Every April 16th, most accountants breathe their first sigh of relief since January.

The yearly ritual is finally over, the last 1040s are in the mail (or more likely these days zapped to the IRS via e-file), extensions are filed, and bleary-eyed professionals can finally see their family again, eat something for breakfast, lunch and dinner that doesn’t resemble cold pizza, and maybe even go on a well-deserved vacation.

It’s a tough, time-consuming job, and certainly doesn’t pay as well as investment banking or selling stocks, but most tax professionals wouldn’t trade their livelihood for anything in the world.

For them, the perks outweigh the pitfalls. Many tax preparers are their own bosses, and with that comes pride of ownership. Their clients are local businesspeople, neighbors and friends, who respect their knowledge of the tax laws, and appreciate the personal touch that a tax advisor brings to a necessary task.

Beyond that, navigating through the ever-changing tax laws and coming up with innovative ways to save clients money is a kind of treasure hunt that engages a professional’s critical thinking and researching skills.

As discovered by a recent Wall Street Journal survey which took a mythical person’s tax information to three separate preparers, tax preparation is an art – not a science. Whether the Journal spent $1,000 for a comprehensive look-see by PricewaterhouseCoopers, or a few hundred at a local Florida one-man shop, the results varied wildly – and were not necessarily more accurate depending on how much dough was spent.

High-paid preparers can make mistakes that cost taxpayers hundreds or thousands of dollars just as easily as a storefront franchise. PwC may have prepared a detailed analysis of the person’s financial life, but as we all know by now when it comes to entering data – garbage in, garbage out is an equal opportunity misery maker.

A CPA or accountant who knows his clients well can more easily spot errors, and more effectively help them plan for the year ahead.

While even highly paid preparers may only make several hundred dollars per return, the real payback seems to come from controlling their own destiny, feeling that they made a real difference in their clients’ financial lives, and knowing that for at least a little while, they can coast for a bit. Maybe even go out to eat for a change. And then get ready to do it all over again.

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