It has been said that the only two certainties in life are death and taxes. Medical advances may one day eradicate the former, but the latter is here to stay. Taxes are as sure as sunburn during July 4 weekend—although sometimes more painful to deal with, especially with laws and regulations changing like the tide.
Michael Berger, CPA, the founder and managing partner of Michael J. Berger and Co., LLP, is no stranger to navigating those tides. For more than 40 years on Long Island, Berger has seen myriad changes, but one of the biggest has nothing to do with itemized deductions or capital gains.
“Everything’s become so impersonal,” he says, seated inside the solar-powered headquarters he’s called home for the past two decades. Just as going green may not be the way everyone is headed despite its obvious advantages for all, Berger insists on going against the impersonal-service trend, secure in the philosophy that businesses—particularly small and midsize businesses on Long Island—will best grow and thrive under a consistent, caring hand, regardless of where they are. Serving individuals and businesses from Brooklyn to Greenport, Montauk to Manhasset, it is a time-proven practice for Berger.
“We go all the way out. We go to the clients on the North Fork and the South Fork. More and more today in the industry, that’s a rarity, but it’s what we do. You build up a rapport with the client, they get to know you, you get to know them. If there’s a question, you don’t need to worry about catching them at night or the next day or emailing—they’re there. If they have a question, they can ask you right there. We try and hold people’s hands, give personalized service, and that’s accomplished better by being there.”
That hand-holding is particularly important for new businesses trying to get off the ground and not come quickly crashing back to earth. With many new enterprises emerging on the East End, fledgling entrepreneurs are constantly asking what they’ll need to make it. The answers are unique to each, with one constant:
“Everybody needs an accountant,” Berger states. Indeed, there are things none of us needs in life—that second helping of dessert, a 26th pair of flip-flops, the new Justin Bieber album—but an accountant is not among them. “You need an accountant because they need to do your taxes,” Berger says. But for any business, there are layers beyond a mere tax return that need to be considered, he adds:
•“It’s not just a matter of hanging out a shingle and being in business. We walk them through whether they should be incorporated, whether they should have an LLC, whether they should just be a sole proprietorship or a partnership, depending on the circumstance.”
•“They need to be aware of what the taxes are going to cost them so they can budget, if they budget. If they don’t, we can help them budget.”
•“They need to know who has contacts for banks, if they need to borrow money, and insurance, if they need to get insurance. We come with a wealth of connections and contacts and knowledge.”
•“We help them determine whether they should be on payroll, whether a spouse should be on payroll, or children—sometimes it pays to have the children on payroll to help with education costs.”
•“It’s very easy to be in business today and do business all over the world. If you’re going to do business all over the world, you have to know the rules all over the world. There are big issues with sales tax out of state, shipment out of state—a lot of it’s not taxable but some is. And it’s going to get even tighter in the next year.”
The Internet and ecommerce have given us a do-it-yourself world that may lead to a false sense of ease in launching a business. But going to WebMD doesn’t make you an MD, right? “Doctors go to medical school and lawyers go to law school, but none of them learn how to do record keeping,” Berger says. “None of them learn how to file taxes. I couldn’t do surgery, and they shouldn’t do accounting.
“Whoever comes in and starts a new business today, it’s the same as it was 35 years ago—they don’t know what they’re doing, or they think they know what they’re doing and they need direction,” he continues. “A lot of people will go to an attorney first, and by going to an attorney first they’ll end up with either a corporation or an LLC, which maybe they don’t need. By meeting with an accountant, we don’t sell it. An accountant doesn’t have an ax to grind. We do an initial free consultation and we would direct anyone to the right direction they need to take.”
“You’re expert at your product, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a business person,” adds Director of Marketing Joan Schwager. “So it’s extremely important to surround yourself with the best professional financial advisors, because you could be terrific and the product could be great, and you could go out of business.”
Berger concurs, underscoring the key move, more than any other, for a start-up to make before it even begins. “A new business starting up, the very important first call should be to their accountant.”
Contact Michael J. Berger and Co., LLP, at 631-471-3400, in Greenport at 631-477-0927, or visit them online at bergercpa.com.