ORIGINALLY WRITTEN JANET HAMOUS
If just thinking about completing your tax return raises your blood pressure, imagine what it would be like to do 300 of them a year.
Thank goodness the annual job that many of us dread is a rewarding occupation for the tax professionals who come to our rescue each year. They thrive on the deadlines and aren’t intimidated by the forms and mountains of paperwork.
“We know exactly what has to be done and when, and we just get in gear and go at it,” said Phyllis Meisinger of Meisinger’s Public Accounting Service in Hillsboro.
She has been in the tax business for 43 years and estimates she does 300 to 400 returns a year.
The rush begins in late December and early January.
Willie Gaffney, a tax preparer with Tax Plus in Marion, said: “The last week in January it gets really hectic because a lot of people have gotten W-2s. They want to file as quickly as possible to see if they are getting money back or to see if they owe so they can have a little time before they have to pay.”
She said there is a bit of a breather between the last week in February and the rush at the end of March and in April when people say, “Oh my, it’s almost April 15!”
Not all tax returns are due April 15, which helps to spread out the work.
“Returns for farmers and financial aid are due March 1,” said Lily Arthur with Adams, Brown, Beran & Ball in Hillsboro. “Corporate returns are due March 15, and of course the individual returns are due April 15.”
“You know there is an end to it, and having different deadlines throughout the time period helps,” she added.
Although most clients are good about getting their paperwork to the preparers in time to meet those deadlines, every office has a few stragglers and other clients who don’t come in with what they need.
“I have some who don’t show up with anything but W-2s,” said Meisinger.
“There are a lot of people who come in at the last minute,” said Kevin LaBelle from Jim’s Accounting & Tax Service in Marion. “They come in April 15 and want it done that second.”
He said they call the chronic late filers to encourage them to come in early, but they still file about 25 extensions a year.
Bernie Rundstrom of Rundstrom Accounting in Canton said they try to keep the number of extensions they file to a minimum.
“For anyone coming in after April 1-it is going to be an extension,” he said. “We’ll try to do what we can.”
Some people wait until the last minute.
“Some people are just in the habit,” he said. “We’ll file an extension for them, and they’ll file when they are good and ready.”
Once the annual returns are done, there are quarterly returns to file.
“It really doesn’t slack off until May,” Meisinger said. “Taxation never ends. It is 12 months out of the year.”
Calling in reinforcements is one way of handling the extra workload.
“In December, I bring in an extra person,” Meisinger said.
Rundstrom said his office has some part-time workers who can be called in to do copying and data entry, “but we try to handle it with our normal crew.”
Long hours are just part of the job. Tax professionals say it isn’t unusual for them to work 12-hour days six days a week for the duration of the tax-filing season.
“My goodness, sometimes I work until 2:30 in the morning, and I start at 6 a.m.,” Meisinger said. “And on weekends there isn’t much time for rest. I have appointments on Saturday also. You just take one right after the other.”
LaBelle said he also spends a lot of hours in the office this time of year.
“Especially toward April 15,” he said. “Sometimes all night, and sometimes straight through on April 14 and 15.”
He said they are usually open until midnight on April 15.
“We can transmit at 11:59, and it still makes it in time,” he said.
So just how do you stay awake and alert while when you’re low on sleep and barely have time to eat?
“I make sure there is plenty of Pepsi on hand,” said Meisinger. “Caffeine keeps me going.”
Labelle said there are always little breaks where he can catch a nap. He survives on “catnaps and coffee.”
Taking care of yourself is important, too, since tax professionals can’t afford to be sick during tax season.
“You learn how to budget your time,” Arthur said. “You can only work so much-you have to take a break.”
“I am a big sports fan,” she added. “I make a point to go to ball games. And then I go home, eat and make sure I get plenty of sleep.”
Rundstrom also finds sports events are a good way to relax.
“The only luxury I afford myself is I am a season-ticket holder at (Wichita State) basketball,” he said. “So I run down there for a little break.”
Labelle uses his role as a scout leader to get his mind off work.
“It’s one of my outs,” he said. “And I spend time with my family and relax. I don’t do a lot of gallivanting in the tax season.”
Although they all have different ways to handle the stress of the tax season, one thing they agree on is that they love the work.
Meisinger said most of her clients are farm and business owners, and they are like part of her family.
“There are certain clients I have done since the 1960s,” she said. “They will bring in family pictures.”
LaBelle said some people who have been “clients for life.”
“This is a small business in a small town,” he said. “We focus on the individual. We want to get the most for our clients.”
Arthur said, “The most rewarding thing is to be able to help someone.”
She said she likes seeing the relief on people’s faces when they bring in a stack of paperwork and turn it over to someone who knows what they are doing and enjoys doing it.
She gets a laugh when people come into the office and ask, “Are you busy?”
“I always look at them and say ‘No,'” she said.