My name is Mark Goodfield. Welcome to The Blunt Bean Counter ™, a blog that shares my thoughts on income taxes, finance and the psychology of money. I am a Chartered Professional Accountant and a partner with a National Accounting Firm in Toronto. This blog is meant for everyone, but in particular for high net worth individuals and owners of private corporations. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are written solely in my personal capacity and cannot be attributed to the accounting firm with which I am affiliated. My posts are blunt, opinionated and even have a twist of humor/sarcasm. You've been warned.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Do you need a Professional Accountant to prepare your Personal Income Tax Return?


A while back, Robb Engen, who is a rising star in the financial blogging and writing world (the Echo half of Boomer and Echo and writer for the Toronto Star’s Moneyville) asked me when should someone engage an accountant?

Some of the considerations I forwarded to Robb are discussed in a recent Moneyville blog he wrote titled Why I'm using a tax accountant this year.

Today, I would like to expand on this topic and discuss when you should engage an accountant to prepare your personal income tax return. I would suggest that you always should engage an accountant if you have a corporation.

In general, unless you have self-employment income, commission income, rental income, or significant investment income, an accountant will be somewhat limited in the planning they can do for you.

I say this because, if you do not have these sources of income, an accountants experience, discretion and know-how are pretty much muted and you may as well purchase an income tax software program and file your income tax return yourself. That is not to say you may not want to engage an accountant on a one-off basis where required, it just means you are most likely paying for services you do not require if your personal return is simple.

Just so I don’t have a hundred accountants in an uproar, saying that I am steering away business from the profession (although some accountants are not keen to take on personal tax only clients anyways), I also suggested to Robb that you can look at an accountant as insurance. Like life insurance, or disability insurance, you don’t like paying it, but when you need it, you are glad you have it; although, at least we provide a yearly tax return with our yearly charge. 

I told Robb that there may be years when an accountant may not provide much in the way of income tax planning, but there will be a year somewhere along the line, when your accountant may provide advice that covers their fees for the next ten years and part of the reason for the tax savings may be your accountant’s familiarity with your personal situation.

I further suggested to Robb that another reason many people like having a relationship with an accountant, is because when they have a question or have a significant issue such as a new job offer, inheritance or they have lost their job, they can call someone they know who will accept their call and who understands their personal situation. 

The aforementioned situations are typically very stressful, and are often subject to severe time constraints in which a significant financial decision must be made. Without having an established accountant relationship, you may not be able to find someone who can assist you on a timely basis and/or is willing to drop current client work to assist someone with whom they have no prior relationship. That may sound harsh, but it is the reality for many established professionals, be they accountants or lawyers.

Finally, where you have a relationship with an accountant, they may provide unsolicited value-added advice in respect of such financial matters as wills, estate planning or how to deal financially with your children. For example, I recently had a corporate client come in to drop off their personal income tax information. They made some comment about one of their children that led me to ask if they had updated their will recently (which they had not). I then asked if they had upgraded their life insurance to account for the income tax they would incur if they passed away because of the increase in the value of an investment they had (they had not). I then asked them how that investment would be split with an arms-length partner if either of them died (we had discussed the issue before but they still had not officially addressed this in a legal agreement). All these issues are important and will hopefully be addressed in the near future by my client.

Now, ignoring the fact you are probably thinking I have a fixation with death, these are the kind of “add-ons” many accountants provide in the course of working with a client.  

In my opinion, if you have the types of income I note at the outset, I would suggest engaging an accountant is worth the cost. However, if you do not have these types of income, you have to weigh whether the less tangible benefits I note above are worth the cost of the accountants tax preparation fee.

The blogs posted on The Blunt Bean Counter provide information of a general nature. These posts should not be considered specific advice; as each reader's personal financial situation is unique and fact specific. Please contact a professional advisor prior to implementing or acting upon any of the information contained in one of the blogs.