Russell Garofalo is based in New York and specializes in working with writers and artists, who tend to be especially stressed about taxes because their incomes are unpredictable; they often face big tax bills thanks to their freelance status. In his years of work with the creative and worried, he's learned that when people talk about money, a lot of other things come out. Here are a few:
1. Your Write-Off Delusions
People just aren't objective when it comes to their money, Garofalo says, and he sometimes has to gently explain to clients that the things they think are plausible write-offs really make no sense at all. One woman wanted to write off the bikini wax she got before going on auditions; another wanted to deduct the five figures he's spent on surgery for his dog. Garofalo had to tell them that even though they might believe these were legitimate business expenses, the IRS wouldn't.
2. Your Relationship Status
Garofalo sometimes needs to know a client's rent to calculate a home-office deduction. If your rent suddenly went from $600 a month to $1200, and you didn't start making a bunch more money, he knows you probably broke up with someone. He also knows if someone's been widowed — there's a space on the tax form, right under the spouse's date of birth, for date of death. Usually he just skips that one, but sometimes he doesn't, and it's always a sobering experience when a young client reveals his or her spouse died that year.
3. Your Emotional Problems
At least once a week, says Garofalo, a client tells him he should call himself a tax therapist. Getting your taxes done, he explains, is an "intense emotional experience" where all reason goes out the window, and where you're sometimes even more candid than you are in therapy. In therapy, he explains, you're still aware of how you're coming across, but when they come to him, clients often drop their defenses completely.
The biggest thing he sees is anxiety. For lots of people, worry about money is "like a lawnmower that’s on all the time." When their taxes are done, it's like turning that lawnmower off — Garofalo says people often leave his office "glowing." But unless they change something about their lives or their attitude toward money, that lawnmower will soon switch right back on.
4. Whether You're Going to Stay Married
Garofalo says he can tell a lot about a couple based on how they act when he's doing their taxes. If they occasionally nudge each other and smile, even when things get stressful, he knows their marriage is strong. But if they get cold and quiet and the session "doesn't feel collaborative," they might be headed for divorce. Garofalo points out that communication is a big part of staying married, and he can tell who doesn't communicate well.
5. How You'd Feel If You Made More Money
One of the biggest things Garofalo's learned as an accountant is that "however you feel about money is because of you, not the amount of money you're making." People think they'd feel completely relaxed if they made just $10,000 more, but he knows that's not the case — because he sees people who make $100,000 more and aren't relaxed at all. Says Garofalo, "I see you and the person that you want to make as much money as," and that person doesn't feel the way you think they would at all. They probably want to make $10,000 more too.