Breaking bad news this tax season

This tax season has been brutal. Along with all the confusion, we have clients who are surprised and shocked that their refunds have turned into balances due. Here are some suggestions on how to handle distraught clients.

Candy lessens the pain

One of our seminar attendees, CPA Dan Herron of San Luis Obispo, was quoted in the Wall Street Journal saying that he has a big bowl of candy in his office.1 He offers his clients a piece of candy before sharing the bad news. He's had people say they haven't had a Milky Way in years and when people eat candy, it takes the edge off. They get a little happier.

He says he's considered offering ice cream, or maybe even beer and wine.

Speaking of beer

When I was in practice, I had a client who always came to the tax interview with a brown paper bag. Inside were two cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer. If I told him he was getting a refund, he'd give me a can. If I said he owed money, he would drink one himself and take the other one home. Finally after three or four years of this, his wife got mad and brought her own beer: Michelob. But none for me.

Fortune cookies

One year I decided to buy fortune cookies to tell my clients whether they owed or got a refund. I had two baskets of fortune cookies wrapped in plastic. The inside of the cookies in one basket said, "Congratulations, you will get a refund. Ask Lynn for an estimate." The other said, "Sorry, you owe money. Here's a free play. Better luck next year."

The clients loved them, but I lost all the leftovers when some mice got into the cupboard where I had them and I never did it again!

Let us know what you did to "lessen the pain" for your clients this year by responding to the Tribune e-mail.


Groovy cheese

It's well established that music has a salutary effect on unborn babies and can lower heart rates and relieve stress. But can music actually affect the microorganisms in a wheel of cheese and influence its flavor?

The Swiss take their cheese very seriously and in an experiment titled "Cheese in Surround Sound," they sought to determine how sound waves affect microorganisms in cheese. To that end, they placed nine 22-pound wheels of Emmental cheese in separate wooden crates and subjected each crate to different types of sound waves and music, including Mozart's "The Magic Flute," Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven," and "Jazz (We've Got)," by the hip-hop group A Tribe Called Quest. The experiment was rigorously disciplined, with the milk constituting the cheese coming from the same farmers so the wheels would be uniform, and with each wheel exposed to 24 hours of sound waves a day over a six-month period.

In the end, a panel of Swiss chefs, artists, and politicians participated in a blind taste test. They were in agreement that the cheeses that were subjected to hip-hop were the sweetest, maybe due to these lyrics to "Jazz (We've Got)," set to a steady, low frequency vibration:

"Then cool out to the music cause it makes ya feel serene
Like the birds and the bees and all those groovy things"

After over 4,320 hours of straight rapping, the microorganisms were clearly convinced to be groovy and produce sweet, serene wheels of cheese.

Those who participated in the experiment stated that they now see that "cheese can also work as a transmitter between different people who like hip-hop or who like folk or who like rock 'n' roll ... so this can help bring society a little bit together."1 It's like the Swiss team was paraphrasing John Lennon — "All we are saying is give cheese a chance."


Tax Tip: When performing artists are an SSTB

In the preamble to the finalized regulations, the IRS singled out writers and stated that to the extent that a writer is paid for written material, such as a song or screenplay, that is integral to the creation of the performing arts, the writer is performing services in the field of performing arts.

While writers were the only ones mentioned specifically, the IRS's use of the term "integral to the creation of the performing arts" and their inclusion of writers in that category seems to indicate that the following "behind-the-camera" professionals are also SSTBs:

  • Cinematographer;
  • Lighting designer;
  • Set designer;
  • Makeup artist;
  • Sound designers and technicians;
  • Costume designers;
  • Computer-generated imagery (CGI) businesses; and
  • Other behind-the-scenes professionals.

A few fun facts about this week's writers:

Lynn Freer, EALynn Freer, EA, is a French literature major, so of course her favorite vacation destination is France. Here she is dining on mussels and fish stew near Nice.

Diane FullerDiane Fuller loves to read, cook, and go to Ketchum/Sun Valley, Idaho, as many times as possible during the year with her family including grandkids and dogs.

Never miss an issue

Did a friend forward this to you? To get on the Tax Season Tribune mailing list, visit and submit your e-mail address. Past issues of the Tax Season Tribune can be accessed through the Tribune Archives.