There was a certain irony a few years ago, when I finished doing my taxes on April Fools’ Day.
Come to think of it, it’s a wonder the director of the Internal Revenue Service didn’t hold a press conference that day: “You know how we set up this huge, expensive, insanely complicated way of doing your income taxes, that has more twists and turns than an Alfred Hitchcock movie? April Fools!”
That would explain a lot.
This year I got my taxes done early, which prompted the fates (who have a sense of humor) to change the deadline. One of the few good things about the coronavirus outbreak is that if you ran behind on getting your returns done, you were golden for another few months. But I got mine done earlier than usual.
Anyone who wonders why I usually finish my taxes close to the deadline never went long form. It was also about money: A few years ago I expected to owe, and up until then didn’t have the cash. My part time job was as a freelance writer, which means my publisher didn’t take taxes out. (But they did pay me, so yay!) It was a recipe for that old joke about simplifying IRS forms: “1. How much did you make last year? 2. Send it in.”
In the end I got a bit of a refund. A refund, by the way, is when you jump up and down excitedly and make big plans to use the money 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 is because until the last few years, I was too cheap to pay somebody else to do my return. That’s selfish, considering 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 that year (no wonder I was so tired), 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”.
Luckily, 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 have, if I used that filing cabinet. Instead, I spent the year piling bills and receipts on every available surface of the house. First step: ransacking the residence.
Then 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 I never really do. Then came work-related spending, 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 fired up the online tax preparation program. See, I wasn’t crazy enough to do this stuff from scratch with no assistance at all. My wife short-formed that year (EZ – ha!) and it still took her two hours.
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.
“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?
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 refund of my own money to pay my property tax bill, which again – ironic. My donation surely takes the Federal budget out of the red, and they’ll have that pesky trillion dollar budget deficit taken care of in no time.
Meanwhile, my refund will get me enough fuel to reach the pharmacy, for more aspirin.