Champagne Wishes and Caviar Dreams

February 13, 2019

Just a couple of generations ago, it just wasn’t polite to discuss money. We mostly knew who was rich and who wasn’t. But it wasn’t until about 1984, when crack investigative journalist Robin Leach launched Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, that Americans began following celebrity houses, cars, and bank accounts with the same gusto as batting averages and quarterback ratings.

Today, of course, everything is different. The Forbes 400, along with local business papers, blow the whistle on executive salaries and net worths for everyone to see. lets you see how much your colleague in the next cubicle makes. And Zillow lets you (sometimes literally) peek into your neighbors’ houses and see just how much their kitchen remodels added to their value.

So, with tax season just getting off to a roll, we got to wondering how much tax professionals make? Last week, Forbes magazine dug up some data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics that show the average tax professional isn’t rolling in the sort of rock star money everyone expects!

For 2017, the average tax preparers earned $38,730. That’s actually less than the U.S. average of $44,564 for a 40-hour workweek. Of course, that figure covers a wide range, with the bottom 10% earning under $20,170 and the top 10% clearing over $81,740. Many tax preparers work seasonally, which drags down the overall average. (Fifteen years ago, “Jeopardy” champion Ken Jennings finally crashed and burned after 74 games when he couldn’t name the company whose 70,000 seasonal white-collar employees work only four months per year. The answer? H&R Block.)

Unfortunately for those who do nothing but prepare returns, job prospects aren’t especially bright. (And it’s not because the taxes themselves are going away.) Technology, which used to help preparers do their job more efficiently, is now threatening to do their jobs for them. That’s a real threat to the sort of storefront preparers who just record the history their customers bring them.

For the same period, the country’s 1.24 million accountants and auditors, whose broader responsibilities include preparing financial statements and giving actual advice, earned an average of $77,920. The bottom 10% bring in under $43,020 and the top 10% over $122,220. State averages ranged from $95,430 in New York to $59,960 in Mississippi.

Tax lawyers generally don’t prepare many tax returns. They also make considerably more than preparers and accountants, according to the website Salary Expert, pulling in an average of $145,746.

And how do prospects look for the rest of the tax industry? The Wall Street Journal recently published a report on the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, and reported that “many of the jobs it is creating, it turns out, are in the tax industry.” Firms are fighting for qualified employees. The paper quoted one executive as saying “There’s no doubt that the talent wars in tax have definitely heated up.” (Can you imagine talent wars in tax!)

So what should we conclude from our nosy snoop through tax salaries? It looks to us like the real news is tax pros who tell you how much you owe earn a decent income — but those who help you pay less are worth more. And in the end, isn’t paying less what you really want? So call us when you’re ready to save, and see just how valuable we can really be!

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