate below the highest corporate tax rate. Tax dollars were saved by organizing as an S-corp. As LLCs grew in popularity, many organized as an LLC, electing S-corp treatment for tax purposes.

Tax rates are going up. Previous tax cuts will expire at the end of 2010, bringing the top individual tax rate to 39.6% from today's 35%. Additional surtaxes proposed in Congress will bring the top rate to 45% or higher. This doesn't include state income taxes, just federal.

What does this mean for small business? It means regular corporations will provide better tax savings over the S-corp for some in the near future. It also means two levels of taxation. Even though this strategy will keep taxes lower, it will still be a tax increase.

More than ever, you need to work with your tax pro. Review your tax situation with consideration for the tax changes coming. It will be interesting the next few years.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Mortgage Interest Crackdown

As reported in The Kiplinger Tax Letter this week, the IRS is using additional tools to catch tax cheats. Revenue is going nationwide using Form 1098 (mortgage interest) to find nonfilers. Large interest payments without a filed return will likely cause an audit. Also, having a mortgage interest expense higher than your reported income may bring the taxman to your door.

As a reminder: There is a $100,000 cap on home equity loans. The IRS wants banks to separate this out on Form 1098 for easier enforcement. Home equity loans used for investment or business may be deductible separately.

Kiplinger is a great resource and investment.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Audit Myths

Several tax blogs I've recently reviewed, including advice in the comments section, exercise the fear factor. This is concerning because fear of an audit is a poor guide for tax planning.

The best way to increase your chance of an audit is to have an income over $100,000. Refusing to reduce your taxes legally is stupid. I am not too harsh in this statement. If you qualify for a deduction, take it; if the income is excludable, don't claim it. Keep documentation to prove your position.

Any tax professional that encourages you to overpay your taxes as a strategy to prevent an audit is incompetent. Overpaying your taxes will not prevent an audit; it may let the IRS know you're a patsy willing to overpay even more. Follow the tax code to the letter and document your position.

There are more myths than tax code. The following is a list of audit FACTS:
  • An audit is NOT an accusation. An audit is a request to verify your documentation.
  • A third of audits end with little change or a refund.
  • The IRS doesn't care if you are aggressive; they care if you cheat. By aggressive, I mean, you use the tax code to your advantage. By cheat, I mean, you write-off expenses that never happened or fail to claim all income.
  • IRS auditors don't bite, not often at least. (You should laugh right about here.)
  • It is natural to be nervous about an audit. Your tax professional can help you every step of the way. The auditor will need to speak with you at least once. Tell the truth. Review said truth with tax pro in advance. The remainder of the audit should be handled by the tax pro. If you have a business, the auditor will want to see the business. The remainder of the audit should happen at your accountant's office.
  • You are not screwed if you lost a receipt. Depending on the amount and how many are missing, the IRS will probably use a reasonable number. My reasonable number is different than theirs, which leads us to,
  • If the auditor disallows something you have the right to appeal. In 98% of appeals in my office, the amount owed the IRS is reduced, sometimes to $0.

When a tax pro says they had two or three audits in the last year and they were hell, look for a tax pro with more audit experience. I handle over 50 audits per year personally; all but one or two come in off the street.

Auditors put on their pants one leg at a time, same as you and me. Their job is to add up numbers and produce a report. The auditor's supervisor is the first level of appeals. A formal appeal is required if a satisfactory outcome isn't reached.

Audits and appeals take time. Find an experienced and trusted tax pro to guide you through the rough waters of a tax audit. Then, it just might be smooth sailing.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Fantastic Friday

Head into the weekend laughing.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Big Oil Discovery

BP made a 'giant' oil discovery in the Gulf of Mexico that could add over 1 billion barrels to reserves. To get this oil required one of the deepest holes ever drilled by the industry.

Analyst Iain Armstrong believes this find will "ease concerns about peak oil...." I guess we can continue our wasteful ways because the spigot of cheap oil will never end.

Before we start the high-fives, we should put this 'giant' oil discovery into perspective. One billion barrels of oil is about 12 days of world demand and around 50 days of U.S demand. That's right, this 'giant' oil find, worthy of front page news, is a drop in the bucket. Every week and a half we need another 'giant' oil discovery.

Worldwide oil reserves are falling as consumption is outpacing new discoveries. In the U.S. alone, conservation could save the equivalent of 2 1/2 'giant' BP oil finds each year. And it's good for the pocketbook.


In a previous post I outlined the energy tax credits available. Today, I want share the best way to spend your hard-earned money, regardless of tax credits.

Insulating your home will save more money than any other energy-saving effort for the majority of people. The kind of insulation used will determine the savings.

Most people use fiberglass insulation. What is forgotten is that fiberglass becomes a filter (think furnace) if there is air flow. Most homes have air flow through the walls and where the foundation meets the frame.

Closed bubble insulating foam costs more, but seals and insulates. By sealing the envelope of the home, warm air stays inside. A sealed and insulated home with closed bubble foam insulation can remain warm in the dead of winter for days without the furnace running. This assumes a complete sealing job with adequate R-value.

Few homes need to worry about too much insulation. If the home is sealed too tight, a heat-exchanger is needed to keep the air inside fresh. Foam insulation requires a contractor unless you are comfortable and familiar with the product.

Keep warm this winter with closed bubble foam insulation and get a tax credit to boot. I can feel the cozy already.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Tough Decisions

In business, as well as life, character is determined by the hard decisions. Anyone can make the easy calls; a leader makes the difficult ones without complaint.

This morning I worked with a business client on firing customers. It is the hardest decision you can make, but necessary if you are to survive. Customers that don't pay or pay too slow, waste your time, interrupt your business, or are rude, need to go. Your business cannot exist with many clients like these.

After speaking with my client I realized the advice I gave applies to everyday life, too. Friends and acquaintances can suck the life from you by their actions, inactions, and attitudes. It is important to build a team around yourself that supports and respects your position in life.

Live life well is a mantra to embrace. If you are taken advantage of, whether at work, in your business, by family or friends, it is time to step back, and if change doesn't take place, away. Nothing is more difficult. Nothing. And no other action will enrich your life more. There are a lot of great people in the world. Don't waste time on the leaches.

Live life with purpose, live life well, and be a good customer, client, friend, dad, mom, son, daughter, person.