Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Tax Time

It’s tax time. I have procrastinated as long as possible and now I am down to the last few days before I must submit my federal and state income taxes. But tax day is in April, you say. Not really. That’s just the deadline for submitting your request for an automatic six month extension. October 15 is the real deadline.

Of course there is no extension for submitting any money you might owe. I sent the IRS and the state of New York each a large check last spring. I don’t resent paying my fair share. What I resent is filling out the damn forms. It takes the better part of two days to gather all the information and submit the returns.

The instructions are incomprehensible. Enter the amount on line 38A onto line 16 of Schedule H. Subtract from line 15. If the result is negative enter it on line 38 of the worksheet on page 76 of the instruction book. Enter it as a positive number. If line 38 is more than line 34, enter it on line 39 or else enter zero. My eyes glass over.

I heard an IRS agent say in a TV interview that compliance with the tax code is “razor thin.” I think what he meant is that most people are very close to throwing the whole mess into the trash can and telling the government where to get off.  When intelligent citizens, people with advanced degrees even, can not understand the hundreds of pages of instructions for filling out the forms there is something seriously wrong.

So why don’t I just do what most people do and hire an expert to file for me? Never! I refuse to allow the government to force me to support the tax preparation industry – a multi-million dollar industry that lobbies very hard against tax simplification. H&R Block and their cronies are a special interest group that buys our elected representatives with big bucks. Why should I support that kind of conspiracy?

No, I’ll slog my way through this as I always do. I’ll try my best to make sense of it. I’ll report what I think I’m supposed to report and ignore what doesn’t seem relevant or what is so bewildering that I couldn’t possibly comply with it even if I wanted to. If I screw it up, let them figure it out. In the end I always get a refund. Most of the time my tax is less than what it probably costs them to process.

About that razor thin compliance: the big stick that the IRS holds over our heads is the dreaded audit. I was audited a few years ago for allegedly failing to report some interest income. I dutifully sent them more money while my appeal waddled slowly through the system. Six months later they admitted that they had made an error. I had indeed reported the income and I even did it on the right line of the correct form. They refunded my money with interest.

Time is precious. What a shame to waste so much of it on this nonsense.

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