Politics

04.15.14

Up to a Point: I Do My Own Taxes With No Help, Except From a Couple of Bloody Marys

Come with me through 117 pages of euphemisms, bureaucracy, and mayhem.

Oops, April 15th…

Why do they call it a tax “return”? The cable company doesn’t call its bill a “waste-of-time return.” Or is the IRS saying that, since government prints the money, we’re supposed to return it to where it came from?

Anyway…

Got up bright and early this morning—by freelance-writer standards—around 10:30 AM.  Went straight to work “filing” my tax “return” with the Internal Revenue “Service.”

Freelance Writer, Let Me Point Out Some Further IRS Abuses of the English Language…

I have a file cabinet.  “Filing” takes me three seconds (if I ignore the alphabet) and doesn’t cost a cent.  As for “service,” I’m familiar with the service industry.  I go to restaurants. Would the restaurants thrive if the menu was “War in Afghanistan,” “Health Insurance Premiums for People You Don’t Know,” and a side order of “Cotton Farmer Subsidies?” And they didn’t serve drinks?  And the bill was huge?

At least no tipping is expected.  (Or is it?  Maybe the Tea Party leaving ex-IRS official Lois Lerner a measly 10% tip led to the Congressional hearings about “IRS intensive scrutiny” of tax-exempt conservative political groups.)

Googled “File Income Tax”…

Found a lot of ads offering to do this for free.  Call me suspicious, but something in the ads is reminiscent of large guys in dark alleys offering to hold my wallet.

Scrolled Down…

Until I came to irs.gov/Filing, which I take to be the real thing.

Clicked…

And got a page with the IRS logo.  Internal Revenue has its own crest or coat of arms or something.  I’m not complaining about waste of taxpayer’s money.  The IRS must have paid the artist at least $20. Hard to say what the crest depicts—maybe a bough of poison sumac, dexter, and a vulture, sinister, holding in its beak a pair of scales like Shylock brings on stage in Act IV of The Merchant of Venice.

I’m easily distracted when doing my taxes, aren’t you?

Page with Crest Was Titled…

“Do I Need to File a Tax Return?”

Had thought there was a law about that.

The IRS wanted me to answer some questions.  “Estimated Completion Time: 12 minutes.”  When the jury’s out for only 12 minutes, you know what the verdict’s going to be.

Clicked Some More…

Got “Your Rights as a Taxpayer.”

You have the right to “Professional and Courteous Service.”  If you don’t like the way an IRS employee treats you, you have the right to “tell that employee’s supervisor.”  If you don’t like the way the supervisor treats you, you have the right to “write to the IRS director for your area.”

Eat Your Heart Out, Thomas Paine…

“Privacy and Confidentiality” is another right.  “The IRS will not disclose to anyone the information you give us, except as authorized by law.”

That law being the one authorizing disclosure of “the information you give us” to the IRS.

Kept Clicking and Finally Arrived at Form 1040…

Just the name worries me.  Are there 1,039 other forms I should be filling out?

Form 1040, with its 77 line items (many with “a” “b” “c” sub-items), does, in fact, require examination and/or attachment of 36 other Forms and Schedules.  I dutifully printed them out—117 pages of paperwork.

For fun I also asked for “Form [last 4 digits of my phone number].” I received, no kidding, a “Comment Request” from the Government Printing Office about the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995.

Getting Down to Business Now…

Form 1040 asks my name and Social Security number. Rather personal questions.  I put my John Hancock in the proper box: “John Hancock.” I can never remember my social Security number but my high school locker combination was 15-24-36.

Spouse’s name…  She’s looking over my shoulder saying, “Is a tax audit grounds for divorce?”  Jane Doe.

Address Is Requested…

You’d think they’d know that themselves.

U.S. Internal Revenue Service
1111 Constitution Ave. NE
Washington, D.C. 20224

Box Titled “Presidential Election Campaign”…

“Check here if want $3 to go to this fund.”  Strangely, no space provided to check “Fuck You.”

First Section Is Called “Filing Status”…

Being a freelance writer doesn’t provide me with much status.  Five line item choices here but none seem right. “Married filing jointly” sounds contortionist.  “Married filing separately” sounds like separate bedrooms.  Leaving this one blank.

“Exemptions”…

Lovely word.  And in item 6c I get to list my dependents—three children, four dogs, six laying hens, two goldfish, and a hamster.  (Counting the visitors to the bird feeder would probably be pushing it.)  Adding my wife and myself that’s…

17 Dependents!…

And, what the heck, let’s throw in the neighbor kid who does the lawn and eats me out of house and home when he raids the refrigerator.

Next Section Is “Income”…

You just knew they were going to ask about this.

Item 7 “Wages, salaries, tips, etc.”…

As I’ve mentioned, I’m a freelance writer.  “Attach Form(s) W-2” would be an exercise in the stapling of nothingness.

Item 8a “Taxable interest”…

I find my interest in many things waning these days.  This may tax the patience of my friends and loved ones, but I don’t see how it’s any of the government’s business.

Item 8b “Tax-exempt interest”…

Interesting 5-8 opening of the season for the Red Sox.  How are they even going to make the playoffs?

Item 9a “Ordinary dividends”…

There’s nothing ordinary about me getting dividends.

Item 9b “Qualified dividends”…

If I knew what a “qualified dividend” was, I’d be a Wall Street plutocrat hiring a shady accountant to fill out Form 1040 so that I’d owe no taxes at all.

Item 10 “Taxable refunds”…

$1.98 at Safeway for a half gallon of milk that was past its sell-by date.  Being a good sport, I’ll round to $2.

Item 11 “Alimony received”…

If only my first marriage had gone that well.

Item 12 “Business income”…

You call being a freelance writer a business?

Item 13 “Capital gain”…

Ah, here’s where guys like Mitt Romney fox the IRS.  He foxed me too. I voted for him.

Item 14 “Other gains”…

Does weight count?

Item 15 “IRA distributions”…

Last time I checked, my IRA had 11 bitcoins in a Mt. Gox account.

Item 16 “Pensions and annuities”…

What?  From being a paid-up member of the Drinkers Guild of America?

Item 17 “Rental real estate, royalties, partnerships, S corporations, trusts, etc.”…

The last royalty statement I got from my publisher, they were demanding that I pay them.

Item 18 “Farm income or (loss)”…

We do live on a farm.  One of the laying hens died.  ($2) Cancels out the milk refund.

[Think we should leave the “($2)” in.]

Item 19 “Unemployment compensation”…

If somebody would compensate me, I wouldn’t be unemployed.

Item 20 “Social security benefits”…

If I could remember my Social Security number.

Item 21 “Other income”…

Well, there must be some.  Occasionally I get paid for things.  But how am I supposed to keep track of this?  Money comes in and goes right out.  I’ve got a wife and three kids.

I’m going to pick a number.  John Hancock was a member of the Continental Congress.  I’ll Google “What do congressmen make?”  Jeez, I’m doing better than I thought—$174,000 a year.  Not bad for sitting in gridlock. Thus I will not complain next time I’m stuck in traffic trying to get to Fenway to see a Red Sox game.

Item 22 “Combine the amounts for lines 7 through 21.  This is your total income”…

$174,000 is a lot.  Good thing I’ve got 18 dependents.

Skipping the “Adjusted Gross Income” Section and Peeking Ahead at “Tax and Credits,” Item 42 “Exemptions”…

I find that 18 dependents, at a deduction of $3,900 apiece, will knock $70,200 off my Adjusted Gross Income.  (Found the calculator under the 117 pages of paperwork.)  So now all I’ve got to do is make a $103,800 adjustment.

Going Back to “Adjusted Gross Income”…

Items 23 through 36—not seeing much help here.  Maybe Item 32 “IRA deduction.” I can deduct $3,800 for those bitcoins I’ll never see again (and, come to think of it, never saw in the first place).

That leaves me at 100 grand…

Ah-Ha!  Item 24 “Certain business expenses of reservists, PERFORMING ARTISTS, and fee-basis government officials”…

Caps added.  A writer is certainly a performing artist.  He (or she) has to perform the art of writing.  And what is art that does not reflect life?  And what does it cost to live life these days?  At least a hundred grand, if you’ve got 18 dependents.

True, making an Item 24 deduction requires me to “Attach Form 2106.”  And where the dickens is that in the pile of 117 pages of paperwork?  But I’m sure the IRS will let me send it in later when I tell them the laying hen died—my favorite, Cleopatra—and what with being a performing artist and therefore having an artistic temperament…  I’m only at number three in the Kubler-Ross five stages of grief.

Item 37 “Subtract line 36 from line 22.  This is your adjusted gross income”…

$174,000 minus $103,800 equals $70,200, which I cause to vanish in the aforementioned Item 42 of the “Taxes and Credits” section.

Next Comes “Other Taxes”…

No thanks.  Had enough for one day.

I’ll Also Take a Pass on Items 62 Through 77 in the “Payments.” “Refund,” “Amount You Owe,” and “Third Party Designee” Sections…

Not that I wouldn’t like to name a third-party designee to pay my taxes, if there were any.

And Go Right to the “Sign Here” Section…

It asks for…

“Your signature”…

Here’s my John Hancock.

“Date”…

Nice of them to ask, but…  Can we just stay friends?

And “Your occupation”…

About which we’ve heard more than enough.