Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Many (un)Happy Returns...

I met with the accountants this afternoon - one for the Swiss taxes, and one for the U.S. taxes. With my satchel containing perfectly organized tax records in one hand, and my laptop in the other, I jumped on the 12:41 tram that whisked me to my 1 p.m. tax meeting at "Big Worldwide Accounting Firm". I actually felt kind of like a businessman.


These were "new" accountants. I say "new" because this particular firm won the bid to handle the tax work for Mrs. TBF's employer, and this was my first time meeting with these people. I might add that this is the third firm doing our taxes in 7.5 years we've lived here.

I won't say which firm it is, but it doesn't really matter because they're all pretty much the same anyway. By the same, I mean that they all pretty much expect you to download their planner off their website so that you can fill in all the blanks with your information (thus, doing most of the work for them). Then they transmit the information to data processing centers in India to take advantage of cheap labor, but don't pass on any of the labor savings to you/your company because they need to make a lot of money so that they can continue donating money (via their Political Action Committees) to U.S. politicians' campaign funds so that the politicians won't pass laws that change the extremely complicated tax laws that make it virtually impossible for U.S. people working abroad to do their own taxes.

Don't believe me? Well, then just go ahead and Google search any major accounting firm's name along with "political action committee" or "PAC" and you'll see all the money that accounting firms donate to senators and congressmen every year.

Then, one of my favorite parts of the annual tax filing dance is that when the returns are done, the firms completely release themselves of liability by stating that we have to double-check the returns for errors, and that we are responsible for the accuracy of the returns. Oh, and did I mention that none of the firms really agree with how the previous firm has done the taxes? That's another good one!


So, anyway, I arrived at the accounting office at 12:55, was escorted about five minutes later into a big conference room with the two accountants, and proceeded to turn on my laptop and lay out my "business" papers that were all labeled and separated by binder clips.

Did I fill out the planner? Noooooooooooooooo! I never do. I mean, come on! They're getting paid thousands of francs for what? Me to hand them a few sheets of paper with all the info? I...don'! I made them go through everything one by one...handing binder clipped and labeled pieces of paper every step of the way. Then, I asked them several questions (to which I already knew the answers) just to make them earn the money a bit while I drank one of their bottles of fizzy water. By 2:30, I had run out of fake questions and wasn't thirsty anymore, so I just thanked them and left.

Let me point out that I have nothing against the accountants. As a matter of fact, I liked them; they were very nice, seemingly competent people. However, I just think it's a big exercise in futility. For the past couple of years, we've jumped through these hoops, paid our Swiss taxes, had our foreign tax credits applied, and then owed...ZERO dollars in U.S. taxes. That's right! $0.00!!!

Oops...I hope I didn't just jinx us for this year.

Wouldn't it be easier (and cheaper) just to make it so that Americans don't have to pay U.S. taxes when they're working abroad? Just have us fill out a form that says we're working abroad and send it to the I.R.S. with a big $0.00 at the bottom. Heck, we wouldn't even need an accounting firm to do that.

Maybe that's just the point...


Sara said...

im happy to hear you arrived at 0 at the end! i hope that means i will in the future as well.

my taxes thus far haven't been very complicated (making less than the foreign earned income deduction level) so i can just do them by hand to arrive at 0, but how true about the stupidity of the whole thing! maybe one day they will actually change it and do what you suggest...

Unknown said...

I've always done my own taxes, and have paid 0.. I'm dreading this year as it just got 100 times more complicated... Argh!

Now I'm curious to know if you are going somewhere for Easter Vacation? March 21st and beyond..

Jul said...

My favorite part of the online planner is how they want you to tell them exactly what you were doing and where you were doing it for every single day in the calendar year. Now there's some excellent use of my time!

Matthew said...

i couldn't agree more about the "online planner"--what are these people getting paid for? i didn't realize that i could have them do all the work for me by going to their office--i'm definitely doing that next year, i spent almost an entire afternoon filling out that stupid planner... i could have been skiing!

Kirk said...

Our employer didn't pay for our taxes to be done and we refused to pay thousands of francs, so we just winged it. I'm now extremely paranoid about being audited because I would just ask other Americans how they did their taxes rather than asking an accountant, which I somehow don't think the IRS will accept as an excuse if we were way off the mark. (At least we didn't have to reconcile our U.S. and Swiss taxes since we didn't owe the latter...)

The Big Finn said...

Sara - We can only hope.

ET - We are hosting visitors during Easter.

Jul - I know that Mrs. TBF needs to report all her days spent in the U.S. for tax purposes, but that's as far as I'll go in reporting what we did when.

Matt - Skiing should always take priority over taxes.

Kirk - Don't worry. I think the IRS only goes back three years on audits, so you'll be totally off the hook by 2010.