Local certified public accountant Jay Lesemann views tax season like retailers view the holidays: bad for sleep, great for the bottom line.
The Internal Revenue Service estimates it will get more than 147 million individual tax returns this year, and the madness ostensibly starts in January and lasts until mid-April.
But considering half of the businesses and individuals who file their taxes also file for extensions, the fun at Huntersville’s Lesemann & Associates doesn’t stop until September or October.
And that’s just for taxes. About 60 percent of Lesemann’s small Birkdale firm’s work is not tax-related, and Lesemann also serves as chairman of the North Carolina Association of Certified Public Accountants.
In his 30 years in the profession, the typical work day of a CPA has changed drastically.
Online servers replaced file cabinets. The threat of identity theft heightened security. And the tax code has grown so complex that even the most financially savvy fatigue at the countless clauses and caveats.
“Running a company this time of year, sometimes you wonder why you do it,” says Lesemann, who started his firm a decade ago and now has four employees. “But that’s just part of it. You prepare yourself mentally.”
For Lesemann, 51, that heat-of-tax-season mental prep work starts at 6 a.m. when his alarm goes off.
After a quick breakfast and an even quicker commute – a two-minute drive from Birkdale Village to Birkdale Crossing – Lesemann spends at least one hour answering emails. Then he tackles tax returns.
Lesemann’s firm used to be overrun by copy machines and dozens of file cabinets, so much so that he paid for off-site storage.
But thanks to the help of a high-security “online portal” that Lesemann & Associates started using two years ago, the tax-prep process is now nearly paperless.
Lesemann and his clients, 65 percent of whom are small business owners, upload their documents to the secure server.
Since implementing the portal system two years ago, there are fewer opportunities for mistakes, Lesemann says, and he doesn’t have to hire someone to handle all of the scanning and copying during the busiest season of the year. They also save paper.
Lesemann used to go through a case – a whopping 5,000 pages – every week. Now he goes through one case per tax season.
Lesemann’s desk is dominated by three monitors, one for pulling up tax documents, one for a checklist and the third monitor for recording notes about the documents.
Clients, most of whom no longer want a paper-copy of their returns, get everything on a CD.
As a CPA, Lesemann is licensed by the state and registered with the IRS, and any mistakes or discrepancies can impact his firm’s reputation and incur fines of up to $10,000.
That’s why every file is reviewed by the other associates. And communication about discrepancies with clients is conducted via email, leaving a paper trail for the IRS.
Sometimes that means confronting a small business owner trying to write off grocery bills as a company expense. Other times, the attempt is more egregious, like an entrepreneur with little or no income writing off expensive clothing and golf trips.
“I won’t let them,” Lesemann says. “We work too hard to keep our certification, our license, and I will not lose it.”
Round out all that stress with his other major time commitment: his duties as chairman of the state CPAs’ association for fiscal year 2012-13, a volunteer position that saps another 40 hours a month. Part of his responsibility is coordinating community service projects. During the Hurricane Katrina aftermath, the group went to New Orleans to help people get their finances in order again.
“The CPA profession is not a boring visor, black arm band, pocket projector-type group anymore,” says Lesemann.
Lesemann said heleaves the office before 9 p.m. and settles in for his own brand of R&R: hit CBS TV show “The Big Bang Theory.”
“I’ll try to escape some way, somehow,” Lesemann says. “Even during tax season.”
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