Why you should care
Because this might actually be the one way to numb the annual pain of doing your taxes.
Surrounded by colorful balloons and with a party banner hanging on the wall, Candace Schultz sat on the sectional couch in her Compton, California, living room, yapping with friends and family members. A couple of kids played with toys nearby, while several adults hung out in the kitchen, close to the whiskey, soda and platters of cheese and crackers. Others were seated in the dining room with laptops, tablets and paperwork spread out on the table in front of them. The mood was light and the partygoers were having fun, despite the fact that all of them were there for one tedious reason: to file their taxes.
Countdown to April 15: OZY’s tax season special
Sure, dropping off W-2s and other paperwork at an accountant’s office or crunching the numbers yourself remain the most common ways of completing tax returns. But as it turns out, misery clearly loves company, and a growing number of Americans are making their annual financial duty far more social by throwing themselves a party. Even professional tax preparers are getting in on the action, adding these to their list of services.
Today’s tax socials are similar to the Tupperware parties of yore: A group of people gathers at someone’s home, then they mingle over hors d’oeuvres like cookies, crudités, chips and drinks. Some hosts even put out decorations or play movies. But instead of busting out a raucous match of Cards Against Humanity, the party game of choice is Form 1040, courtesy of the Internal Revenue Service. There’s even a Martha Stewart of sorts behind this growing movement.
Meet Alaina Maloney, the communications manager at Intuit who quietly started throwing tax parties a few years ago before turning the concept into a company-wide initiative last year at TurboTax, the software giant that’s owned by Intuit. This year, her company sponsored 3,000 — that’s right — tax parties, including the one Schultz enjoyed, by providing hosts with a fun pack full of koozies that snug over soda cans or beer bottles, recipe ideas (see: “Cheese Refondue” and “Taxaritas”) and, of course, props to be used when taking selfies. Because, yes, this is one of those Kodak moments you’ll never want to forget.
Small businesses are now also taking part. Some preparers meet with guests and complete their returns in one room while the party rages in another. It can be a win-win model for both experts and filers alike: Taxpayers get to spend time with friends and family and have a pro come to them, while the preparer has access to a houseful of paying customers.
Having your loved ones around will make you less stressed and less anxious. … It literally could lessen the physical pain you’re feeling.
—Dr. Brad Klontz, financial psychologist
Of course, there’s more to party conversation than tax talk. But the easygoing nature of the events can help break down the social taboo of talking about money, something evident at Schultz’s bash. As her 24-year-old son, William, filed his taxes for the first time, several guests watched over his shoulder, curious to see if he would get a refund since he didn’t have a sizable income and had had health insurance for only part of the year. (He received a refund of around $25.)
There are psychological benefits, too. Money is Americans’ No. 1 source of stress, and “going to a stranger’s office makes people more apprehensive,” says Mark Kortyka, a tax preparer in Amherst, Ohio, who’s been offering tax parties for more than a decade. Indeed, displaying W-2s and 1099s sounds like the ultimate party pooper, but throwing a bash in their honor could actually bring some peace of mind come tax time. “Having your loved ones around will make you less stressed and less anxious. … It literally could lessen the physical pain you’re feeling,” says Dr. Brad Klontz, a financial psychologist.
Still, tax parties may not be all that revelers make them out to be. As Klontz points out, money is often a source of shame. Seeing a neighbor’s income or hearing the amount of money your sister donated to charity could create feelings of guilt and inadequacy — emotions you certainly don’t want to take home as party favors. Not to mention that drinking while calculating isn’t the smartest idea. In theory, someone who threw back one too many “taxaritas” might be less likely to successfully perform simple math or correctly complete a tax form, warns Dr. Bruce Bartholow, director of the social cognitive neuroscience lab at the University of Missouri. (And, of course, there’s always the chance that a decrease in inhibition might encourage taking that extra deduction or exaggerating how much you’re writing off.)
For now, though, Schultz remains a fan of the concept. “It was a cool way to do [my taxes], and I think people really enjoyed it,” she says, adding that she’ll throw a party again next year — or attend one herself. “Most people don’t say that about taxes.”