Joe and I do not always agree, especially on the issue of regulating tax preparers, but we always respect each other’s opinions and abilities.
It seems we both worked for Deloitte Haskins + Sells (obviously different offices and at different times) early in our careers. He lasted with DH+S longer than I did.
(1) How did you become interested/involved in preparing tax returns or teaching taxes?
(2) How were you educated/trained in preparing tax returns?
I started taking accounting courses my sophomore year in college, when reports from fellow liberal arts graduates alerted me to the ugliness of the late ‘70s job market. I liked the first course, so I took all of the courses available at my small liberal arts college (Cornell College, Mt. Vernon, IA). They didn’t offer an accounting major, so I took Intermediate Accounting I as a commuter in the summer at Northwestern in Evanston, and Intermediate II as an independent study course.
This was enough to let me enroll in the Masters of Accountancy program at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale with a graduate assistantship. I took my first tax course there, finished with the top grade, and decided that’s what I would do for a living. I finished my SIU Masters of Accountancy with an “emphasis in taxation.”
I started at Price Waterhouse in St. Louis in 1984 and got fired after my first tax season. I joined Deloitte Haskins & Sells in Des Moines in 1985, which worked out much better.
While I got a good tax education at SIU, I believe the way to really be “educated/trained in preparing tax returns” is to prepare tax returns while supervised by a more experienced preparer. While tax preparation is a related skill to tax consulting, which is my bread and butter, it is not the same thing.
(3) When and why did you decide to write a blog on tax issues?
I quit Deloitte in 1990 to join several of my colleagues in starting Roth & Company, PC, where I remain. I wrote an old-fashioned mail newsletter for the new firm, but moved it to e-mail as our colleagues got on the Internet. Somewhere around 2000-2002, I started to post the e-mail newsletter on our then-primitive website, trying to imitate the format of the Wall Street Journal “Best of the Web” feature. Before long I started to put stuff on the site first and then select posts for the e-mail newsletter, which I still do.
Why? It helps market the firm and make me a better tax professional. Also, I enjoy it.
Even at Deloitte, I made reading the tax news every morning a daily habit. Blogging makes me read more closely and critically. It makes me learn stuff well enough to write about it (and if I screw up, I can count on you and other bloggers to let me know!)
(4) How has blogging helped your business?
• Combined with the e-mail newsletter, it keeps me in front of referral sources – bankers, lawyers and clients.
• It gives me and the firm credibility. When people are looking for a firm, they Google nowadays, and it gives us a big fat Google footprint.
• It gets people who are looking for help in a specific area – say, understanding bonus depreciation – to our website.
• It gets local media to contact me, which helps give the impression of competence.
• It makes me keep up on the constantly-changing tax law.
• It has kept me energized. My morning blogging ritual is the part of the day I look forward to most.
(5) What do you consider the “best tax advice” you can give anyone?
Pay for the tax help suitable for your situation. Nothing costs more than cheap tax help.
(6) Do you think the regulation of tax return preparers is a good thing?
Assuming you are talking about the current Shulman power grab, certainly not.
(7) Do you think CPAs and attorneys should be exempt from testing and required CPEs in taxation?
Again assuming you are talking about the current Shulman power grab, yes. I also think everyone else should be similarly exempt, because I think the testing and government-approved CPE are a foolish and futile waste of time and money.
(8) What is your favorite Broadway musical – and why?
I’ll say “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” because my 12-year old son will play Pig Pen in a church production of it in March. Of course, I haven’t actually seen it yet. I have never seen a professional production of a Broadway musical, (I saw a pretty good community theater version of “Cabaret” once, which depressed me for a week), so I have no real good answer for this one. My wife is the musical theater fan in our house.
I do agree with Joe that “the way to really be ‘educated/trained in preparing tax returns’ is to prepare tax returns while supervised by a more experienced preparer”. That is how I was trained.
I, too, feel “my morning blogging ritual is the part of the day I look forward to most”, unfortunately often putting off real paying tax work.
And I agree that price should not be the first consideration when choosing a tax preparer, and that cheap tax help can be expensive. But I also feel that in many cases you do not get what you pay for (especially with the fast food tax preparation chains), and that you do not have to pay an arm, a leg, and an ear to get good competent tax help.
Joe, next time you are in NYC you must go with your wife to a Broadway show!
Thanks to all of my colleagues who participated in this initial series. I will talk with more Tax Blogosphere Buddies after my tax season hiatus.