Nobody likes filing their tax returns, especially if they owe taxes. So multiply that by hundreds of returns and imagine what life is like for accountants and other tax professionals in the weeks and months leading up to April 15.
“Just picture hell!” says Christi Bender, a certified public accountant who handles hundreds of individual and business clients from her office in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania. “I work 82 to 84 hours a week for the last month, you pop ibuprofen like crazy, you survive on five-hour energy, you eat crappy food, you struggle to stay sane in the face of clients who have no concept of what they’re asking you to do. It’s chaos in the most unimaginable way because you have this huge deadline, and it’s very emotional because it involves money.”
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Worse still, say experienced accountants, the clients who wait until the last minute tend to be the ones with the biggest problems as the tax deadline approaches. “That’s probably the most stressful part of the job,” says Joseph Rapacki, founder of Rapacki + Co. CPAs in Minneapolis. “People sometimes have unrealistic expectations about what we can do for their taxes, so it’s always a stressful situation to tell them they’re not getting a tax refund or that they might have to pay more than they thought.”
But once the mad rush of tax time passes after April 15, many accountants take the chance for a break.
“That’s when life gets great!” Bender says. “That’s when you remember why you went through hell in the first place. I only go through hell for 15 weeks, but I shove 60 percent of the annual workload into 25 percent of the year.”
She takes time off during the late spring and summer and aims to complete at least one “trip of a lifetime” every year.
During those first few days after tax time, starting April 16, she and her husband (also an accountant) devote time to themselves again. “I’m moving back into my home!” she says. “After tax season, we play, we rest, we vacation a lot. We reconnect with all our friends we haven’t seen in 15 weeks. They know better than to even try to call us in March or April.”
John Barucci, president of Padgett Business Services in Westwood, Massachusetts, points out that while tax time represents a period of peak activity, accountants stay busy year-round. “We work with our clients on a quarterly and monthly basis to help come up with creative solutions for their businesses,” he says. “Not everything revolves around taxes.”
Nonetheless, the end of tax time gives tax pros a chance for a breather. “After a long tax-filing season with lots of late nights and burning the midnight oil there’s a need to regenerate and take a little bit of time off,” Barucci says. “You can find a lot of tax professionals down in Florida or Tahiti in the last half of April and the beginning of May.”
Joel Berman, a certified public accountant in Largo, Florida, says accountants face a rolling series of deadlines leading up to April 15. “Many corporations have their taxes due March 15,” he says. “So you’re doing a juggling act of getting various types of returns out the door.”
He says he and some of his staffers usually take a few days off after April 15, but quickly get back on the job to catch up on accounting and end-of-month bookkeeping that may have fallen by the wayside during the tax deadline chaos.
Rapacki says some accountants don’t get to catch their breath until a little later, since various clients face different tax deadlines. “We do some work for nonprofits, and their tax deadline is May 15,” he says. “But certainly by June and July, things tend to slow down. That’s when a lot of us take vacations, and nobody wants to talk about taxes in summer.”
Rapacki says his vacation schedule includes time with his daughter, since many tax professionals see their family so much less during tax time. “My wife calls herself a tax widow,” he says.
In addition to the spiritual recharge, Rapacki says the end of tax time is like New Year’s Day for accountants — a chance to start fresh, make resolutions and pay attention to your own well-being again.
“It’s an unhealthy time, because you’re kind of sedentary and eat a little too much fast food,” Rapacki says. “So late spring is a good time for a health checkup and to start eating right again. The party’s over, so to speak! Time to get back on the healthy bandwagon.”
Bender also takes the opportunity to review her procedures and figure out what works best — and shed the small percentage of problem clients who cause the most misery at tax time.
“Every year I go through my client list and decide who I’m firing,” she says. “They get a letter after tax time is over and I tell them I don’t want to deal with them anymore.”
Incidentally, Bender offers one big piece of advice for taxpayers to keep their accountants happy and their own tax return headaches to a minimum: “Get the information to them as complete as possible by the end of February! You don’t want to be in the flood of clients who are still trying to get all their information together in March or April.”
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