Our Spotlight series highlights the careers and lives of tax professionals across the globe. This week’s Spotlight is on Phyllis Jo Kubey, EA CFP, NTPI Fellow—a solo practitioner based in New York City. Kubey has prepared tax returns and offered tax planning, representation, and consultation services since 1986.
Kubey is a passionate advocate for IRS-practitioner dialogue, serving on the Internal Revenue Service Advisory Council, or IRSAC, from 2017-2020—subgroup chair 2018-2020—and participating in other tax liaison groups. She also serves as president of the New York State Society of Enrolled Agents (NYSSEA) and as a director of Voices of Ascension, which presents performances of great works of music for chorus and orchestra. With interests in taxes and music, she likes to think that she’s left-right-brain balanced.
She holds a Master of Music in voice from Juilliard and is a Certified Teacher of the Alexander Technique. The Alexander Technique allows for a balanced use of the vocal tract by consciously increasing airflow, allowing improved vocal skill and tone. It’s used by classically trained vocal coaches and musicians, as well as actors.
Kubey enjoys film, theater, cooking, and long walks in New York City’s beautiful parks. She considers herself blessed to have her life partner, Charlie, a maritime attorney, by her side.
1. What’s your official title, and what does it mean? I’m an enrolled agent, a credential awarded by the IRS. As an EA, along with attorneys and CPAs, I have unlimited practice rights to represent taxpayers before the IRS and most state tax departments. I’m a solo practitioner, so I’m also chief cook and bottle-washer.
2. Free time: book, audiobook, or podcast? E-book, please. I read books on my phone while walking in the hall of my apartment building. I take every opportunity to avoid sitting, and, as a bonus, I’ve gotten to know my neighbors better. We joke that I’m the hall monitor.
3. Tax is a huge subject. What’s your area of special interest? My first love is working with performing artists, many of whom I met when I was still singing professionally. It’s a super interesting niche involving an unusual lifestyle, lots of travel with associated multi-state and international tax involvement, and some surprising ordinary and necessary business expense deductions. I work with many U.S. citizens and residents living and working abroad and also with nonresident aliens performing in the US. I also work with a lot of active and retired clergy. Clergy tax treatment is a strange and wonderful thing.
4. What’s the last movie or show that you watched and loved—DVD, Netflix, or in the theater? Well, I’m a member of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG-AFTRA), so tax season is also SAG Awards season. I try to see as many of the nominated films and shows as I can, but tax returns beckon. Most recent film I loved? “tick, tick…Boom!” Show? I love “The Kominsky Method,” “The Good Fight,” and “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” Live theater? “Flying Over Sunset.” It’s brilliant—a musical about the fictional LSD adventures of Aldous Huxley, Clare Booth Luce, and Cary Grant.
5. What college did you attend, and what did you study? I attended Duquesne University for two years as a philosophy major, then earned my Bachelors of Fine Arts in music performance and voice from Carnegie Mellon University and my Master of Music in voice from The Juilliard School. My journey to tax was quite a detour!
6. Go to pick-me-up: coffee or tea? Mostly tea —a Chinese herbal blend, but I also enjoy a mushroom-infused—Lion’s Mane and Chaga—coffee from time to time.
7. What’s the best tax or financial advice that anyone ever gave you? On a global level: Pay yourself first. On a more specific level, the financial aid officer at Juilliard encouraged me to take out $5,000 per year in graduate student loans— even if I thought I could survive without borrowing. Interest rates were sky high, with a big spread between the interest rate on the loans and what I could earn. I kept the funds in a money market account, made monthly payments when I graduated—as long as the interest rate I earned was higher than the interest rate I was paying—and paid them off when interest rates equalized.
8. If you weren’t working in the tax profession, what would your dream job be? I have always wanted to be a massage therapist.
9. If you had the opportunity to make one change in the tax world—an extra credit, a disallowed deduction, whatever— what would it be? Bring back the deduction for unreimbursed employee business expenses. Not all employees work for companies that cover their work-related needs. Also, bring the qualified performing artist deduction up to a level where it would help performers. The limits were low in 1986, never indexed for inflation, and are ridiculous now.
10. Favorite food, snack, or candy during tax season or other busy time? Mixed nuts and dried fruit. No prep. You can’t spill them. They taste great, and are very filling.
11. What tax news or move made the most impact on your practice or clients this past year? The retroactive unemployment exclusion! There was a free-standing bill for the $10,200 taxpayer unemployment exclusion, but I did not think it would go anyplace. Most of my clients with unemployment owed taxes—no refund—so I had advised them all to wait until we got closer to April 15 to file, just in case that unemployment provision made it into law. When it unexpectedly made it into the American Rescue Plan Act in mid-March 2021, it was crazy—stopping everything to recalculate the UI returns, waiting for the states to decide whether or not they would conform, waiting for software updates. It was a wild ride.
12. If you received a big tax refund check right now, what would you do with it? Eek, no checks. Direct deposit, please. However it arrived, I’d donate it to charity. Hopefully, I’ve planned well enough not to have a big tax refund check.
You can find out more about Kubey on her website.
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