Talking with Barb Ackerman: Tax time means long nights
There was bright sun coming in through the windows of Barb Ackerman's office on Tuesday morning. It's about the only sun Ackerman gets to see these days. This is tax season, and Ackerman is an accountant. For her, the time from the start of the new year through April 15 is a blur of long days, tax forms and receipts. It can be exhausting, but Ackerman, who opened her own accounting office in 1983 likes the work and the people she works with.
We snuck some time in her schedule this week to talk about the accounting business and the hectic schedule of tax season.
How'd you get into the business?
I went to Mankato State and got a four-year accounting degree. I took the CPA exam and passed it the first time. I worked for a big national firm in downtown Minneapolis for several years. I decided to open my own practice in 1983 and I've gone forward from there.
What was it about accounting that appealed to you in the first place?
I like to work with numbers and I like to work with people and I like to help small businesses make good decisions and try to make money and go forward.
What made you decide to make the jump from working with a big corporation to doing it yourself?
Family. I had a son and not making that drive downtown was appealing. I come from a small town background so I enjoy small towns. I understand the struggles people go through trying to get ahead and try to give them good direction that way.
I suppose working with small businesses, working with people, it's easier to do that working for yourself than it is with a big corporation.
They're just such different areas of concern. You're much more hands on with the small businesses because they don't have a big accounting staff many times or even, they don't have financial advisor on staff. So a lot of times people will come to me and we'll talk about buying some additional equipment or adding staff or adding a second location. Many different things like that where they come to me to get some advice and we look at numbers and try to make good decisions.
You enjoy it?
Yes. Very much.
Have you grown much over the years?
When I started in 1983 it was just me hanging out a shingle, and now we have a staff of six. There's myself and another CPA, Cindy Bergquist. She's been with me since 1996. She's very good. I've got my office manager who has been with me 25 years. I've got three other ladies who have been with me for a long time. Some are full time. Some are part time. They all have a lot of experience. Our focus is on taking care of the individuals and small businesses and really trying to give good customer service.
It sounds like you've got enough to keep you busy all year but I'm guessing this is your really busy time of year.
For some of us, 80 hours a week.... On Mondays and Wednesdays we have appointments that start at 9 and go to 7:30. And then we have appointments Saturday. That's typically my individuals, the people I maybe only see once or twice a year. They come in with their tax returns and we go through their issues and take in their information. So, it's a pretty busy time.
Do you enjoy this time of year, or do you kind of take a deep breath and wait for it to be over?
I always enjoy it. I will be truthful and say, by April 15 I am tired because it is grueling. I used to have people tell me I was a little crazy because years ago, about September I'd be, "Oh, good. We're getting ready for tax season. It's around the corner." It's like, are you crazy? But I do enjoy tax season. I enjoy seeing my clients. Sometimes I only see them once a year.
So, April 16 are you on a beach somewhere?
I typically fly out on April 16 to someplace warm.
It's a good little reward for yourself.
It's called exhaustion. You just relax and take a week off and come back and hit it again. It's fun.
Do you start to really not like the tax business so much about April 14?
It's not an issue of that. It's being tired. And you've got deadlines. The government puts these deadlines on us to get everything done by the 15th but a lot of my clients might not get all their information until Feb. 15 or sometimes pull everything together until the end of February. So then it's a matter of, you've got this enormous amount of work to do in a very small timeframe.
What should people know as we get into tax season?
What they should do is pull as much of their data together as they can if they're seeing to a tax preparer and have it organized. It's a matter of collecting all your data that comes to you during January. I always encourage my clients just to set up a file. Some of it comes on Jan. 1 and some of it you don't get until Feb. 1 or 2 because they mail it on the 31st. Just pull all that data together. Look at last year's return to see if there's anything you're missing. Just being organized is really important.
Are there significant tax law changes for this year?
There's something called the making work pay credit, which is something that affects an awful lot of taxpayers. If you're single and ... you make $75,000 or less you can get up to $400 back as a credit. That's based on if you have earned income as in wages. Or you can get up to an $800 credit if you are married filing joint.... My high-income taxpayers don't get this credit but most people I work with get this credit. It's a nice credit. There's several new pieces of law that affect people.
You're full speed ahead now in tax season?
Yes we are. We're running.