I graduated college in May 1980. A few short months later, there I was in my shoulder padded blazer and pumps trying to work the uniform and be the corporate executive I hoped to be. Since my entrance to the executive world meandered through the secretarial pool, the advice I was given was not stay at the job where I got my foot in the door. The other executives would always see me as the secretary who got promoted. So not long after I was given my promotion, I started looking for work elsewhere. I got very lucky and landed a dream job in a very up and coming advertising agency. The man who hired me bragged that it was a very young and creative environment, that almost everyone who worked there was under forty. Still in my early twenties, I thought that was a good thing, not that it was like allowing a bunch of toddlers to wander around without parental supervision.
While I had hoped to end up on the creative side of the advertising industry, I had to come to terms with the fact that my natural talents lied in the figuring out budgets, in making accurate estimates, and I needed to stop fighting them. Once I realized that, in some ways life got very good. I got promoted to running the department that handled estimating, billing and trafficking of projects through the agency. I got a nice office with a window and a couch. I got a raise. I got a secretary. In some ways, it was not so good. I was mortified to be found choking back tears in the bathroom by one of the more powerful women in the agency not long after the promotion was announced. “I heard you just got promoted? What are you upset about?” When I told her my degree was in marketing and I was now reporting to the controller so my career path effectively ended -- in order to go any further, I'd need an accounting degree. She looked at me and laughed. “This place is exploding," she said. "Keep doing the good work you are doing and you never know where you’ll end up.”
For a while, things really were great. We were taking on so many new projects, everyone was scrambling to get things done. Eventually, older wiser executives were hired for key positions and we seemed to be really thriving. Our new health insurance plan had no copays, when 20% was normal. Our Christmas party was a gala affair held at the Waldorf Astoria. Then, something changed. It eventually became clear the agency was not doing well financially. The bills weren’t getting paid. At first, we thought it was temporary and funny. I was well aware of billing practices. Advertising agency profits are built into every job. The billing is done by marking up the actual cost of the project by a fixed percentage. There is almost no way to lose money. Something didn’t seem right. We were told that overhead was too high, which was the only thing that made sense. However, management seemed to be right on top of it. We were going to downsize to save on rent. I got to move into the Chrysler building, where the executive offices were. Not only was it a breathtakingly beautiful place to work, but it was mere steps from Grand Central station. I wound up having to share an office but it was with a friend who had a great sense of humor. We laughed all day. I would jokingly feed the end of my adding machine tape into her machine when the supply cabinet was out. Then, it became unfunny. I had a tough time getting quotes from artists. They didn’t want to work on our projects because they weren’t paid for work they’d done months ago. Then it became personal. We stopped getting reimbursed for our travel expenses and some of the people who traveled a lot had credit card bills that were getting scary. No one was asking for a raise. What was once a joyful place to work became exceedingly somber.
When I first heard about trickle down economics, I thought it was a great idea. Surely, I thought, if my agency paid less taxes, it would have more money. It could pay its bills. We could all get raises.
When the agency closed, we learned that profitability wasn’t our problem. The problem was the owners kept taking the profits out of the business. There were rumors of drug problems. All the under forties grew up a little. We had to realize that even though we busted our butts for the agency, the owners didn’t have our best interests at heart.
I think we realized it as a country too. Business owners aren’t always altruistic. Often, when they are given a windfall, they keep it for themselves. Trickle down is a ruse for bolster up.
I never wound up getting that accounting degree. For completely different reasons, I did eventually go back to school and get the equivalent, which was good enough for New York State to allow me to sit for the CPA exam. If you told that twenty something girl crying over her ruined career that she would eventually be a CPA, she would have shook her head and chuckled. (That actually makes us even, because I chuckle when I see my young corporate self in those awful eighties blazers with nail polish dotted runs in my pantyhose.) As John Lennon said, “Life is what happens to you while you’re too busy making other plans.” It was a snaking path, but it landed me the honor and privilege of being your accountant and I am grateful for both that and the journey.
Right now, generally speaking, things are going pretty well for me. Plans are well underway for my daughter’s wedding this summer (slight change of plans from previously reported fall wedding), both kids have good jobs, business is good, Pete and James are still with me, we are all excited about Holly coming on board for tax season, Kevin and his family are coming back from China, and yet, like most people I speak to, I am feeling edgy. As a news junkie, streaming news is the background noise of my life. Up until now, the crazy things happening in Washington, while a constant source of worry, didn’t really affect my daily life. Some of the things were even laughable. Then, the tax system got turned on its ear. Now, it’s not funny and it’s personal.
It’s not uncommon, this close to year end, for me to get a bunch of calls and emails asking, “Should I do something before year end?” In normal years, clients are hoping to make some quick changes to affect the taxes they’re about to file, but this isn’t a normal year. Even though I can never be absolutely certain what advice to give unless I have all the numbers in front of me, I don’t usually feel like I’m shooting in the dark. I know who should think about buying a new truck, and who should clear out their closets and make a trip to Goodwill. This year’s number one question by a long shot is, “Should I pay my 2018 property taxes before the end of this year?” For people with incomes over $120,700 and married couples with incomes over $160,900, often alternative minimum tax kicks in and reduces or eliminates the deductions for state and local taxes under the current system. For those clients who’ve reached out to me, I’ve checked to see if, based on last year’s numbers, the property taxes would be fully deductible in 2017. If they would be, I am advising, if it’s not a financial strain, to pay them. There will be a benefit for 2017, and as far as I can tell, itemizing deductions for 2018 may not be feasible. If you want to see if you were subject to alternative minimum tax last year, check out line 45 on page 2 of your return. If there is a figure there, you were subject.
I wish there was a link I could click that would let me see the new tax code so I could figure out how it will all work. Unfortunately, IRS is still working on it. Usually when changes are this sweeping they are phased in over time, not all dumped into the system in two short weeks. It seems completely unrealistic to think that this bill can be implemented by January 1st. I can’t see how IRS, an agency that takes thirty days to send correspondence saying they need another sixty days to respond to a one page letter, can possibly in the throes of one tax season, completely retool to incorporate major changes for another (although a friend of mine who worked there says they can.). All I can do is assure you I will do my best to keep my eyes and ears open for any information I can find, and keep you apprised. The problem is, I’m also about to go into the throes of tax season.
Fun times ahead!
Last year, due to having to collect license information as well as other niggling changes, it took a lot of time to get even simple returns acceptable for e-filing and to track them through the system. While in the past, it has always been my pleasure to prepare your children’s taxes on the house, I need to start to account for the extra time it involves for the staff. Starting this year, we will be charging $25 for each child’s return as long as the child is in school (any school). Once they have graduated and are working, they will be billed at appropriate rates.
I am looking forward to seeing you all in the new year. 18 is considered a lucky number in Judaism. Let’s hope!