Should tax preparers give advice or just run the numbers?


Q. I just read your story about the husband who was concerned his wife was too liberal with their tax deductions on their return. As a taxpayer, I always thought my job was to present the dollar-data to my tax preparer and his job was to say whether such items were legitimate and tax deductible. But my current accountant just accepts the lists I give him, and even has a “disclaimer” in his covering letter stating that he has done the tax “based on the info I provided.” So is the accountant just a glorified (and expensive!) software package? Or is his professional job to guide me? For example, I do art work and donate some to a charity. I counted the final sale price of the pieces as “charity” and he didn’t argue. But then I learned that I can only deduct the cost of making the pieces. I’m okay with that but feel he should have flagged those items in previous years. What do you think?
— Still working

A. Making sure your tax returns are correct — and honest — is important.

It’s also important to understand the role any tax preparer plays in the process.

We took your question to Bernie Kiely, a certified financial planner and certified public accountant with Kiely Capital Management in Morristown.

He said he’s also taught Accounting for Rutgers Newark and was a CPA Review Course Instructor for many years.

“I say this because part of being a teacher is you learn how to explain things and how to explain why,” he said.

“I tell my clients that I work for them, not for the government. I also tell them I don’t drive the getaway car. I refuse to be professionally embarrassed in front of an auditor,” he said. “So, I look at my job as a tax preparer to be like a guide.”

Kiely said if you’re an employee who receives a W-2 form, then your deductions are limited to your itemized deductions on Schedule A.

“Since miscellaneous deductions were removed from Schedule A, you are pretty much limited to charitable contributions and medical deductions,” he said.

If you are self-employed, it’s a different story. The amount of deductions can be unlimited, he said.

“The IRS rule for a business deduction is that it must be ordinary and necessary to the business,” he said. “This doesn’t mean it has to be absolutely critical to the business to be deductible.”

For example, he said, he has $50 worth of fresh flowers delivered to his office.

“They sit on my receptionist’s desk. Obviously, flowers aren’t critical, but I like the pleasant appeal of them,” he said. “I’ve been audited twice by the IRS. They had no problem with me deducting the flowers as a business expense.”

In your question you mentioned donating artwork you created, Kiely said, it’s possible your tax preparer wasn’t aware of that rule.

“That’s the benefit of being a teacher,” he said. “If you really want to know a subject, teach it.”

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This story was originally published on April 28, 2023. presents certain general financial planning principles and advice, but should never be viewed as a substitute for obtaining advice from a personal professional advisor who understands your unique individual circumstances.