Tax Day Doesn’t Have to Be Scary: A Chat With a Millennial Accounting Expert

Adulting, Uncategorized

Ready or not, here it comes… April 15. The dreaded Tax Day. (Except this year, Tax Day falls on April 18 thanks to April 15 falling on a weekend).

While there’s a chance your reward will be great upon filing and Uncle Sam might actually send you a return in exchange for your taxpaying efforts, the paperwork seems intimidating.

According to Nerdwallet, 80% of millennials worry about making a mistake on their tax forms. Seven in ten of us have some sort of concern regarding tax prep. And we’re more afraid of taxes than any other age group before us.

As we are all about defying millennial stereotypes here at #NAMB, we want to help you overcome our collective fear of April 15. So… the latest in our Monthly Chat series comes from one of our own as she shares her expertise in the area!

You may remember that Claire holds a Master of Business Administration degree in accounting and has worked in the field prior to beginning her career as an animal care specialist. She’s shared some of her accounting prowess with us before — but now, we chatted with her about how millennials can best handle their taxes.

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Why do you think millennials are so intimidated by doing their taxes?
I think millennials are intimidated by doing their taxes because there’s a lot of information! There is a reason why tax accountants have jobs. There is a lot of tax law out there. But if you take it step by step, it gets easier. And don’t be afraid to ask for help!

Is it really as hard as everyone thinks it is?
Honestly, this depends. If you are new to the work force and have just the basic W-2, no need to fear — that is quite simple to figure out. However, if you have your own business, have write-offs that may add up to more than your standard deduction (meaning you can itemize), and dependents, that is where it can get tricky. These special circumstances are where you need to save receipts from business expenditures, prescription bottles, medical and dental expenses, and student loan interest.

What can millennials do to make the process of filing taxes easier?
One of the biggest tips I can give is to use the VITA Program, which stands for Volunteer Income Tax Assistance. This is a program for those who have an annual income of $54,000 or less. Volunteers come together to do taxes for free! I worked for this program as an internship while I was earning my Masters degree. And it’s a program of the IRS, so it’s legit, I promise. The program volunteers can also tell you about things you may not know about, such as the earned income credit, which, if you qualify, can leave you with a couple hundred dollars!

What’s the biggest piece of advice you can give to millennials when doing their taxes?
My biggest piece of advice is to not be afraid to ask for help. There is a lot to know, so your first time, you will need guidance, and that is okay! I still don’t know everything, and I worked in the area of tax accounting!

Do you recommend millennials filing taxes on their own or using an accountant?
If it’s your first time, you may want help from a C.P.A. or a tax franchise organization, like H&R Block. Once you file for your first time, it won’t be as scary. It will also give you ideas on what you can use as tax credits or deductions.

Most of us millennials don’t have super complicated taxes quite yet. I personally only have a W-2 right now, where I just copy the information from the W-2 form that was mailed to me onto the tax form. I also qualify for the earned income credit and I get money back on my state return. However, once you have mortgage interest as a result of owning a home, medical expenses, student loan interest, business expenses, etc., you may want to use an accountant to make sure you get the highest return possible.

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If millennials do want to file on their own, what do you recommend?
If you visit the IRS Website, there are questionnaires available where they can help you determine your filing status, what your standard deduction amount is and if your expenses would qualify as itemized deductions. I highly recommend using these questionnaires.

If millennials do want to use an accountant, are there any that specialize in helping millennials?
I do not believe that there are accountants specific to millennials, but all accountants have worked with many individuals new to the tax world and most are very accommodating and understanding if you are scared and confused.

Are there any podcasts, Twitter accounts, or blogs that millennials can read to help them with their taxes?
There are helpful audio files available on the IRS Website. As far as twitter accounts, I recommend @IRSnews or @IRStaxpros for information.

You want to use an accountant, but you don’t have the funds to pay one, and you don’t want to file on your own. What alternatives do you recommend?
The VITA program! You can also use the free file program from IRS.gov, for which the annual income limit is $64,000.

Bottom line: When you have helped people file their taxes, what issues have you noticed them having difficulty with?
The most difficulty I see people having when filing is that they do not know where to start. I would start first by first getting organized. You should get in the mail either a W-2 or a 1099-misc. Save these! You will need them. Starting a file is a great idea for tax season. Also, save any other statements that may have tax breaks/deductions, such as student loan interest, contributions to an IRA, or additional income such as investment or interest income.

If you have all of these things, you may be able to itemize and take more than the standard deduction. Then, decide how to file. Avoid preparers if their fee is based on how large of a refund they get for you — this is a red flag for con artists. Look up potential credits and deductions, such as the child and dependent care credit, earned income credit, business expenses, job search expenses, charitable contributions, medical expenses, and state and local sales tax. See if you qualify for them. You got this!

 

Read more about Claire’s work and credentials at her author bio

From Accounting to Animal Care

Author: Claire Greene, Real Life Stories

This is the story of the most difficult decision I have made in my entire life. Every person throughout his or her life has lots of choices they have to make. What career they go into, whether or not to have children, where to live…even small, insignificant decisions such as what to get for dinner take up a big portion of our day.

I have always been an extremely indecisive person. In fact, “I don’t care, what do you want to do?” has never been a rare sentence to come out of my mouth. However, while I believe that logic can be useful in making certain decisions, the most important decisions that will truly affect your life need to be made with your gut and your heart.

If you decide to try dinner at a new place that you haven’t been to before, the worst that can happen is you don’t like it and you don’t order from it again, absolute worst being food poisoning. However, if you decide to go into the wrong major, that decision can completely turn your life upside down.

I have always been good at math. Yes, I know, it sounds sacrilegious, but believe it or not, I actually looked forward to my algebra homework. I always looked at it like a fun puzzle or riddle that I had to figure out. When it came time to apply to colleges, as an always indecisive person, I went in with an undecided major. During my sophomore year, I realized that I eventually would have to pick one.

I had spoken with some of the accounting majors, and they all said that it was a great program with some amazing professors, and being as I was always good at math, I figured I would do well. I was right.

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I aced every test and impressed all of the professors with my natural ability to figure out financial reporting. I was even inducted into the international business honor society. It all came very naturally. I didn’t find the homework to be a big pain, and I thought I had finally figured out what I was supposed to do with my life. I was thinking logically. Accounting is something that I am good at, and I could probably make a lot of money doing. This is it.

Ladies and gentlemen, the following is why I believe that internships are a good idea. After I graduated with my Master’s degree in Business Administration, I ended up working as an accounting specialist at a banking headquarters. It was the most miserable period of my entire life. I was typing in the same thing over and over again, all day, every day. I felt so useless in my existence.

Also, one of the most depressing things about the job to me was that I was behind a desk all day, and never went outside. I was on the phone with my mother in Connecticut on the way home from work one day, and she said “It’s been rainy here all day, how about there?” and I reluctantly had to say “I don’t know, I haven’t been outside since seven this morning.” That one sentence made me realize that I was not meant for this type of life. I ended up sinking back into my depression, and I ended up moving back home to Connecticut.

While I was home in Connecticut recovering from my mental illness and trying to figure out what the next step for me would be, I decided to find a fun, relaxed place to volunteer. I had loved Mystic Aquarium since I was a kid. I had great memories of going to see the beautiful animals there, and I had a lot of respect for the care and devotion they gave to the marine life. I decided that would be the place.

I started volunteering in the guest services department, giving speeches and educating the public about the great things the aquarium does. I instantly fell in love with the animals, and I was truly happy for the first time in a long time. I looked forward to every day there, and most importantly felt I had a purpose. My being there and creating a good experience for each guest that came through our doors increased the chance of them coming back, and that meant more money that would go to our animals. I felt that I was meant to be there.

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After about a year of volunteering, I was hired in the guest services department. I then realized that what I was meant to do all along was take care of animals. This was a decision I made with my heart and my gut. I was always an animal person since the day I was born. Being around animals gave me a serene feeling that I never had anywhere else. It filled my heart and put a smile on my face.

After being at the aquarium for a total of one and a half years, I ended up getting an internship in the reptile and amphibian department, and then I ended up getting hired as an animal care specialist for Living Exhibits, which is the company that brings in the Bird of the Outback Exhibit at the aquarium. That summer working with Living Exhibits was the best summer of my life.

You never know where life is going to take you. But my point is, life is too short to not do what makes you happy. When it comes down to those really important, life-changing decisions, you can try to use logic all you want, but your heart will tell you where you truly need to be.

How an Accounting Degree Can Help You in the “Real World”

Adulting, Author: Claire Greene

My career journey has been a very long and interesting one. I have gone through many peaks and valleys to get to where I am right now, but there is no place I’d rather be.

I have loved animals throughout my entire life. When it came time to apply to college, I wanted to get a degree in marine biology and work in animal care. I talked with many schools with great marine bio programs. However, when I spoke with career counselors, they all reinforced how difficult it is to actually find a job in the field.

In school, math was a subject I excelled at. I always got As, and it was something I actually didn’t mind doing. I went with the safer bet and majored in accounting. I did extremely well in college, and I graduated with my Bachelor’s degree in Accounting and my Master’s degree in Business Administration. I then started working at a bank headquarters as an accounting specialist.

I later realized I despised being behind a desk all day and typing the same thing into a computer over and over again. I longed to do different things throughout my day instead of the same, repetitive motions. I had an epiphany that I had to go after my childhood dream. Am I crazy? Yes, but I’m glad I put in my notice at my job, moved back in with my parents and started volunteering at Mystic Aquarium. After a lot of hard work and resilience, I was eventually able to work my way up to a job as a full-time Animal Care Specialist for Living Exhibits, Inc., which is a company the aquarium outsources to bring in seasonal exhibits.

While I do not have a career in accounting, I do not regret my experience. I still find ways that my education has come in handy throughout my life. Here are four ways in which accounting has helped me in the real world, and can help you, too.

Restaurant Tabs
It is pretty much a given that when I am out to dinner with a large group of people, I am handed the check at the end of the night. In accounting, you are taught how to divide up expenses and figure out percentages. I know how to allocate each person’s individual expenses because I’ve written up whole financial statements for companies. If you ask me what your tip should be on your meal, I can tell you in approximately one half second because I have figured out percentages a million times. I also know how to figure out the tax because I know that the tax each person is owed is based on each person’s balance, just like a company’s net tax is based on its profit.

Work expense sheets
In any job or career, there are always expenses involved. Since they are company expenses, the company needs a way of recording and tracking those expenditures. Therefore, in comes everyone’s dreaded spreadsheet, the expense report.

Expense reports are records of all your expenses — allocated to individual categories to know how company money is being spent, tax included. If you have been supplied with a company credit card, this amount of money should equal the current balance on the card subtracted from total amount of money that was placed on the card. Managers will then know how much is being spent or if money needs to be reallocated towards something else.

Most people cannot wrap their heads around figuring out the expense report. I automatically took to it. Not because I am obsessed with Excel, but because I already knew how to figure it out. Accountants use the double entry accounting system, in which every entry in a financial statement has a corresponding and opposite entry. For example, on any financial statement, a debit will increase an expense, and a credit will decrease an expense. The corresponding entry will be a decrease in cash, which is an asset. Assets are decreased in credit. As expenses increase, cash flow is decreased. That statement is the principal of financial statements, and the whole theory behind an expense report.

The expense report is simply a balance sheet in a financial statement. So, for me, the expense report is not Frankenstein’s monster. It’s a more than conquerable beast.

Sales
This one pretty much goes without saying. I’m not going to lie, just like any other girl who likes to have 500 pairs of shoes but doesn’t want to pay full price for them, I love sales. But what’s also great is that I can figure how much I am actually going to end up paying in five seconds. After figuring out tax percentages and mortgage interest, it’s easy. I’m the one to have around if you want to figure out if you can buy a dress that’s on sale for 30% off if you only have $40 left. I’m like a walking calculator.

Taxes
I know, I know. Tax season is like hurricane season. It’s stressful, time consuming and potentially can take away your money. However, for me, it’s not so stressful. When I was getting my Master’s degree, I interned at the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program. It’s a program created by the IRS to help those with lower incomes file their taxes for free. My job was filing tax returns. In doing so, I know the entire process.

I know about certain tax credits that I qualify for. I know which forms need to be filled out, how to file to make sure that I am getting the maximum refund and if you should itemize your deductions or just take the standard. I also know certain things that count as deductions that most people don’t know about, potentially increasing your payout. And I will never have to pay for an accountant, which will save me lots of money.

 

Your degree can always prove useful in ways that you might not even necessarily realize. I will never regret getting my degree in accounting, because I now have knowledge that I wouldn’t have if I had not made that decision. I use my degree every day. So be crazy, go after your dreams and never settle. I’m sure glad I never did.