5 Signs You Probably Need an Accountant

Alan Cleaver

WiseBread quoted me in 5 Signs You Probably Need an Accountant. It reads, in part,

Do you dread filing your income taxes each year? Does preparing your taxes take weeks of your time? And once you’ve sent your papers to the IRS, do you have the sneaking suspicion that you might not have taken all the deductions to which you are entitled?

You might need to hire an accountant.

“Hiring an accountant depends on whether your knowledge, time, and money are best spent on bookkeeping, loan application, and tax preparation, or whether you have higher priorities,” says Valrie Chambers, associate professor of taxation and accounting at Stetson University in Celebration, Florida. “A business owner who excels at sales should probably use her time increasing sales rather than learning and doing accounting. That strategy is just more profitable for the business.”

Here are five signs that you need to hire an accountant.

*       *       *

4. You Own Rental Real Estate

Renting an apartment or two is a great way to earn passive income. But doing so can also complicate your finances. That’s why it makes sense to hire an accountant to make sure that you don’t miss any important tax deductions related to rental income, and that you file all the paperwork necessary when working as a landlord.

“There comes a point when personal tax software is not sophisticated enough to take into account the complexities of real estate investments,” says David Reiss, professor of law and research director for the Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship at Brooklyn Law School in New York City. “If a taxpayer has multiple properties that have both a personal and investment component, tax software may not be able to accept all of the relevant inputs and generate the correct output.”

Friday’s Tax Roundup

Tax Incentives for Sustainable Homeownership

Harris, Steuerle and Eng have published New Perspectives on Homeownership Tax Incentives in Tax Notes. The report presents

three tax reforms designed to promote homeownership that are fundamentally different from earlier proposals. Many of those earlier proposals would convert existing deductions into credits but would mistakenly, in our view, perpetuate flaws in the current system — namely, the failure to adequately promote the accumulation of home equity. The reforms examined here instead share the common characteristic of subsidizing homeownership through a channel other than the deductibility of mortgage interest, which is the largest tax expenditure for housing. These reforms include a first-time home buyer tax credit, a refundable tax credit for property taxes paid, and an annual flat amount tax credit for homeowners — all largely paid for by restricting the home mortgage interest deduction to a rate of 15 percent. Although far from perfect, these reforms would provide a better and more efficient allocation of housing subsidies and ultimately provide a somewhat larger incentive for wealth accumulation than current policy does. Our simulations show that relative to existing incentives, each policy would raise home prices and make the tax code more progressive. (1315)

This report has some drawbacks, such as overstating the case that empirical studies reinforce “the notion that homeownership improves American communities.” (1315) In fact, the empirical literature is decidedly ambiguous about the spillover and wealth accumulation effects of homeownership, particularly when the last few years are taken into account (I discuss these ambiguities here).

But the report also presents some creative ways to change the incentives that are found in the tax code. They argue, for instance, that it is better to incentivize the accumulation of home equity than unfettered mortgage borrowing. And they make proposals that would do just that.  Worth a read.