Help!

CORRECTION: The AICPA Will Now Answer Your Last Minute Tax Questions

Correction: We regret to inform readers that no such assistance actually exists, the following is only meant for tax-stumped reporters who need help figuring out tricky tax rules.

Have no fear, little taxpayer, the AICPA is here to help you out if you’re stumped as to how to add up items H, K, L minus M x .412.

This year’s April 18 tax filing deadline is 13 days away, but approximately 59 million taxpayers still have to file their returns, the Internal Revenue Service said on April 4. These taxpayers are still collecting records, wrestling with forms and struggling to get answers to their last minute tax questions.

Edward Karl, vice president of taxation for the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, and other members of the AICPA tax staff are available to answer questions for end of tax filing season stories about credits, deductions, errors to avoid, what to do if you can’t pay the taxes you owe and what to consider if you need to file for an extension. Taxpayers should be sure to remember that their tax bill is due and must be paid on April 18, even if they file an extension; otherwise penalty and interest fees apply.

The IRS said about 58 percent of the approximately 141 million returns it expects to be filed this year have been filed. About 20 to 25 percent of returns are filed in the last two weeks and about 7 percent of taxpayers will file for an extension. The IRS’s numbers are based on filing statistics as of March 25.

If you are a taxpayer who needs helpyou’re more of the self-service type and prefer interacting with a website over an actual human being, check out the AICPA’s 360 Degrees of Taxes for tax tips and suggestions. We found the Help! I can’t pay my tax bill article to be especially helpful for those who are in the delicate position of owing a bunch of money to the IRS but not actually having any to pay the piper. While the suggestion to take out a loan or borrow from family to pay a due tax bill seems offensive at first, it’s reasonable given that a bank loan will probably carry a smaller interest rate than fees and penalties associated with not paying the IRS promptly.

And Now…We Try to Keep Three Prospective Accountants From Freaking Out About Not Having Jobs

Welcome to the Lindsay-Lohan-prison-jumpsuit-fitting edition of Accounting Career Emergencies. In today’s edition, we’ve received a flurry of emails from Big 4 hopefuls who can’t land interviews and are FREAKING OUT. Are they doomed to the breadline and/or parents’ basement or can their CPA firm dreams still come true?

Are you working for the devil this busy season? Are you looking for a summer activity that doesn’t involve three letters? Need an excuse for not passing the CPA exam that will pass the mustard with the Email us at advice@goingconcern.com and we’ll try to come up with something better than, “The dog barks whenever Peter Olinto is on screen and I can’t concentrate.”

Now, then. Today is a little bit different in the ol’ advice column. And since everyone out there seems TOO BUSY to engage in any busy season chicanery and tell us about it, this thing will be a tad lengthy. In the last week, we’ve received three emails from people who are borderline having panic attacks because they can’t land interviews. Obviously, this is a problem worth these pages but if you think we’re writing three columns on the same damn thing, you’re all a bunch of mental cases. And for those of you thinking that this sounds like you, don’t even try giving us the “well, this doesn’t address my specific situation,” story. Sure, everyone is special but not so special that you need the delicate intricacies addressed. [BREATHE]

All right. Let’s do this, shall we?

Here’s a portion of email #1:

I interned at PwC with an internal position during Summer 2008 and I did audit with them in Spring 2009. I wasn’t given an offer for full-time employment and I have been looking for a job since. I tried recruiting with Ernst and Young last year and they kept saying they did not have any positions and then last summer they hired another candidate from my school with whom I graduated. Just about everyone I’ve graduated with has a position at an accounting firm. I’ve applied nearly everywhere (other big 4, mid-tier, local acct firms, industry, and even Craigslist). I can’t help but start to take it personally. Career services at my school doesn’t seem too interested in helping me…in fact one of the counselors actually was a recruiter at PwC when I worked there and she just recently left a voicemail that we should stop talking. I have one professor that still keeps in touch. I knew I wasn’t going to get an audit position even though I still applied but I’ve even been turned down for staff accountant positions. Last September I passed all four sections of the CPA exam. I’ve been told that I’m either “over-qualified” or I don’t have enough years of experience.

That should be enough but if we suffered through them, then you are too. An excerpt from email #2:

I have been to numerous career fairs since then and I’ve made significant contacts with some big 4 recruiters and other regional firms. But after sending my carefully prepared résumé by mail and continuous attempts to get some information about an interview, I‘ve been always getting the usual “we are looking at other candidates and wish you the best” reply or none at all. The only significant feedback I received was from a regional firm that was really interested, but was drawn back when I told them my college GPA. I take full responsibilities for my shortcomings in college, but I have invested the needed time and effort in doing what EVERYONE IN THE WORLD TOLD ME TO DO, which is passing the CPA exam. I have also gained significant and progressive experience at my current workplace, but I still have not even gotten an interview! I am 25 and I feel time is running out for me. I’m even thinking of getting other certifications like the CFE or ACCA (Association of certified chartered accountants), to make me a more desirable candidate.

Sick of it yet? Here’s a bit from #3:

I’m in my last semester and will have my 150 hours at the end of this spring. I am also preparing the the CPA exam (have started Becker, taking my first section, AUD, at the end of February). As a student in these times, I have never been able to find an accounting internship or any part time accounting work as all of my job inquiries wind up unanswered. It’s not for lack of trying, but my GPA isn’t spectacular (3.2) and my résumé is average. At the college job fair a few weeks ago, I put in resumes with all big 4 and all mid tier firms and was NOT INVITED TO A SINGLE INTERVIEW. I became an accounting major because I thought there were jobs available to qualified students. I have an accounting and finance degree, 150 hours and will have the CPA under my belt in a few months…what the hell am I missing. Am I really not qualified to become a slave to the Firms?

Good Lord. Let’s see if I can do this without LOSING IT.

For starters, we’re making the assumption all three of you are socially capable individuals. If you’ve noticed people responding to your typical conversation with “That’s awkward,” or “You’ll be hearing from my lawyer,” then we suggest engaging a life coach or some other professional that can help you with your awkward tendencies. Secondly, all three of you need to stop freaking out. Sure, you’ve got responsibilities and school loans and whatnot but thank your lucky stars you’re not a lawyer. You have a good educational skill set, a job market that is thawing out and your debt is probably under six figures. CALM DOWN.

Now. If the Big 4 isn’t interested in what you have to offer, you have to get over it. Somewhere in your gray matter, you knew striking out with all of them was a possibility. Now that it has become a reality, you need to move on. If you’ve managed to do that and say you’ve gone to Grant Thornton, BDO, Rothstein Kass and McGladrey and you’ve been denied there too. And maybe you’ve gone to regionals like Moss Adams, BKD, Clifton Gunderson, Plante & Moran, WeiserMazars, Dixon Hughes Goodman et al. [ugh] At this point, it’s natural for frustration to start creeping up on you. But if you want to work in public accounting, you can’t get discouraged. Next thing you should do is to knock on all the doors in your geographic location. The Vault 50 is a good place to start. Firms from every part of the country are on the list and you can specifics on them over at the Vault website. Pound the pavement, people.

If that doesn’t work, then we suggest calling some reputable recruiters in your area to find out if they have any entry-level positions at CPA firms. Keep things cool, don’t act desperate and put your best qualities forward. The recruiters should be able to help you polish your résumé if needed and find you an interview or two. IF ALL THAT FAILS and you simply need a job, look for an in-house accounting job to get your career started. Just because you don’t start in public accounting doesn’t mean you’re doomed to work a dull job and have a lackluster career. And who knows, you might – gasp – like the work.

Any words of encouragement from the peanut gallery? I need a drink.

Are Accountants Really That Depressed?

Apparently! Health.com churned out “10 Careers With High Rates of Depression” and lo and behold, Financial Advisors and Accountants made the list of “fields […] in which full-time workers are most likely to report an episode of major depression in a given year.”

Stress. Stress. Stress. Most people don’t like dealing with their own retirement savings. So can you imagine handling thousands or millions of dollars for other people?

“There is so much responsibility for other people’s finances and no control of the market,” Legge says. “There is guilt involved, and when (clients) are losing money, they probably have people screaming at them with regularity.”

Over at CPA Success, Bill Sheridan writes, “That strikes me as a simplistic and overly dramatic conclusion, with no mention at all of the opportunities CPAs have to help their clients improve their personal and professional lives. But what do I know?” We agree with Bill, that the write-up doesn’t really portray accountants accurately, some might say, “bullshit” but stress is part of your job. Does that mean everyone feels like running into sick room and sobbing every day? Well…maybe some of you. There are plenty of people that thrive on the stress and then there are those that bottle it up until they finally quit with a melodramatic sendoff.

Everyone knows that working long hours for weeks on end can eventually get to even the toughest of white-collar warriors but your run-of-the-mill stressed out accountant typically has methods for dealing with the the busy season blues. Some people exercise; some people get their religion on; some people drink/smoke/snort themselves into oblivion. Do those things work? Sure, sometimes. But we’ve all worked with that person who you expect to suddenly not show up. Are there more of those people than there used to be? Hard to say. Maybe we should talk about it. Let it out; it will feel good. Plus, we’re cheaper than a therapist.

Tax Associate Who ‘Can’t Handle’ Public Accounting Searching for Options

Back with another edition of “I’m an accountant and my career is in the crapper,” a tax associate just finished their first year with a mid-tier firm and has discovered that public accounting isn’t exactly the glitz and glamor they were expecting. NOW WHAT?!?

Have a question about your career? Determined to keep a promise to yourself but are surrounded by Big 4 hotties and don’t know what to do? Someone digging at your career choice and need a devious plot to get back at them? Email us at advice@goingconcern.com and we’ll help you make a solid decision.

I’m a first year tax associate at a mid-tier firm and after running through my first spring and fall busy season of working 70-80 hours a week, I’ve basically come to the conclusion that this lifestyle is “not my cup of tea”. The reasons are pretty typical, no life, managers hate me, don’t like the people, the culture is toxic, if you leave at 8:00 pm you feel like the world is watching you leave, etc. etc. For those who want to say “well you just couldn’t handle it”, you’re absolutely right, I couldn’t. I [also] know a number of associates in numerous service lines at the end of their respective first year just find that their job is not for them. My question is, what kind of outs do people in this situation have? I know that the option to transfer to another service line and the standard “just grind it for another year” are typical responses, but what other options are there? And how do recruiters view those who have only one year of experience at a public accounting firm?

Thanks!

-OneFootOutTheDoor


Dear OneFoot,

At the beginning of your letter you sound as though you were engaging in a little self-loathing. Sort of like, “Nobody likes me. I’m a pathetic human being because I can’t find it in my heart to LOVE public accounting. What do I do?” Then you admit that there are others around you that hate it as much as you. This surprises no one. Accounting firms see this happen every year: a first year associate realizes quickly that this isn’t their ‘cup of tea’ as you put it. If you’re truly as miserable as you sound, the fact that you made it through both the spring and fall tax seasons is impressive. We’ve seen associates turn in their papers less than six months on the job.

Does this make you a terrible person doomed to a lackluster career that would make Milton Waddams look like an employee of the month? Of course not. You mention the popular options “transfer to another service line” or “grind it out another year” and we agree that they don’t make a damn bit of sense if you’re simply over public accounting.

Realistic options for you are to start talking to professional recruiters and be honest with them about your situation. No recruiter worth their salt is going to say, “Can’t help you kid, move back in with your parents.” They’ve seen others like you – public accounting wasn’t a good fit and you want out stat. The reality is that because your experience is so brief, you might end up in another entry-level position; the sooner you accept that as a possibility, the better. That being said, what you must, must, must, must do OneFoot is give the recruiter a good idea of what you want to do. We know that doesn’t include public accounting but what kind of job would you really like? Knowing that will go a long way helping them get you the job you want. Until you can answer that questions honestly, you’re not going to be happy in any job – public accounting or otherwise.

Who Has Advice on Picking a Subgroup in a Big 4 Tax Practice?

We received a request from a young reader who got an email for their start date this summer and now needs some help picking a subgroup.

I am trying to decide between pass-throughs, C-Corps, and Consulting/research/writing.

Personally, our take is to remember some of the people that recruited you. If you felt like you would enjoy working with a particular person that you met during that process, start there. Shoot them an email asking them about the practice that they work in, what the work is like, what are the pros, cons, etc. Chances are they’ve spent time in other practices, so you ask for their opinion on those as well.

Since there are plenty of seasoned Big 4 tax gurus out there, help the soon-to-be new associate out. Advice along the lines of, “You’re screwed, they all suck,” and “Stay in school as long as you can, the real world is a bitch,” while grounded in some truth, is not what your future associates are requesting.

Grant Thornton Wants Help Breaking Into the Global 6

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Grant-thornton-logo.JPGBoy, a firm gets fired a couple times and you’d think the sky was falling.
GT isn’t literally saying, “Help us, for the love of God, the Big 4 is just too powerful” but it’s close enough for us:

Mid-tier accounting firm Grant Thornton has described the current audit market as unsustainable and is calling for new rules to promote greater competition.
In a letter to the International Organization of Securities Commissions, the firm put together a four point plan aimed at increasing diversity in the concentrated audit industry.


The firm want regulators to require companies to disclose third party agreements that limit auditor choice, discourage companies and financial intermediaries from entering agreements containing restrictive clauses, and publish balanced findings of their inspections of individual audit firms.
The firm claims that in the event of a Big Four collapse, 20% of the 7200 largest businesses in the G20 would be left stranded without an auditor.

Hell, maybe they have a point? If their claims are legit, we are talking over 1,000 companies that just up and don’t have an auditor any more. And the firm can’t instantly quintuple its global revenue.
We asked a frequent commenter on the subject of Big 4 failure, Jim Peterson of Re:Balance, for his thoughts and he told us:

[W]hen the next of the Big Four goes down — which will be in a highly visible and ugly burst of flame and wreckage — the other 3 will quickly enough leave the assurance business themselves. What incentive would they have to stay? They would not have the resources or the political agility to take up the slack, and there would be no upside for them in the face of relentless attacks from the blame-mongers.
So it’s not 20% — it’s 100% — and then the re-building process starts with a blank page.

That sounds kinda serious. Maybe governments do need to get involved. Seems like the going trend these days anyway.
Global audit industry is unsustainable: GT [Accountancy Age]

What Happens When the “Numbers” People Can’t Count?

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for accountant.jpgThere was some quiet chatter here at GC about Ernst & Young’s closure of its Greensboro, NC office this past December, right around the Merry Happy holidays. Thanks Ernie.
This is nothing new. Smaller offices have been getting shut down for years. Years. Years.
You’ll probably find this to be a shocker but your feelings are not the main problem facing the firms due to the combination of recent closings and endless rounds of cuts. The problem is – it’s the theme of any busy season – firms finding themselves short staffed.
Many readers have commented that engagements are understaffed heading into the cold winter months. Albeit this is typically the unofficial “norm,” but slashed fees are only compounding the problem this year. The troubles of ’09 will be used as firm scapegoats for 2010. Move along, kids. Nothing more to see here.
Serious trouble is brewing for at least one Big 4 firm, however. A source confirmed that their Big 4 Beast is outsourcing work in the Carolinas to smaller regional firms because they are so understaffed:

The combination of layoffs a year ago and people leaving now that the market is turning around is causing the firm to hire outside help just to get through busy season.


Ummm. How did this happen? Is this firm (or any other firm for that matter) initiating rotations from staff “heavy” areas like Chicago and New York to cover the lapses in smaller areas like Buffalo or Greensboro? If so spread the winter cheer, because that sounds downright awful.
The public accountant’s mind is a simple one with regards to job searching:
Picture 1.png

The middle area is commonly referred to as “run through a venti latte on the client and debate.”

The market is moving ever so steadily from red to green. This time is now, and no one, not even leadership, is denying that. Firm leaders have been talking, talking and talking some more about the upswing of 2010. If they are handing out the Kool-aid, doesn’t SOMEONE take a moment to think, “Hey guys, should we really have cut so much staff six months ago?”
Someone, somewhere underestimated staff needs or overestimated staff loyalty. Or both. So now, cutting into the already razor thin fees will be the misguided expense of hiring outside help just to get by. The situation is only going to get worse in the coming months; money is starting to move, financial firms are beginning to reinvest, and jobs are going to be created and filled by your colleagues.
How can a firm’s leadership whose fundamental – and societal stereotyped – sole function is numbers be so off the mark? This is elementary, is it not?