By Friday morning, Marsha Ritchie will be reclining on a beach in Mexico, thoughts of W-2 forms, deductions and filing dates floating away on a tropical breeze.
“I need no decision any more difficult than whether I need to turn over,” said Ritchie, a Hayden Lake, Idaho, certified public accountant.
Mid-January to April 15 is crunch time for tax preparers. Like retailers during the holiday season, many accountants earn up to 50 percent of their annual revenues during the first quarter of the year.
That means 70-hour workweeks, no freedom on weekends and little time for anything but working, eating and sleeping. Yard work, homes and even families go unattended in the rush to finish tax returns.
There’s hardly time for idle chitchat with a reporter.
“You’re calling us on the 14th?” asked one receptionist in disbelief.
“They’re all on other phones right now,” said another.
“How long will this take? I am busy,” said a frenzied tax preparer.
April 16 is payoff time. The equivalent of six months of work is done, and it’s time to relax. For the past few years, that’s meant three weeks in Mexico for Ritchie.
“It takes the first week to go from being nonhuman to human. It takes the second week to get your mind-set to where you’re ready to vacation. The third week you’re ready to vacation,” said Ritchie, a CPA for 23 years.
She’s not alone.
Last year, Don Rodman, a Spokane CPA, was surprised to see Karol Price, another Spokane CPA, while wandering the streets of Virginia City, Nev., south of Reno. Both were taking a needed hiatus to reacquaint themselves with relaxation.
“You just need a break. Something that doesn’t require any thinking. Something like putting a quarter in a machine and pushing a button,” said Price, who leaves for Reno Thursday.
“You work 12- to 14-hour days for two and a half months. You get so focused on numbers. (Vacation) just puts you back to normal faster,” Price said. “You just feel like you deserve it.”
Most accountants can’t stay away for long. There are quarterly reports and first quarter payroll forms waiting on their desks. But the workload is substantially smaller.
“The rest of the year, it’s 8 to 5,” said Shelley Merrill, a CPA with McDirmid, Mikkelsen and Secrest in Spokane. “I banked all my overtime so I’m sitting here with a good six to eight weeks of time to use” for vacation.
Susan Bergstrom will take two weeks off at the end of April, but she won’t escape work. A tax preparer for three years, Bergstrom is studying to be a CPA. During her hard-earned vacation, she’ll cram for the CPA exam. But she’ll celebrate tonight. When the last return is filed and tax day is over for another year, Bergstrom and dozens of others will flood area bars and restaurants to unwind.
“On the night of the 15th, we close the doors and everybody goes out and has a good time,” Bergstrom said. “It’s a great release.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 color photos
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: OPEN LATE U.S. Postal Service branches will continue postmarking mail until midnight: Manito, 3120 S. Grand. Opportunity, 11712 E. Sprague. Shadle-Garland, 1903 W. Garland. NorthTown Mall parking lot, corner of Wellesley and Division. Mail processing center, 703 E. Trent. Postal officials ask that people not use the mail processing center unless absolutely necessary because of the volume of traffic.