TEXT OF STORY
Tess Vigeland: Who among us hasn’t stopped in the middle of doing our taxes, fallen to our knees and prayed to a higher power just to make it all go away? I’m not sure it’s ever worked, if it has, we’d love to hear that story.
Meanwhile, maybe you could find someone willing to do your taxes for you, who answers to a higher power. We did.
Nikia Robert: My name is Nikia Robert. I am a minister at First African Methodist Episcopal Church Bethel in Harlem, N.Y., and I’m also a tax preparer.
I’ve been doing taxes for eight years; you might want to say nine, if you include the year out of college, where I started preparing my mother’s tax returns. I’ve been in ordained ministry for five years.
I spent five or six years on Wall Street, starting with Arthur Andersen, straight out of college. Culminated my career at Citigroup with their investment bank. So, I left there to pursue a call to ministry. So, I completely left Wall Street, perhaps just in time.
My responsibilities in both jobs are huge, overwhelmingly. People have to be able to trust you. Trust is a major, major issue in taxation, and you know, I find that a lot of my clients have gained a mistrust towards tax preparers, because of the larger franchises. And I’m happy to say that of all the years that I’ve been doing taxes, not one of my tax clients have been audited. And I’d like to think that’s because an example of the best practices, in that preparing tax returns in a way that flags aren’t being raised with the IRS auditors.
Well, now that it’s tax season, my schedule is quite crazy, as you can imagine. I get tax returns around January through April. I try to extend the courtesy to my clients to be as accessible as possible, just to maintain my competitive edge. So I try to make myself accessible on weekends, I do work after hours. So right now, I’m playing catch up. My daughter was baptized this weekend, and so, a client told me he’s going out of town tomorrow, and so, immediately after this interview, I’m headed to my P.O. Box to pick up his documents.
To balance the life between a minister and a tax preparer isn’t as polar opposite as it seems. This is the famous parable in the Bible — I look at Mark 12 — and so you have some pharisees who are questioning Jesus. And if I may, ” Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor or not?” But knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, “Why are you putting me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me see it.” And they brought one. Then he said to them, “Who’s head is this and who’s title?” They answered, “The emperor’s.” Jesus said to them, “Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s and to God, the things that are God’s. And they were utterly amazed at him.”
I guess that’s the advice that I’d give to my clients: Unfortunately, we have to give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and that means paying your taxes.
Vigeland: That was tax preparer Nikia Robert. Sally Herships produced her story.
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