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The 2019 Tax Season Debrief

Small business owners on tax refunds, if hiring an accountant is worth the investment, and the first year of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act

There’s no denying taxes are a complicated topic. To try and explain every contributor, every effect, or every nuance that goes into how tax returns are determined and whether or not a refund is given would take an encyclopedia of words—far more space than we have here. And that’s without yearly changes to the tax code or major reforms prescribed by the Affordable Care Act or the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

Leading up to tax season, American taxpayers waited with bated breath. How might the latest bit of legislation affect taxpayers across the country, specifically small business owners?

Tax data is still being recorded and crunched by the IRS, so it’s hard to know for sure, but we wanted to get a feel for how American small business owners with employees and self-employed business owners (those without employees) felt after turning in the latest batch of taxes—the first to be filed under President Trump’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.* Here’s what they had to say.

88% of small business owners and self-employed business owners got money back

By and large, small business owners with and without employees said they had a good tax season. While less than half of survey respondents said they received the return they were expecting, 88% got at least something back. 26% said their return was bigger than they were anticipating, and 19% said it was smaller. Fortunately, just 12% said they ended up owing money on taxes, and of those, the majority said they anticipated having to pay.

How did your federal tax return compare to your expectations?

In a 2019 CBS News report, reporter Aimee Picchi speculated small business owners and freelancers could be the ones to benefit most from the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. And judging by how survey respondents answered, that prediction proved true. Unlike other groups, Picchi wrote, small business owners would be able to “lop off 20% of their income before paying the tax man.” Perhaps that’s why so many of the self-described small business owners surveyed said they received money back.


High tax returns made for higher opinions

What would it take for you to adjust your view of a political leader? For some small business owners, it seems the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act might be the key. While 48% of survey takers said their opinion on the president did not change after taxes, 31% said it did—and for the better. On the flip side of that, 21% of small business owners and self-employed business owners answered that the latest tax season had a negative effect on their opinion of the president.

Did your opinion of the president change based on your taxes?

Interesting enough, that shift in opinions is reflected in the president’s popularity poll. Prior to the 2019 tax season, which started on January 28, the president’s approval ratings were on a two-month decline. Starting right around that time, though, opinions began to shift slightly. Between February 1 and March 1, the president’s approval rating went up 2.5% before stabilizing right around 42%.


As of May 1, the majority of Americans (53.2%) still disapprove of the president’s leadership, which begs the question: How many people would have to receive large tax refunds for the president to be more popular than not?

88% of respondents said hiring an accountant was worth it

As stated previously, taxes are complex. Managing a business’s finances, equally so. When asked how they keep track of money, survey respondents were largely split. Nearly a third said they still use an Excel spreadsheet primarily. Another 29% relied on desktop computer programs, while the next largest (and perhaps savviest) group said they rely on online apps. In contrast, 15% admitted to still using paper and pen.

Regardless of their bookkeeping methods, most of the small business owners and self-employed business owners surveyed said they hired an accountant to help them with their taxes this year. And good news for those accountants—88% of survey takers said it was worth their investment.

Do you think hiring an accountant was worth the investment?

Self-employed business owners were far less likely than their small business counterparts to hire an accountant, perhaps because their taxes were less complicated. In the end, 47% of self-employed business owners hired an accountant, compared to 58% of small business owners with employees.

That complexity was reflected in the time it took for them to get their taxes done as well. While the most common answer for small business owners was 2-4 hours when asked how long it took to organize and prepare the year’s taxes for filing, the most common answer for self-employed business owners was less than an hour.

Given the defining characteristic between the two groups surveyed was having (or not having) employees, it stands to reason that having employees to pay and report does make filing taxes more challenging.

Most business owners and self-employed business owners surveyed got help from an accountant at a relatively low rate as well. More than half paid less than $300, and time-wise, 44% said it took 2 hours or less to get their paperwork in order to hand off to an accountant. Those who used an accountant ended up spending less time preparing and looking over taxes, on average, than those folks who chose to take care of it all themselves. Those who used an accountant spent 7.6 hours preparing their taxes before handing them off, while those who did not use an accountant spent 8.8 hours preparing and filing.

1 in 5 business owners prefers “Baby Shark” to tax time

Accountant or not, tax time is never fun. Still, 46% of survey respondents said they didn’t really mind filing their taxes this year. And perhaps it’s because so many received a refund. Only 34% said they like doing their taxes, and 21% of respondents said they dislike doing their taxes. Perhaps the IRS is more popular than we thought?

When it comes to why small business owners and self-employed small business owners don’t like doing their taxes, for most folks, the worst part isn’t actually the money. One in 4 survey takers said they dislike doing their taxes because the process is confusing. Slightly fewer said they dislike the time commitment, while others cited the fear and anxiety of being audited.

When asked what they’d rather do than complete their taxes, 22% of survey respondents said they’d prefer to go naked for a day. 20% said they’d listen to “Baby Shark” on repeat for a full week if it got them out of doing their taxes, while 17% said they’d get back with an ex.

Are more tax changes on the way?

With the 2019 tax season in the rear-view mirror, it’s hard to say. Still, taxpayers can expect some differences next year, simply because some tax reforms didn’t go into effect until this year.

One such reform was to increase the maximum IRA base contribution to $6,000 (up from $5,500). Given that few small business owners have the luxury of offering everyone a 401K, it’s important to take advantage of such opportunities when they’re available. Just be sure you’re putting some cash aside now to pay off those capital gains taxes come 2020.

No one ever said taxes were fun, but based on the responses of small business owners this year, it’s safe to say they don’t have to be as dreaded as people make them out to be. So go ahead—enjoy that tax return and celebrate. You’ve earned every penny.

Full survey results

Employment Status


Select the statement that most closely represents your work status:

Select the statement that best applies to you:

How did your federal tax return compare to your expectations?

Did you anticipate owing money to the IRS this year, before you did your taxes?
Yes - 70.87%
No - 29.13%

Did your opinion of President Trump change based on your taxes?

What tool do you primarily use to manage your business finances?

Do you plan on using Excel to manage your business finances again next tax year?
Yes - 93.36%
No - 3.64%

Do you plan on using pencil and paper to manage your business finances again next tax year?
Yes - 76.69%
No - 20.31%

Did you hire an accountant to help you with your taxes this year?
Yes - 54.56%
No - 45.44%

How much time did your accountant spend doing your taxes?

How long did it take you to organize and prepare your paperwork and look over your taxes before they were filed?

How much did your accountant charge you to do your taxes this year?

Do you think hiring an accountant was worth the investment?
Yes - 87.89%
No - 12.11%

How long did it take you to organize, prepare, and file taxes this year?

Select the statement that most closely describes your feelings regarding doing your taxes this year:

What is the main reason you dislike doing your taxes?

If you could get out of doing your taxes by doing one of the following instead, which would you choose?

How do you manage sales tax?
I do it myself - 27.22%
My accountant takes care of it - 27.22%
I use sales tax software - 25.00%
Not applicable - 20.56%

Have you ever been audited for sales tax?
Yes - 9.09%
No - 90.91%

How much time did you spend defending your sales tax audit?

Did you have to pay any fines or penalties following your sales tax audit? If so, how much?
$0 - 35.71%
$53 - 7.14%
$150 - 14.29%
$250 - 7.14%
$265 - 7.14%
$300 - 7.14%
$500 - 7.14%
$600 - 7.14%
$2,000 - 7.14%

Have you been audited for any of the following? (based on percent answers)
Payroll tax - 16.67%
Income tax - 22.22%
Unemployment claims - 22.22%
Workers compensation - 5.56%
Other industry-specific issues - 0.00%
None of the above - 33.33%

How many times has your business been audited?

*Methodology: TSheets by QuickBooks commissioned Pollfish to survey 878 U.S. adults with internet access who are employed for wages and identify as small business owners with employees or self-employed business owners (those without employees). The survey did not include self-employed workers who identify as freelancers or contractors. Respondents were rewarded for their participation. The poll was conducted in April 2019.

TSheets by QuickBooks welcomes the re-use of this data under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License 4.0, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium provided the original source is cited with attribution to “TSheets by QuickBooks.”