My first encounter with income taxes came in February of 1972, when I was in my second semester as a freshman at local Jesuit institution St Peter’s College (I am not Catholic – it had a good rep for business). I had taken the first half of Accounting 101, but had not taken any tax classes.
My uncle’s tax professional, James P Gill, would hire students from St Peter’s College during the tax season as apprentice tax preparers. During his annual visit, always on Lincoln’s Birthday (then an actual legal federal holiday), my uncle happened to mention to Jim that I had taken my first accounting course and that I was helping him with the books for the non-profit organization for which he worked. Jim told my uncle to send me in to see him – and the rest is history!
On my first visit to Jim’s office he took me to a desk in the outer office. He gave me a copy of a client’s previous year’s tax return and a briefcase full of papers that constituted the current year’s tax “stuff” and told me to “jump in and swim”.
I still remember my first 1040 – it was for one of the “outside salesmen” insurance agents who shared an office around the corner from Jim (Jim did all the agents in the office). While I no longer prepare that person’s returns, I still – 42 tax seasons later - do one of the agents from that office, who recently retired. And I also still do the bartender who had worked at the pub next to our office.
Prior to meeting Jim Gill I had no experience with or education in any aspect of income taxes. I had never even done my own simple returns – they had been prepared by my father’s tax pro (not Jim, but a colleague from his NYC office). As I mentioned I had not taken the tax course at St Peter’s College yet. Which was good – Jim preferred to get student apprentices before they had taken any tax courses. He wanted us to learn the practical reality of tax preparation – not the sanitary classroom version.
If I had a question about a tax return I would ask Jim, who would either take the time to explain the answer or tell me where to find the answer in the CCH tax library. So I was self-taught via on-the-job training. I learned how to prepare income tax returns in the very best way possible – by preparing income tax returns. And I learned at a “storefront” office located at a busy transportation hub of a large metropolitan city, at a firm with a clientele of taxpayers in all walks of life and all levels of income and education.
I never did graduate from St Peter’s College. One reason, I believe, is that my major was Business Administration and not Accounting. I found that I got a much better education at 59 Sip Avenue (the address of Jim’s office) then at SPC. I actually also felt that I had received a much better education at an “inner city” high school than I did at a Jesuit college. I eventually received under-graduate and graduate degrees from a non-traditional institution based on life and work experience – solely for the purpose of pleasing my family.
I did enroll in and pass a correspondence 1040 preparation course from the National Tax Training School back in the mid-70s so I would actually have a piece of paper to “document” my education and ability as a tax preparer. For me this was basically a “refresher” course.
As a result of being self-taught via on-the-job training I am not an “education snob”. I respect the man, or woman, and not the office, or the degree(s), or the credential(s). To earn my respect you must show me that you are accomplished in something other than the ability to pass tests.
This is not to say that I do not acknowledge the value and benefits of post-secondary education – just that there are alternative methods of receiving an education that are at least just as valid as traditional classroom learning.
I have also been accused of being “cynical”, especially when it comes to politics. I believe this comes from a long history of dealing with the “great unwashed masses” (which I no longer do, thank the Lord) and the fact that I grew up in Hudson County – the “poster child” for political corruption in what has become probably the most politically corrupt state in the union.
The political machine of Hudson County Democratic party boss Frank Hague rivaled the days of Tammany Hall. Hague was replaced by “reform” candidate John V Kenny, who perfected the corrupt machine to equal if not exceed that of Chicago’s Mayor Daley. My family was among the few real Republican residents in the Democratic-dominated County.
I was born and raised and lived most of my life in Jersey City, county seat of Hudson. But I recently moved to the peace and quiet of rural Northeast Pennsylvania - to the area I had been visiting for just about every summer for close to 50 years.
As I have boasted often in the past – in 42 tax seasons I have never prepared a 1040, or any other tax return, using tax preparation software. And I have no intention of starting now. I see absolutely no cost effective benefit to me for using flawed tax preparation software.
The closest I came to using software was during my brief tenure as a “para-professional” for the then big-eight CPA firm of Deloitte Haskins + Sells back in the late 1970s. I remember filling in an “input sheet” for a Form 1040 for calculation via Computax. As I recall, my reaction back then was that by the time I finished filling in the input sheet I could have actually manually prepared the return.
And while I do, when appropriate, submit NJ-1040s for full-year residents online via the NJ Division of Taxation NJWebFile system, as I am required to do by state law, I have never filed a federal income tax return electronically. I am not against electronically filing returns, and, as I have said time and again, I will gladly do so when the IRS allows me to so do free of charge on their website, via a program similar to NJWebFile, and without having to provide my fingerprints.
Over the years I have had as many as 4 cats at a time (and when living “in sin” we also had a dog, rabbit, gerbils and newts), who I think of as my children. I have always felt that having cats was much more better than having children.
I currently live, and work out of, a “home office” in my condo in Wayne County, PA. I gave up my storefront office, previously that of my mentor Jim Gill, years ago when I realized that I was paying rent for the place year round but really only using it for 3 months – and the fact that I did not want or need any more “walk-in” clients. I had my fill of the “great unwashed masses”.
Although I had started my own tax and accounting practice after leaving Delloite, Haskins + Sells I continued to work with Jim Gill on week-ends and the last two weeks of each tax season up until he handed the practice to me in 1999.
I had been receiving calls from Jim’s clients at my own office, then in an office building in Union NJ, saying that Jim’s office was still locked and that he was not answering his phone. I myself had not been able to access his office at the beginning of February as the lock had been changed.
I went to Jim’s house in Hoboken and found him lounging around the living room in his pjs. “I am 75 years old – I don’t want to do this anymore,” he said. “You can have the practice.” Just about all of his clients, whom I had known and done over the past 26 years, remained with me, as many do still today.
Jim did return to help me out during the last weeks of the 1999 and 2000 seasons, and went to his final audit in August of 2001. Had he lived a bit longer we would have celebrated 30 years of working together.
Jim had the radio going constantly in the office, initially playing NYC station WRFM which played “American Popular Standards”. As a result I find that I cannot work in silence; I, too, must have the radio on (I actually listen to out of state and web-based radio stations online) or a CD (usually an original Broadway cast recording) playing while I am working away on my 1040s, or while I am blogging.
I have often been asked why I have not followed in Jim’s footsteps and taken on apprentice tax preparers, which would allow me to accept new clients and avoid unnecessary GDEs. I was actually approached via email by an accounting student who had discovered me online and wanted to become a tax season “apprentice”.
To be perfectly honest I am not blessed with the patience that Jim Gill had, and don’t think I would make as good a teacher or “mentor”. And, as I work out of my small condo, there is really no room for anyone else to work.
So, enough about me already. Any questions.