Next to Ross Collins' desk in his Falls Church office is a sculpture, La Reve (The Dream). It is of Napoleon exiled in Corsica, dreaming of his troops coming to rescue him. Collins is fascinated by Napoleon and, like him, is reputed to be daring, "a genius."
His forte, Collins says, is to keep a client who has not paid taxes for several years from going to jail or ending up penniless. To help people who haven't paid taxes -- usually out of neglect, he says -- Collins organizes back receipts, bank books and accounts to recreate the client's tax liability. When there are no receipts, he uses the IRS' Cohen rule, which asumes certain business-related expenses for trips and meetings in the absence of receipts. Collins advises his client to pay state and local back taxes to show good faith in the effort to repay all delinquent tax debts.
Collins' career began in Washington with Peat, Marwick, Mitchell & Co. but after nine years he left to set up his own firm. His typical client is a 40-year-old man who makes about $40,000 per year. What such a client gets from a accountant like Collins is year-round financial advice: "They will call me to ask about record-keeping, whether to buy or lease a car, refinancing a debt, buying and selling homes, taking a new job, budgeting . . . often it's best for me to talk to a couple about budgeting than to have them talk to each other because money troubles are often the root of marital problems."
Recently Collins installed a computer. It transfers accounting, in Collins' words, from "work-- drudgery--to the art of possibilities."