The Performance-Based Accountant

buisnessEvery year around tax time I get frustrated with the complexity of filing my business and personal taxes. I’d love to hire help, but have had some not-so-awesome experiences with professional accountants in the past.

Most recently, I felt like I was doing all the work and the accountant was simply punching the numbers into the forms. For $1250 or something crazy like that. OK, I’ll figure out how to do it myself for that rate.

But what I would really VALUE as a customer is some sort of guidance and consulting. If my $1250 would save my $2500 or $5000, or they uncover some new tax-saving strategy I can take advantage of, I’d gladly pay it.

In fact, I could justify paying much more, because it’s “found money.” Much like a salesperson’s commission, a performance-based accountant could collect a fee on how much they save you over a certain pre-determined baseline amount.

(To be sure, there’s a challenge in figuring out what a fair baseline would be.)

When I tweeted out this business idea, a CPA friend informed me that accountants are actually forbidden by law to engage in a business model like this, but I believe there are some creative workarounds possible.

For instance, Lyft, the ride-sharing service, collects fees on “donation” rather than on time/mileage fares — because regulatory burdens prohibit them from doing so as they’re not a licensed taxi company.

I think there’s a HUGE opportunity for tax accountants to really prove their worth with this sort of pricing set-up.

They could even run some sort of “Beat the Box” promo or awareness campaign where they pit themselves against Turbo Tax software and see who comes up with the best results.

I guess it’s similar to when H&R Block offers to “double check” your return for free, but maybe on a more personal scale.

What do you think? Would you be more likely to hire a tax professional if you knew they were going to save you money? What’s a fair “percentage” of the savings to pay them?

  • Drew Meyers

    that’s a tough one. I agree in theory that this would be a good model. But i’m guessing there are details on the CPA side that I won’t even begin to understand :)

  • Peter Lewis

    I assume the reason accountants aren’t allowed to charge a commission now is that it would incentivize them to push the legal envelope with deductions? Particularly when you consider the selection bias — if someone has large, obvious legit deductions, they’d rather pay hourly. It’s the people looking for more “creative” deductions who would go to the commission-based accountant, which — if this model was allowed — could even lead the IRS to audit that accountant’s clients at a higher rate, right?

    Some accountants offer “audit insurance” whereby you pay a little extra upfront and they’ll represent you for free if you get audited. Maybe something like that could be built into this model to offset some of the negative incentive effects?