A woman tried to file her tax returns electronically this year, only to have it rejected because, she was told, her Social Security number belonged to a dead person.
For Neil Becourtney, a certified public accountant with Cohn Reznick in Eatontown, it was a first. He'd seen returns sent back because parents mistakenly claimed an adult child as a dependent or because a woman filed using her married name instead of her maiden name.
"But never, 'According to us, you're deceased,'" Becourtney said.
Becourtney was among 11 accountants from the New Jersey Society of Certified Public Accountants who visited the Asbury Park Press on Sunday to field calls from readers with tax questions.
The day-long event came in the middle of grueling tax season, when the accountants spend upwards of 90 hours a week filing clients' returns. And it shed light on the complicated lives of Shore residents.
The 2016 tax year is relatively stable. One change? The deadline is April 18 since since the traditional tax deadline of April 15 in on a Saturday, April 16 is on a Sunday and April 17 is Emancipation Day, a holiday in Washington, D.C., that recognizes the emancipation of slaves.
Still, Melanie Cobb, a CPA with Abacus Financial in Spotswood, encouraged taxpayers who think they will miss the April 18 deadline to file for an extension.
Nearly 200 readers called on Sunday with questions.
The woman told Becourtney that she had a letter from the Social Security Administration proving that she wasn't dead. He advised her to contact the IRS's identity theft division, hoping someone could steer her in the right direction.
There were other calls as well:
- A 96-year-old woman wondered if she needed to file taxes. Becourtney, after tallying up her income from Social Security and her deceased husband's pension, thought she might owe a few hundred dollars.
- A man finished rebuilding his home four years after it was destroyed in Superstorm Sandy and wondered if there were any tax credits available. There aren't, said James Toto, a certified public accountant with WeiserMazars in Edison.
- A woman, whose husband died in December, wondered if she should file a joint tax return. Barry Shapiro, a partner at WithumSmith+Brown in Middletown, said yes and noted she would probably benefit from lower rates than if she filed individually.
- A woman sold her house after living there for 37 years and wondered if she owed taxes on the capital gain. I. David Eliran, a certified public accountant in Freehold Township, said a gain of up to $500,000 for a married couple is excluded.
After hearing his answer, "she was in the heavens," Eliran said.
The accountants seemed that way, too. While your eyes might glaze over with talk of, say, a 216 transaction or the tax treatment of stock options, their eyes light up.
The profession is in demand, the accountants said. Candidates need to know basic math. They need to pay attention to detail. They need to keep up with changing rules. They need a good memory. And they need a passion for a job that during tax season can keep them in the office 12 hours a day, seven days a week.
"It's like another language, like learning Spanish or German," said Ralph Evangelista, a CPA with Frazer, Evangelista & Co. in East Brunswick. "You just have to practice. And it becomes second nature. And you have to like it."
"I love this time of year, up until about April 8," said Stephen Mazur, a CPA with Mazur & Associates in Red Bank. "Then we have so much work to do and how are we going to get it done? Those are the clients that owe."
Also participating: Craig Johnson, a CPA at Holman Frenia Allison based in Toms River; Joseph Petrucelli, a CPA at PP&D Accounting Services in Woodbridge; and Robert Fodera, a CPA at Baker Tilly in Woodridge
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