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Taxes, Three Ways

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The Pricey, Fast, Confidence-Inspiring Firm

Amper, Politziner & Mattia Certified Public Accountants and Consultants
6 E. 43rd St., nr. Fifth Ave.; 212-682-1600

How it works: New-client calls are fielded by a C.P.A., who gently screens requests for tax-prep services. The minimum fee here is a hefty $750, and typical clients are often upper-tier execs or business owners with $1 million in income, although clients with complex tax returns or considerable future earning potential (like young lawyers) are also welcome. If you pass muster and are willing to fork over the bucks, you’re given a 30-page tax-preparation package to fill out before meeting with an accountant. Clients leave documents—and all that tedious computer work—with Amper and receive their return a few days later.

The Wilsons’ experience: Scott and Zoe met privately with Cristina Wolff, a principal in the company’s International Services Group, in a glass-walled conference room in Amper’s swanky midtown office. In addition to covering all the now-familiar ground of self-employment income and expense deductions, Wolff raised a few new issues. She suggested that Scott get a credit card dedicated exclusively to business expenses, and warned him that sales of photographs are subject to state tax, something Scott—who hadn’t sold any photos in 2007—will need to keep in mind for 2008. She also urged the couple, who are planing to have children, to get wills written, and quizzed them on their interest in saving for retirement, pushing them to open Roth accounts as a good way to start saving. She correctly split the $345 cost of last year’s tax preparation, deducting half as a personal expense and half on Scott’s business expenses. (Using TurboTax, Scott had deducted the full amount as a business expense—a move the IRS might frown upon.) Perhaps most important, Wolff zeroed in on Scott’s health insurance—covered through his wife’s employer at a payroll-deduction cost to the couple of $1,300 for the year. Wolff promised to check the tax status of Scott’s accident-related income, crunch the numbers, and e-mail a PDF of a completed return to review in a few days.

The PDF arrived two days later, showing by far the largest refund of the three methods. How did Wolff do it? By writing off the difference between what the Wilsons were deducting in health-insurance costs as a couple and what they should have been deducting for the self-employed Scott. It was a big find—one that dropped the couple’s adjusted gross income below $52,000, which, in turn, qualified their newly opened Roth accounts for a 10 percent federal tax credit that bumped their refund up another $400. All told, good accounting saved them $1,000—the exact amount Amper would be charging them.

The pros: Amper’s staffers exude competence, and the closed-door setting feels right when you’re sharing such private information.

The cons: At hourly billing rates of $100 to $400 (or more), the price tag will be hefty. And there’s no pay-if-you-like-us here; clients sign an agreement committing to Amper’s services and fees up front.

Cool features: Completed returns are reviewed by a senior-level C.P.A. for input errors and anomalies. Returning clients receive a tax organizer that shows prior-year expenses and income figures.

Scott’s take: “I’m psyched. Amper gave us financial advice for the future, and the new health-care deduction and credit they got us was a huge help—the extra money made up the price difference.”

Time spent: 2 hours
Price tag: $1,000
Total refund: $3,620


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