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2004 write-off should pay off in many ways

I know what you're thinking: 'Jill, why do you need a tax accountant when all you have to show for the year is a box of receipts from Saks Fifth Avenue?'

Because I love any accountant whose motto is: 'I help you keep your money.'

That's why every year about this time I visit William Clive of Clive Financial Services in charming downtown Vancouver, Wash., where I take it as a very good sign that I get an hour's free parking just by turning the meter knob.

Inside, I munch on the chocolates that William offers (also free!) while we go over my fiscal situation. That's a fancy way of saying, 'Where the hell has my money gone?'

Now, William may be an aggressive accountant, but he is very conservative socially and politically, so I take it in stride when he makes the annual 'Why do you continue to live in a state where they tax you up the nose and then blow it?' speech.

I secretly like this part. William is larger-than-life and has a great delivery, so it's like having my taxes done in a comedy club.

'After having an office in Tigard for 17 years, I moved my office here for two reasons,' says William, who lives in Camas. 'First of all, the taxes are significantly less. Instead of paying nine percent to the state of Oregon on my net income, I only have to pay one-and-a-half percent of my gross to the state of Washington.'

I nod knowingly while unwrapping another truffle, because while I'm not quite sure what the numbers mean, I know the word 'gross' when I hear it.

'And another thing: This whole MAX/light rail thing is a burr in my saddle,' he continues. 'They've spent too much money on a system that carries too few people, instead of updating the highway system. When I started working in Tigard my commute was 30 minutes on the Banfield. It became an hour and a half. It was horrendous.

'And I-5 certainly wasn't an option, because the state of Oregon Ñ in its infinite wisdom Ñ decided to put in the light-rail system all the way up through Interstate Avenue to the Expo Center Ñ for all of the many Expo clientele! So instead of widening the freeway to three lanes through Delta Park, they've narrowed it down to two lanes for six-tenths of a mile! So by moving my office over here, I've cut an hour and a half to two hours off my commute Ñ not to mention all the money I save.'

Whew! I make a mental note to call my Realtor before moving on to things that matter: 'Can I write off clothes and haircuts, William? After all, I'm a fashion writer, so people look to me for guidance. I need to look good.'

'No, you can't write off clothes unless they're things you couldn't wear in public,' he says with maddening authority. 'For example, an entertainer Ñ like Liberace Ñ could write their costumes off, but things like sports coats and slacks don't count.'

'What about entertaining expenses?' I ask. 'I threw a party a while ago and didn't have fun.'

'If you had thrown the party to fulfill the responsibilities of your employment, then you can write it off,' he says. 'But even then, meals and entertainment expenses are only deductible up to a point, so I guess the party's on you.'

Apparently there are people who work even harder to cover their assets.

'I have clients that attempt to write off literally everything, from the food in their kitchen to taking their wife to a movie,' he says. 'Some people just get into the spirit of things and take it too far.'

All right, I know when I'm beat, but surely Uncle Sam can help me out on this one: 'Can I write off the cost of a bad ex-boyfriend?' I ask.

'Sure you can,' he says, smiling. 'But not for tax purposes.'

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