Coffee heat rising

The Biggest Bugaboo of Hallowe’en…

Tax records.

Actually, the real biggest bugaboo this year was covid-19, which pretty much put the eefus on Hallowe’en in our neighborhood. Over in lower Richistan, the young parents insisted on entertaining Hallowe’en tricksters and treaters, many of them creating hilarious long ore slides through which they could deliver candy without having to get close to the kiddies and the teenagers. But over here in the peanut gallery, most people simply shut down their property. I turned off the lights and hunkered down in the back of the house, and noticed that most of the houses around me were darkened, too.

Usually Mr. & Mrs. WonderAccountant host a little party on their driveway. Ruby and I go over there and hang out all evening, and a great deal of fun is had by all. The kids are such a kick in their costumes, and they’re usually accompanied by adults who are commensurately decked out. But this year, even if the WonderAccountants hadn’t decided to opt the festivities…well…with a shiny new life-threatening condition, I surely can’t afford to expose myself to a disease that is likely to carry me away, just for the fun of handing out candy to a bunch of strangers’ kids in costumes.

That notwithstanding, I left a big box of candy out on the sidewalk for passers-by. Usually when you do that, someone will steal the whole thing. Not even the thieves were out and about! 😀 The junk was still out there this morning, and now I’ll have either to throw it away or to donate it to some charity. Personally, encouraging kids to eat that crap is agin’ my religion, so I’ll probably toss it.

Meanwhile, we’re nigh unto the end of the year, and so it’s time to organize this year’s transactions for WonderAccountant’s delectation. Arrrhhhhhh!!! How I hate that task!!!!!

And THAT is the Biggest Bugaboo of Hallowe’en! Eeeeeek!!!

After last year’s torture, I decided I would download and organize a month’s worth of transactions at a time, so that by the end of the year only one miserable month’s worth would await.

But no. Not a chance. I am simply too, toooo lazy to force myself to attend to an aversive task on a regular basis. Plus it’s been a bit of a shitty year health-wise, and so I surely haven’t felt like farting with that garbage. From what I can tell, I kept up with the credit-union transactions through the end of May and the AMEX transactions…well, not at all. I’ve only got one AMEX download: May through June.

It will take hour after hour after brain-numbing HOUR to download these hundreds and hundreds of transactions and organize them by category in Excel.

This used to be an easy task in Quicken. But the program I was using turned out not to be compatible with newer Mac operating systems, so about all I can do is track the stuff in Excel and then pass the Excel files along to WonderAccountant. She can access my CU statements, but of course she has no idea how to categorize about 95% of that stuff. To save her time and my money, I really need to do the scutwork myself.

Ohhh gawd!

You know…as my time on this earth grows shorter and shorter, my patience with things electronic grows shorter, too. I am SO goddamn sick of hassling with computers! And wrangling data. And trying to overcome every damnfool new “improvement” and “update” foisted on us, most of which are far from improvements but represent some new headache. The last thing on this earth I want to do is spend several hours a day the next three or four weeks wrestling with data from the credit union, from American Express, from Medicare, and in Excel.

Well, with any luck at all, given the current state of affairs, maybe this will be the last thing I’ll have to do in that department.

Thank heaven for small blessings…

De-Banking and Re-Banking

Possibly the term is de-credit-unioning…but that’s a little clumsier than de-banking, for a title. 😉

The plan under way just now is to abandon the Arizona State Credit Union, now annoyingly called “OneAZ,” and move my vast wealth over to the Desert Schools Credit Union. Probably I should have done this a long time ago, but out of inertia I’ve remained with the state employees’ credit union. Closing out a personal account and a corporate account represents a substantial amount of hassle, especially since a LOT of direct deposits come in and even MORE automated direct payments go out. Canceling each of these and re-establishing them at a new institution presents a lengthy series of headaches.

However, OneAZ (isn’t that cutesiness enough to  just gag you?) has gone too far in its latest manifestation of customer disservice. They’ve decided that we no longer will be allowed to deposit checks by scanning to a computer and uploading to an account. All electronic deposits now must be made by smartphone.

Well. I don’t have a smartphone and I don’t want one and even if I did want one, believe me, there’s no way in Hell I could afford one. I’ve tried an Android smartphone and after several expensive months of wrestling I simply could NOT learn how to work it. We’re told the iPhone is more OldBat-friendly. Yeah: for a thousand bucks.

Jayzus. A thousand dollars for a telephone!

At any rate, what this means is that every time a check comes in, I have to traipse across the city to hand the damn thing to a teller, in person. The nearest branch is at the ASU West campus, a 15- or 20-minute drive through a depressing slum — so, 30 minutes to deposit one check, with no other errands to do on that side of town.

I get a constant flow of little nuisance checks. Medicare and Medigap do not accrue all the eligible payments for any given Adventure in Medical Science. They send you a tiny little check here and a tiny little check there and an even tinier check again. Most recently, they sent me a goddamn check for $3.17! The gasoline to drive to the credit union and back would cost more than that!

Desert Schools is located in the North Central corridor, putting it reasonably close to the Funny Farm. And, more to the point, putting it in the general direction of other errand destinations where I go several times a week: two grocery stores, an Ace Hardware, drugstores, a Costco…. And several more or less acceptable restaurants;. It’s halfway to a Sprouts; a Nordstrom’s Rack; the FedEx guys, an upscale Fry’s and a downscale Fry’s (the local name for Kroger’s); and the now much-discombulated Biltmore Fashion Square, home to a Macy’s, a Saks, a Williams-Sonoma, a Pottery Barn. L’Occitane, a Cost Plus, a Pier One, and on and on.

So as a practical matter, Desert Schools is much more convenient, now that I’m not working at the West campus. I’ve stuck with them for a good 20 years, because their service has been primo, and for many years they had a banker stationed in the lobby who was about the best thing that ever came along. But recently they promoted the guy, and they replaced him with one of the dumbest cows I’ve ever seen. She is just stump stupid, and when you have a question or a problem, she not only is no help, she’s actually…shall we say, counterproductive.

This leaves as the only reason to drive out there the depositing of checks, which one really should not have to do at all because in any reasonable system one would be able to upload a jpeg or two and be done with it.

LOL! Desert Schools has also changed its name, but at least not in an annoying way: they now call themselves simply “Desert Credit Union,” presumably signalling that potential customers no longer need be educators to qualify for membership.

One must admit, the products they offer are significantly better than OneAZ’s. They can take wire transfers, although only to personal accounts. Since we recently de-incorporated The Copyeditor’s Desk and turned it into a sole proprietorship, that won’t matter: clients can simply wire direct to me as a human being rather than as a business entity. This, oh hallelujah, would revive my China trade!

WonderAccountant wants me to keep a separate business account, though I fail to see why I couldn’t simply segregate CE Desk transactions into a savings account within the personal account. You can make electronic payments directly out of a credit-union savings account; besides, I charge business expenses to the corporate AMEX card, so you’d think that would maintain enough of a corporate veil. As it were. Why do you need a corporate veil for a sole proprietorship, anyway? All its assets belong to the proprietor…

At any rate, this little  transfer scheme looks to me like a long, sticky mess.

BECAUSE…I have quite a few automated direct deposits and quite a few automatic payments, not the least of which are the utility bills, which are engrossed by each utility provider from their direction. This means I’ll have to call the city water department, the power company, and the gas company to give them new account information…and as you know, anything that sounds as simple as that invariably turns into a headache-breeding tangle. And I have Metlife ripping off $128 a month for long-term care, which I need to cancel anyway.

So that will be a hassle. Nay, a series of hassles.

Vaguely, I recall that we were told, when we signed up for long-term care insurance originally through TIAA-CREF, that paying into it created a kind of fund that would be paid back to us if we decided to stop paying premiums. However, TIAA-CREF abandoned the long-term care insurance business and transferred their customers to Metlife, which subsequently also abandoned LTC insuring. They kept their existing customers, but we’re told customer service is execrable and they do everything they can to get out of delivering the coverage you paid for half your life. So even if they don’t return some of the money I’ve poured into their coffers, at least I won’t be wasting any more money there.

Getting through to Social Security to have those monthly payments moved over surely will mean a major bureaucratic runaround, and probably a trip to a Social Security office and several hours wasted sitting around a waiting room.

And heaven only knows how long it will take to move all those automated deposits and payments around and make them work properly.

So. My plan is to leave about a thousand dollars in the OneAZ personal account and maybe about $500 in the business account. That should (…i hope…) be enough to cover about a month’s worth of auto-payments until such time as I can make SS change its records, but it also should put enough in the new accounts to cover the credit card bills and the auto-payments that get changed with minimal argument or foot-dragging.

It’s going to be a project, probably extending over several weeks…maybe even a couple of months. But I expect the result will represent an improvement.

How to Make Your Tax Accountant Crazy…

First, you hire her.

Well, I take that back. First you major in English, instead of a useful subject like, say, accountancy. Then you will be perfectly situated for making any accountant of any variety crazy as a loon.

Then, get yourself a Mac, a nifty machine powered by software that is devilishly incompatible with Intuit’s software. This will cause one snafu after another, which the accountant will be able to handle pretty well during most of the year. As tax time approaches, though, it will drive her right off the rails.

Back in the day when I worked exclusively on PCs and knew Microsoft Windows and its compatible programs backward and forward, I did all my bookkeeping in Quicken. During the Dark Ages, it was a wonderful program. But as time marched on, its designer (Intuit) decided that it must be made ever more incomprehensibly complex and quirky. Managed to keep up with it, more or less, until the fateful day that I purchased a Mac.

That was the end of Quicken for me: Intuit made a sort-of, patched-together, shitty little low-end version that would kind of run on a Mac. But it just wasn’t worth the effort.

So started doing my books in Excel, which is pretty easy, pretty straightforward, and very hard to screw up. I can screw it up, of course, because I’m an English major and quite a creative one. But most humans: not so much.

My tax lawyer, the ex-husband’s ex-partner, retired from preparing tax returns for friends and former business acquaintances. Luckily for me, WonderAccountant came along about then.

WonderAccountant is an Intuit aficionado. She takes annual courses to keep up with that fine software, and she’s very, very good at using it for her clients’ manifold purposes. But of course it won’t work on my software. My attempt to learn the Cloud version of Quickbooks made my head hurt back in the day when it bore a faint resemblance to a shadow of Quicken. Today, when it has become clear that Quickbooks actually is code from aliens dwelling in Andromeda: out of the question.

So what we’ve done is set up a QB account to which she has accountantly access, and into which she can engross the emanations of my bank accounts and credit card accounts.

Sounds good (if you’re not an accountant), doesn’t it?

Well. No. The problem is of course she has no idea what any given deposit represents or to whom any exotic  check was written, or for what…

Meanwhile, my records are in Excel. They don’t speak Andromedan. Don’t speak any Earth language, either. So this means we have to compare notes so I can clarify the many transactions that Quickbooks uses to make corned-beef hash.

So now she has come up with A Solution: A spreadsheet that can be made to upload into Quickbooks (it’s really just a matter of correct formatting). This is a whizbang little fellow that hears what you’re sayin’ and fills in the blanks. Asked nicely enough, it can categorize all of your transactions by the appropriate “account” category, of which we have about 20. This is pretty cool.

This requires the English-major client to perform a seemingly simple task: Download transaction data from the credit union and the credit card companies and fit it into this spreadsheet by copying and pasting columns. Clarify transactions where necessary.

You see where this is going, don’t you?

Yes. We have an incorporated entity here. It has its own bank accounts and credit cards. And we have a living breathing human being: it has bank accounts and credit cards, too, which have little or nothing to do with the S-corp’s books.

And…heh…the human being is an English major.

Well, eventually I figured out (I think) (sort of) how to get these documents right (sort of), and after three hours of dorking around sent them off to her. She has lapsed into stunned silence.

Probably catatonic.

So that’s it. All you need is an English major, a Mac, Quicken, and Excel. Piece o’ cake!

 

 

 

Quickbooks: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

Intuit, like all tech corporations constitutionally incapable of leaving well enough alone, has done a huge revamp of its Quickbooks Online site. And WHAT a mess they’ve made of it!

They’ve made it virtually impossible to enter transactions directly in the “register” — which is easiest for me. Once they get you into the “journal” view, you can’t get out of it. They’ve eliminated the “cash purchase” choice for describing a transaction and expect you to expense all direct electronic payments.

When asked about this, the techs reveal that they don’t know that “expense” (as in “to expense”) has a specific meaning in accountantese, and that you might want to distinguish between an electronic payment and something you expensed.

They knocked WonderAccountant off her connection to my QB accounts. Nothing we did would reconnect her. We ended up having to sit in her office and listen to Intuit’s phone put-off blather while we waited interminably for someone to pick up the line. The fix, as the tech pointed out, was simple: but it wasn’t even faintly self-evident. Or evident at all!

Quickbooks Online is now so difficult and so hair-tearing, I can’t use it. I finally threw up my hands and told WonderAccountant that I was gonna go back to Excel.

Well, o’course she’s seen what I can to to an Excel spreadsheet… “Oh, no!” quoth she. “PLEASE don’t do that. Just bring all your statements over here and I’ll enter the data!!!”

Yeah. That’s what happens when you set an English major loose on Excel.

So now I not only have to pay for Quickbooks, I have to pay an accountant to use it! Thank you very much, Intuit!

Okay, so QB automatically uploads most transactions from your bank, and that’s nice. BUT…often those transactions are inscrutable. What category do they go into? What does this or that transaction actually represent? And checks? Despite the wonders of the technological age, I still do pay the yard guy and the accountant and my subcontractors with checks. The credit union records that a check happened, but it can’t transmit the recipient’s name or the check memo, and so she has no idea who it was written to or what it was written for.

When I record a check in the paper check register, it’s usually on the fly. Often I can’t read my handwriting or I forget to write down the date. So just forking over the check register along with the bank statement is likely to be worse than unhelpful.

Same is true for deposits: The credit union’s statements reflect deposits, of course, but they don’t show who the deposit came from or what for.

So yesterday I ended up consuming a fair amount of my scarce time creating a spreadsheet to record checks and deposits. This, we now have on DropBox.

One of the Intuit guys said that a correctly crafted Excel spreadsheet can be uploaded direct into QB. With any luck, she won’t need to fool with that. I think all that will be needed will be just for her to be able to find the check and see who received it and what for.

What an incredible waste of my time! And what a waste of her (paid!!!) time!

She’s tearing her hair in frustration and confusion, too, and she’s a great deal more proficient with QB than I am. She actually takes courses in Quickbooks as part of her ongoing training activities.

This is very much like the original reason I abandoned Quicken for the PC & Mac. Every couple of years, they’d force you to junk the program you had, which was working adequately, and pay for an “update” that was usually difficult to learn. Each new iteration brought a new pain in the tuchus. If you delayed buying an unnecessary “update,” after a year or so your data no longer could be read and you’d lose years of work.

Finally I thought screw you, Intuit! and went to an Excel spreadsheet. Excel lacks some of QB’s whiz-bang bells and whistles, but it suffices to record your transactions. I’m quite sure that if you knew how to do a pivot report in Excel, you could extract whatever you need to do a tax return in short order. The “sort” function alone suffices, if you’ve faithfully entered each transaction’s “category.”

Matter of fact, there’s a guy who’s published an Excel spreadsheet that you can use to file your 1040! It doesn’t appear to generate a useful report, though, based on a year’s worth of data. I expect it can be done, though, if you know what you’re doing.

Really. I thought Quickbooks Online was the answer to the headaches with the terminal-resident Quicken for Mac. Wrong!

Tax Time y-Cumin’ In

Getting a running head start on the taxes this year, thanks to a new(ish) accountant who sees  no good excuse for dawdling. Tax time, is, after all, a-coming in, and really, except for a couple of stray K-1’s from the ex-DH’s various limited partnerships, there’s no reason not to start pulling all this stuff together.

The S-corp’s 2011 tax data, such as it is, can be said to already be pulled. The 1099s have been sent winging toward the folks who help make Funny about Money and The Copyeditor’s Desk possible, and all of the corporate transactions are duly recorded in Quicken’s online incarnation of Quickbooks.

The nice thing about the online Quickbooks is that New Wonder-Accountant can access the corporate books online from her computer, even though she uses a different platform from mine. I’m told the new Mac OS’s don’t support Intuit at all, and so the only other way to coordinate Quicken data with her would be for me to buy an inexpensive PC and load it with a browser and an expensive single program. The online version costs no more (possibly less) than it would cost to buy the program each year at Costco; it’s regularly updated; and she can access it whenever need be.

The S-corp’s 2011 fiscal year marked the beta-trial of QB online for me. I also kept the corporation’s books in an Excel spreadsheet, just in case. But no “in case” seems to have happened. The accountant has already explored the QB site and uttered no squawks of dismay, and so it looks like keeping the company’s books in the Cloud is going to work. It is possible to download the data to disk, by way of making back-ups at one’s own site, so I feel a lot more comfortable about this method than I did last January.

Matter of fact, the first of this month I set up an new online Quickbooks account for my personal bookkeeping, which should go a long way toward simplifying the tax process next year—and, I hope, keeping the costs of tax prep down.

Truly, I hate wrestling with all this stuff. Most of this afternoon was occupied with tracking down data and filling in parts of the 19-page worksheet for my personal taxes that Wonder-Accountant presented to me yesterday. Ugh.

Who knows what any of this stuff means? Though I struggle to keep the records complete, accurate, and transparent, half the time I have no idea what I’m doing and so have no way of knowing whether I’m getting it right. It’s a miserable, incomprehensible, time-consuming job, especially onerous given the inherent unfairness of our tax system.

Plus some of this stuff…well, I just don’t want to be reminded. It would be good, for example, not to have to dwell on how much the most basic healthcare is costing me: in 2011 I spent $6,028 on Medicare Part D, Medigap insurance, long-term care insurance, and dental, vision and medical care that was not covered.

D’you have any idea how much more that is than I used to pay for the same level of care while I had a salary? It’s just phenomenal! Lose your job, lose your income, and the cost of health insurance skyrockets.

That figure doesn’t even count the $111 a month (or so…I’ve lost track) Social Security withholds to cover Medicare Part B.

If I were paying now what I paid for healthcare when I had a job, I could live fairly comfortably in unemployment without having to make like an anchorite. And you know what? When I’ve been sick as a hound dog for something over a month, that is something I really would rather not contemplate.

Especially since my doctors so resent the chintzy reimbursements from Medicare that I can’t even get past their damn gatekeepers, who just brush me off when I call to tell them I’m not getting a whole lot better. Higher cost, lower quality.

Oh well. At least  we’re getting an early start on it this year. Maybe, with any luck, entering my personal data in Quickbooks will reduce the amount of work next January and cut the number of hours—and cost—of 2012 tax prep. That’s something. I guess.

How about yourself? Have you started? Have you found a system that makes your taxpaying life any easier?

 

Keepin’ the Books, Keepin’ the House

This weekend updating Quickbooks Online occupied a full afternoon. As with everything else of late, I’ve gone totally lâche with that project. Not, in this case, out of raw laziness but because Intuit seems to discourage users from backing up Cloud-based data onto local computers. Because I couldn’t find instructions for any back-up other than one that would download to an installed Quickbooks program, I’d decided I would enter transactions first in Excel and then, when time allowed, re-key them into QB Online so as to simplify my accountant’s life.

Well. As usual, time did not allow.

So I ended up entering transactions dating back to last May, for The Copyeditor’s Desk’s checking account and for its credit-card transactions. This of course entails creating new “client” and “vendor” entries and a number of other antics. Time-consuming but not at all difficult. The only annoyance is that my iMac is soooooo old it runs at the speed of a galloping snail. Having to wait anywhere from 30 seconds to two minutes for each plug of data to upload eventually will drive you to tear your hair.

At any rate, moments after I contrived a workaround for the download issue (in Firefox right-click to “print frame”, then print to PDF; this will store the entire page—not just a screenshot), what should I find hidden away in an obscure corner but a way to download to Excel (create a Journal report, pulling all your data into one place; then on that page you’ll have an option to download to any of several formats, one of which is Excel).

w00t!

This will obviate the double-dose of work.

I’m pretty pleased with QB Online. That, I suppose, is because I don’t allow Intuit to reach out to my credit union and brokerage accounts. As long as all it’s doing is tracking data, you don’t enter any sensitive passwords. Thus the risk of hacking is low. About all a hacker can do is scramble your data, and if you’re backing up to Excel every time you go online, the world will not end if that happens.

This year I used QB Online only for the corporation’s account, and that at my accountant’s request. It’s very orderly, and because it standardizes the way everything is entered, it allows none of my creative schemes for entering various reminders and comments in Excel. This is good for the accountant, very good. And she can run her software on the data from the Cloud, hugely reducing the cost of tax preparation.

Because my personal accounts are fairly complex—counting the joint account into which M’hijito and I pour cash for the accursed mortgage, I ride herd on five checking and savings accounts and two credit card accounts—in 2011 I decided to try QB only on the relatively simple corporate books. But starting in January, I’m definitely going to take out a second subscription for the personal books. This will hugely simplify the bookkeeping, and especially the tax accounting.

Speaking of the books, despite a budget overrun in discretionary spending (yasss…in exactly the amount of the dentist’s bill for cleaning my teeth), I’ll still come in with $166 to spare this month. This is because nondiscretionary bills drop radically in the winter. Water and electric each dropped almost $100 in November. Lhudly sing huzzah.

If these bills rise much higher, though, I can’t imagine how I’ll get through the summers. One utility company in the West Valley has announced a scheme to raise customer’s water bills by 83 percent!!! That’s a private water company, but I’m sure if it gets away with that, the municipalities will soon follow suit.

LOL! That “$166 to spare” is a relative term: I’m having to draw down $2000± from savings each month to make ends meet. Some of it is reimbursed during the eight months the community colleges pay me an adjunct’s pittance, but that amount is nowhere near two grand and it doesn’t come in when bills are at their highest. So the truth is, every month I’m running in the red, since I can’t afford to use savings while the stock market is jerking around like a weather balloon in a hurricane.

Junk heap, tidied

In the catching up department, I finally got around to cleaning out the storage shed and the hidden corner behind it where pots and junk reside on brick-and-board shelves. What a mess! It took all morning of one day plus half the afternoon on another day to shovel through the debris, clean up the wads of composting leaves, and haul the junk to the garbage can in the alley.

This, in light of the possibility that I might put the house on the market.

As it develops, Gerardo and his sidekick haven’t been doing such a hot job on cleaning up the leaves and pods that sift down there every day from the devil-pod tree. They can’t be too severely blamed—I’ve left a great collection of broken pottery and other priceless collectibles laying around out there, to the extent that the place had begun to look like Dave’s Used Car Lot, Marina, and Weed Arboretum. Old leaves and bougainvillea flowers were packed tight under the boards that form the lowest b&b “shelves,” partly because you couldn’t easily walk around the junk back there to get at the mess.

Six years of dust had accrued inside the shed, which I haven’t seriously cleaned since I moved into this house. Think I breathed most of it in while sweeping it off the shelves in there—this morning the throat still feels like it’s made of sandpaper, and I’m still coughing. Should get up and drop a Sudafed, I suppose. Yuch.

Now, consider this: What happens when you begin to think seriously about putting your house on the market?

Yes. Everything breaks!

Saturday I turned on the oven’s self-clean cycle. Leapt back a half-foot when the thing emitted a jackhammer-decibel BDRDRDRDRDRDRDR! Dayum!

So now I’ll have to get a workman in here to see if that can be fixed. There’s an outside chance it’s a fan. But if its not…well. Satan and Proserpine, in the course of renovating the kitchen, installed a freaking double oven in there. They come as part of a single unit. You can’t just replace one oven. You have to replace them both!

Joy. A comparable 27-inch unit will run around $2,000, plus delivery plus installation plus the 10% sales tax. So we’re lookin’ at a $2,500 hit here.

And where is that hit gonna come from? Yup. Out of retirement savings. Just now monthly disposable/short-term emergency savings contains all of $1,379. So having to buy a new oven will clean that out completely and drain survival savings by another thousand bucks.

The inside of the house will need at least some paint, too. The white trim is filthy and dinged up, the door I put on my office so I could lock it securely never did get painted, and that terra-cotta orange hallway is going to have to be painted a subtler color. Ditto the puce orange accent wall in my office that never got painted over because it’s too much hassle to drag the heavy furniture and navigate the tangle of computer cables. God knows what that’s going to cost.

I…need…a…JOB!