SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK
There’s a certain irony in the fact that I finished doing my taxes just minutes before April Fools’ Day.
Now that I think of it, I wonder if someday the director of the Internal Revenue Service will hold a press conference and say, “You know how we set up this huge, expensive, insanely complicated way of figuring out your income taxes that has more twists and turns than an Alfred Hitchcock movie? April Fools!”
That would explain a lot.
Anyone who wonders why I waited until so close to the deadline to finish my taxes never went long form. It was also about money: I expected to have to pay, and up until now didn’t have the cash. My part time job – which you’re reading right now – is as a freelance writer, which means my publisher doesn’t take taxes out. (But they do pay me, so yay!) Add that to the fact that I also don’t get taxes taken out for the sales of my novel, and you’ve got a recipe for that old joke about simplifying IRS forms: “1. How much did you make last year? 2. Send it in.”
Luckily I had extra money taken from the paycheck for my full time job, and in the end got a bit of a rebate. A rebate, by the way, is when you jump up and down excitedly and make big plans to use the money that your government was so nice to send you, completely forgetting that it was your money to begin with.
The bigger reason why I waited so long to file taxes is because I’m too cheap to pay somebody else to prepare them. That’s selfish of me, considering that by some estimates over $150 billion dollars are spent just filing taxes in America every year, and how many people does that keep employed? If the feds ever did simplify the tax code, it could collapse an entire industry. Not just one, but two – the market for headache medicine would decrease substantially.
Because I worked four jobs in 2011 (thus explaining my exhaustion), and two of my employers didn’t take out taxes, going “EZ” was out of the question. Instead I had to use the long form, code named “SU”, which of course stands for “Stroke-Ulcer”.
I have a carefully organized filing cabinet, with folders dividing up everything so that finding the necessary paperwork would be quick and painless. It would, if I used that filing cabinet. Instead, I spent the year piling bills and receipts on every available surface of the house.
After ransacking my home I organized materials into one pile for the stuff I knew I’d need, and one pile for the stuff my paranoia told me I’d need but that I never really use. Then came necessary items such as calculators, pens, notebooks, highlighters, aspirin, highly caffeinated soft drink …
By the way, do not drink alcohol during this operation. One wrong calculation or smart aleck notation, and you’re sitting in an office with a man whose job description includes the words “make miserable”.
Then I fire up the online tax preparation program.
Hey, I’m not completely crazy. I’m not going to do this stuff from scratch with no assistance at all, not when long forming. My wife short formed this year (EZ – ha!) and it still took her two hours.
It took me a day to collect and organize everything, and four hours to do the actual paperwork online. Four hours, after laying out everything.
Overall it took an entire weekend to do my federal and state income tax returns – a bit more if you figure in recovery time. Since I don’t drink, recovery time took longer.
I know what you’re thinking: “Couldn’t we just find a way to simplify the tax code?” Capital idea, but it flies in the face of history. Every attempt to make figuring income taxes easier has just made it more complicated. Every attempt to close a loophole opened a dozen new ones. It’s almost as if Washington was full of lawyers, bureaucrats, and career politicians who know we can’t be bothered to vote them out, but surely that’s not the problem?
In their defense, complicated as it might seem to us peons, it costs only eleven billion dollars or so to operate the IRS every year. That’s small change, in Washington. So small, in fact, that I sent a letter to my Congressman asking for just one percent of that to help stimulate my economy. He sent me a thank you and an invitation to his next town hall meeting, which I can’t afford the gas to drive to.
So it’s done, and I get enough of a rebate of my own money to pay my property tax bill, which again – ironic. My donation will surely take the Federal budget out of the red, and they’ll have that pesky $1.48 trillion budget deficit taken care of in no time.
Meanwhile, my refund will get me enough fuel to reach the pharmacy, for more aspirin.