Going to the IRS Tax Forum

This year, as we have done for since they started, TaxMama and friends are going to the IRS Tax Forum in Las Vegas.

They started out as an amazing value, totally subsidized by IRS – three days of CPE for $25. That was back in the old days, when the IRS had a little money to spare. In this century, the Nationwide Tax Forums cost about $200 or so (if you have an association membership to get the whopping $10 discount). Or $336, if you register late. Big penalty for late registration!

Note: Using IE7, my assistant couldn’t get the button to work to allow her to enter her NATP association member number and discount code. IE8 worked for me. She had to go to Firefox to get it work on her computer. Just so you know.

We haven’t figured out where to enter our EA #s or PTINs or any identifying information that will match up our CPE hours to our professional designation. And their FAQs don’t address that at all. My assistant called the Tax Forum people and got some totally clueless woman who said, in so many words, “I have no idea. You have to call your professional organization for more information.”

We used to get a nice, perfect-bound book, containing the handouts (usually the PowerPoint slides) of the presentations, where we can write notes. Now, the forums are going ‘green’ and just giving us PDF files to download. It’s nice that IRS and the forum organizers are saving a bundle in printing fees. Very responsible way to cut costs.

But do time-sheet conscious accountants really appreciate wasting 30-60 minutes of non-billable time to download each PDF file, one at a time? I doubt it. It would have been merciful of the organizers to offer the option of downloading all the files in one swell-foop, in a quick, zipped download. (It’s only about 9 MB. I’ve seen IRS reports longer than that!) While the zipped file might have taken a while to download, we could have let the computer handle that, instead of wasting our own time sitting there, clicking on each file, one-at-a-time. That would not have taxed their programming skills too much, would it? I doubt if it would have cost them anything extra. In fact, it might reduce their download bandwidth usage as people take the one small zipped file instead of 30 or 40 individual files.

Ah yes, the download. I couldn’t download it at all using IE8. Using Firefox, it did not give me the option to download it to an alternate drive, like the thumb drive I had inserted for this very purpose. Oh well, this is the computer I am taking the IRS Tax Forum anyway. What the hey!

At last, OK, we have all the files on our computer. But they are uneditable PDF files. So all that ‘green’ sentiment is wasted. If I want to take notes, as usual, I have to print out each syllabus and carry it with me. There’s no way to make notes on the PDF files. Or if there is, I am not sufficiently tech-savvy to know how to do that on an uneditable PDF file. Of course, I might have some software on my computer to allow me to convert PDFs to Word files or some such…in order to avoid printing

But then comes the next problem. The battery on my laptop will only run for about two hours at a time. And I doubt there is enough place to plug in the computer. Maybe three if I get a new battery and train it properly. I could carry a spare battery to get the extra two hours. But, boy, that bag of mine is really getting heavy now.

Let’s see, it has the computer, the power cord, the printed handouts of the classes that are particularly important to me, an extra battery, the extra paper for my notes, and I haven’t even started to pick up any goodies from the vendors in the exhibit hall. Oh, my poor shoulder!

~~~~

OK, my friends. We are accountants. We play with numbers.

Now that IRS has cut costs, (and note: next year, they won’t even have the IRS Preparer Services Room available. Wow!), how much profit is there in these events?

Well, let’s look at the income from Exhibitors. I counted 93 exhibitors, some of whom will pay for more than one space. With fees of $2250 ($2400 in LV) per space, they generate about $210,000 just from the exhibitors. (This doesn’t include the extra $2000 fees for hospitality suites or $400 per 2-hours for demo rooms.)

The Tax Forums use that hall for about 3 days (Monday 1:00 pm for set-up through Wednesday afternoon at 4:30). What can that possibly cost, even at Caesar’s Palace? About $5,000 per day? What’s that, about $15,000. Then the exhibitors’ fees pay for the two networking receptions. Not everyone goes. And the food runs out really quickly. So, what can that possibly cost? About $15 per head for about 2,000 people? Say, $30,000 x 2. Let’s be generous and say, they spend about $100,000 of the exhibitor’s fees at each location on the exhibit space and food and incidentals. That leaves about $100,000 profit, just on the exhibit space.

OK, then there is IRS staff at these events. How many do you think there are? 50? 100?

Let’s say 100 people come from all over the country and spend two nights there. (Not everyone stays for the whole time, I have learned.) 100 people x $200 per night (food and lodging) x 2 nights = $40,000. Plus travel costs of say, an average of $600 per person round-trip x 100 = $60,000. Total = $100,000
 
Whew. It looks like the exhibitor fees cover all the cost of the space, receptions and IRS staff at each individual location.
 
Note: The event organizers don't pay for any speakers. IRS brings their own staff (taken into account in the 100 staff members above), and the various exhibitors/associations provide and pay for their own representatives.
 
So, what about the $209 registration fees? Naturally, a big chunk will go to the organizers. After all, they have to pay for staff, advertising and phones. There’s still a nice profit!
 
But let’s suppose IRS gets to keep only 50% of the fees? My registration number was around 16,700. 16,700 x $199 (with association discount) = $3,323,300. There’s over a million and half to cover printed brochures, materials, handouts, etc. Even so, if they spent an average of $15 per attendee for handouts, that’s only a quarter million dollars. Even leaving a cushion of an extra $250,000 for miscellaneous costs, there’s still over a million dollars worth of profit to IRS.
 
Or, there would be, if any of us were managing the budget.
What do you think?

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Eva Rosenberg, MBA, EA, is the publisher of TaxMama.com, and author of the weekly syndicated Ask TaxMama column. She provides answers to tax questions from taxpayers and tax professionals worldwide.

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