When asked what question he is most often asked at parties after identifying himself as a tax accountant, Scott Nissen says: “So, I have this rental property and I’m not sure about how taxes will work this year…” Which turns out to be a great enquiry, because being familiar with the changes in tax law is precisely the expertise Nissen offers his clients.
Scott Nissen, owner of Nissen & Associates, is an Enrolled Agent, which means he is licensed directly by the Internal Revenue Service and is regarded as a tax expert. The four-person, full service accounting firm specializes in tax preparation for individuals and small businesses. In addition to tax preparation, they provide bookkeeping and payroll services, elder accounting services and IRS representation.
Nissen recently bought the old Moka Joe Coffee space at 2118 James Street, and has completely renovated it into a warm and modern office. (Is it your imagination, or can you still detect a lingering scent from the previous building owner’s business?) There’s a fireplace in the reception area, and intriguing Shelby car models on the mantel. You will notice a number of conversation-starters throughout the office, designed to break the ice and find mutual interests with clients.
Another recent change for Nissen, besides the change of address, is his marriage to Jean Webster this February, a union they managed during high tax season. Webster utilizes her communication skills from her job in the Outreach and Continuing Education marketing department at WWU to help market the firm. Webster and Nissen met 10 years ago, when Nissen helped a fraternity brother from California move to Bellingham. He was introduced to Jean shortly thereafter, and promptly decided to relocate to Bellingham.
Nissen enjoys the combination of numbers and social interactions (aided by his studies in social and behavioral science), that tax preparation and planning provides. When asked what sets Nissen apart from the typical perception of an accountant, Webster says it is his sense of humor and desire to know his clients well. “And, he asks the right questions in a nice way,” she says. “If your current tax person is not asking the right questions, how can they learn enough about you and your circumstances to help you save money?”
“You have to talk about money, or you might not get the correct advice,” Nissen adds. “Accounting isn’t just numbers; it is an art.”
The firm has found a way to support local non-profits in a win-win way, even with the changes to the tax code for charitable contributions. “We’re very involved with a number of charities. I work as treasurer and bookkeeper for a few, and as I charge for that service, I’m often able to give back by participating in fundraising auctions,” says Nissen. “In fact, we’re going to South Africa for our honeymoon thanks to a raffle we won at a Boys and Girls Club event.”
Other charities he supports include Blue Skies for Children, Whatcom Parks and Rec Foundation and the Alzheimer’s Society (now Dementia Northwest). Nissen often advises his small business clients on how to frame their charitable contributions for the best tax implications.
Nissen’s website includes a list of important documents to bring to your accountant, and the firm is taking new clients. It is important to bring all of your documents. Finding out what’s important and getting the necessary information is vital to providing great service. “If you don’t tell me about your whole financial picture, I won’t be able to do my best for you,” he says.
Nissen’s fees vary based on how complex your situation, but you can mitigate costs by organizing your records. Unlike some accountants who simply charge by the number of forms he must fill out, Nissen tries to reward the organized client. He recommends saving receipts for seven years back from your filing date because if the IRS finds a discrepancy in an audit, they can request records from that far back.
Nissen takes data security very seriously and will be glad to discuss it with clients.
It’s important to include your accountant in conversations about your possible future incapacity or the structure of your estate plan. “I’m happy to work with your financial planner to be sure we’ve strategized about future care costs, or the best way to plan the tax implications for your spouse or estate,” Nissen says. “It can be as basic as planning for a step up in basis for rental properties you may have.”
According to Nissen, the hardest thing he has to do is tell a client they owe the IRS more than they anticipated. “But, on the flip side, when we get a new client and review past years (tax returns), we can often amend previous tax filings and save the client some money.”
The first consultation is free, as is consultation as needed throughout the year, in most cases, if there’s a change of life event.