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Art of Accounting Services – You Must Push the Pencil

Tax rules continuously change, but the specific tax matter here is not what’s important. What is important with Accounting Services is the process.

Tax rules continuously change, but the specific tax matter here is not what’s important. What is important with Accounting Services is the process.

In the 1970s the tax law provided for a penalty for certain family corporations retaining “excess” earnings and not paying dividends. For the record the individual tax rate on dividends then was 70 percent, so forcing the payment of dividends would give the government that much more tax—on some level you can say that it almost was a confiscatory tax, states Gustavo Viera CPA who manages a local Accounting Services firm.

To determine “excess,” you had to go through various gyrations and formulas, and in this client’s case, I felt he would be penalized upon an audit if he did not pay the dividend. The penalty was 38.5 percent of the unpaid dividends. Accounting Services told clients that based on his circumstances they needed to pay a dividend of a certain amount to avoid the imposition of that penalty.

The client asked me to show him calculations to convince him of the “benefit” of paying the dividend vs. being penalized. He said he wanted to see what he would have if he paid the dividend and what he would have if he did not pay the dividend but had to pay the penalty. I was annoyed at his request and insistence because “everyone knew it was better to pay the dividend rather than pay the penalty,” but I told him I would work out the numbers for him.

I wasn’t going to see the client for about a month, but that night after dinner I decided to put the numbers together to get it out of the way and off my mind. To my complete surprise, it looked like he was “richer” by not paying the dividend, but paying the penalty. It made no sense to me since the conventional wisdom was that the penalty avoidance was the preferred strategy.

During the next month I did extensive research on this and found nothing that indicated you should not pay the dividend but wait to have the penalty assessed. But my calculations showed the opposite. I met with some more experienced colleagues and asked them to show me my errors, which they were unable to do. I included this in my Tax News Letter, Successful Tax Planning, and this was the thing I took the greatest pride in—it reversed the conventional wisdom in this area.

I learned that with accounting Services and taxes, there can be no assumptions and that everything has to be researched and number crunched. This lesson became a mantra for me. Push the Pencil! Do the Work!

After this instance, there have been many situations where pushing the pencil reversed the “conventional wisdom” for me. I also then never accepted anything less than a complete job from my staff. I have refused to work for clients who did not want to pay the proper fees for the thorough work I always insisted on.


Gustavo A Viera is the managing partner of Gustavo A Viera, PA. His experience spans more than 25 years. He started his career in public accounting at PriceWaterHouseCoopers where reached the level senior audit manager. His Fortune 500 experience includes positions as CFO - Latin America Region for both Hewlett Packard and Telefonica of Spain. Gustavo also writes a blog twice a week that addresses trending accounting and tax issues. He is an SBA Advisor and teaches workshops for aspiring entrepreneurs. His office is located at One Alhambra Plaza Floor PH Coral Gables FL 33134, and is admitted to practice in the State of Florida as a licensed Certified Public Accountant. Gus welcomes questions and he can be reached at 786-250-4450.