Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Just Cut Me


It's tax time. I stand before my computer with an expensive plastic disc and inhale deeply, composing myself. The computer rips the disc from my hand and stares at me as though it were King Arthur and I was just an old stone with a hole in it.

The tax software is designed to be soothing. It's chatty. Hey there! We're just going to ask you a few questions. Let's get started!

All righty then.

First we need to know a little about your living arrangements. Did Mary and David live together?

I don't know that it's any of your business, but yes.

Do you have any straddles to report?

Now you're getting personal.

Oh, I've seen this movie before. The prosecutor approaches the lady on the witness stand and smiles:

"Hello there, Mrs. Crabtree. Are you comfortable? Would you like a pillow? A little tea, perhaps?"

Mrs. Crabtree says some tea would be nice. Tea is provided.

"Mrs. Crabtree, tell me--if you had it to do over, do you think you could beat your previous time for rendering Mr. Crabtree through the garbage disposal using only Drano and a lemon zester?"

Same dude works for TurboTax. He starts out cheerful. Let's talk a little about your investment income!

Okay. We can try that.

Do you have any unearned capital-loss carryover limitations dividend consolidation peremptories as reported to you on a form 5129-C, AK-47, or PA 6-5000? Do not include passive debt spackling from any foreign source.

Shit.

I have no freaking idea what the answers to some of the questions are. At first I try real hard to answer them correctly. After a while I choose whichever answer doesn't lead me down a rabbit hole. If I say "yes," I get a bunch more questions I can't answer. If I say "no," we magically move onto a different topic. I begin saying "no" a lot.

It's not the paying of taxes that I mind. My government does a lot of things with our money that I'm not crazy about, but in general I'm okay with the system. I like the idea that we're all banding together to do things we couldn't accomplish as individuals. If I see a ballot measure that proposes to use public money to create an interpretive nature and history trail for underserved kids staffed by trained counselors in bunny suits and featuring a free lunch dispensary, petting zoo, and interactive educational kiosks powered by a solar array, I'm all sign me up! So it's not the taxes. I just want them to slice me open with a quick knife and take the money. I don't see why I have to get a tattoo needle and ink in all the little perforation lines and arrows on myself for the knife entry point.

I switch over to State Tax for the relief of it. State Tax is easy. With State Tax it's just me, my income, and the big knife. I squint at the form. It says:

"Line 22. Do not complete Line 22."

Whuh? Should I start Line 22 and then stop short of filling it in? If I were going to put something on Line 22, and promise to pull out at the last second, what would it be?

Dave had wisely gone out on one of his marathon walks. Three hours in I texted him that it was not yet safe to return home.

A few hours later he comes home anyway. By now I am past the anger stage that comes right after the feeling-stupid stage, and have edged past bargaining and into depression, characterized by snuffling and whimpering. "I need a beer," I say. A beer is produced on the spot. Dave monitors its disappearance over the next minute and has a second ready to go. It seems to help.

Because now, I don't care if I got the answers right. If they wanted the right answers, they'd have asked different questions. They could have asked me why leaves turn color in the fall, and I'd be all over that. I'm throwing myself on the mercy of the court. I did the best I could. Go ahead and audit me if you're so damn smart. Maybe y'all owe ME money.

53 comments:

  1. Death and Taxes.
    Doing one makes you wish for the other.

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    1. I know that on my deathbed I'll be asking for one more year of doing taxes.

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  2. Once you're retired and on Social Security, all these questions go away. They don't even make you file taxes! Of course, it's because we don't make enough money, but there's always a catch. :-)

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    1. If you lived here, they'd still ding you $35 for the Arts Tax. Just a little heads-up, there.

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  3. Having tried both TurboTax (on Mom's returns) and TaxAct (on ours), I have concluded that TurboTax is garbage, most unhelpful, and WAY expensive! While TaxAct is easier (though still not a walk in the park), more helpful, and cost only $17.99 for State (including my small business) and Federal, including e-filing.
    Also I found you can pay your Portland Arts Tax on line by e-filing.

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    1. That sounds appealing. It would have to be capable of importing all my TT information from the previous year. You know--it's that "we sent 50,000 boys to war and they shouldn't die in vain" argument.

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  4. Attach form WTF! Seriously, we desperately need to make the rules and the forms simpler. If you multiply the amount of time it takes the average person to get this done by the number of taxpayers, it's costing the country something like a billion wasted person-hours. The only upside is the stimulus to the beer industry.

    It wouldn't be so bad if you just had to add up all the income you got, deduct business expenses, and pay a percentage of the result. The problem is that too many types of income are treated differently for tax purposes. Unfortunately the quirks in the tax code are the product of lobbying by people who benefit from them and can afford their own accountants so they don't have to suffer the consequences.

    I've never tried attaching that AK-47, but it might send a useful message.

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  5. PS Have you considered using an actual live CPA? They probably cost more than TurboTard, but there's no substitute for actual human judgment in handling stuff like this.

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    1. I did do that one year, but found that the accumulation of all the pertinent information was 3/4 of the problem anyway, and once I'd done that I was nearly home without having to shell out a few hundred bucks. You're right about the rich writing the tax code. Duh.

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  6. If every lawmaker had to prepare his or her own tax returns with NO outside help, ya wanna bet the tax code would be simplified IMMEDIATELY?

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    1. And there'd be the added benefit that they'd be out of commission for a few days and unable to cause trouble.

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  7. I would've bought more than 2 copies of "Trousering Your Weasel" but didn't want to bump you into a higher tax bracket. You're welcome :-)

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    1. Hey thanks! You bought just enough that I showed a tiny profit in my writing business this year. Just enough to keep the auditors at bay! Goal met.

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    2. Hey thanks! You bought just enough that I showed a tiny profit in my writing business this year. Just enough to keep the auditors at bay! Goal met.

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  8. I just read a headline today that says our federal government has closed their online filing site due to the threat of a virus, so I'm thinking that means I don't have to do my taxes this year. Right?

    Oh, and about Line 22? Pulling out on time is not a reliable method of protection...

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    1. Huh. I was solemnly assured that it was.

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  9. I have long advocated the government send out muggers who knock you out and take your credit cards, take the allowed limit and return your cards with a "get out of tax" card so you can only be mugged once a year. THis would be less painful than todays method and would be fair in that the rich would lose more in a mugging than the poor.

    Meanwhile, I feel your pain even while laughing at your explanation.

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    1. It's over now. I e-filed. They wouldn't let it go through because I hadn't uploaded the latest update. I did that. It said I hadn't. I had. I shut the machine off. On. Off. On. Still no go. Did the chicken dance. Told it boogah boogah boogah. It finally went through.

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  10. I'm an accountant who can't be bothered with this stuff. For $200 an Enrolled Agent does my taxes. And, it's tax deductible. An Enrolled Agent means the IRS is proud of her, so don't worry.

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    1. Sounds good! I take the standard deduction now. I still go through and load up all the possible deductions just for drill, but nope--I don't have enough to deduct.

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  11. I'm just impressed you do it yourself. Beer or not.

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  12. Shudder. We have help with ours, and I sweat getting it in a 'fit state' so that he can help. The paper fall-out is scary too. This goes with that - except when it doesn't.

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    1. I so want it to be "all income" and a percentage sliced out. I also want that to be a bigger percentage the more income you have, and I don't care who thinks that's warmongering.

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    2. If that is warmongering I am ALL in favour of mongering.

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    3. I'm in. I've always been a mongrel.

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    4. Love it! You've invented a new word that I'm totally going to use! Warmongrel!

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  13. Lubing up a couple of brain cells with a couple of beers can't be bad. Makes it easier to promise to pull out at the last second. We are talking taxes, aren't we?

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  14. I am so on your side with this. I have a graduate degree and my husband has two graduate degrees...not in math, but we have read really hard stuff. Yet, we cannot do our own taxes!!! I am all for a simple tax, no deductions, etc.

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    1. "But we have read really hard stuff." I hear you. Plaintive tone and all.

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  15. Ernie and I have been retired since 2005. Taxes have been fairly simple since then, with us only owing a couple of hundred dollars. Our tax bill this year was $0. Thank you, medical itemization... especially the orthodontist bill! So my smile this year is genuinely bright and happy, even if during the year and a half I wore them the same smile was something of a close-lipped grimace of pain and shredded gums. I use TurboTax too.

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    1. Last year I got to take that Oregon medical credit because Dave was old enough (by a month) to qualify for it. They tidied up THAT little loophole in a hurry, didn't they?

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  16. I do not go through all that and send it to the tax preparer to do it for me. Gathering all the information together is stressful enough for me!

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    1. Oh yeah. That's nearly all the trouble right there.

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  17. We've used the same CPA for 32 years. I'm just hoping we die before he does... no way in hell could I do our taxes. And... that person who commented that once you're on SS it's a piece of cake... don't believe that for a minute! We've changed state residency (Ohio to Texas).... we no longer have the farm and it's income (and, more likely, losses)... but we still have rentals, stock, and various other oddball crap.... not only do I hope to outlive our CPA, I hope to either spend every cent we have so our kids don't have to deal with this... or... for our kids that made life miserable for us for years... leave them with the mess. Good Luck... April 15th is still a few days away. File and extension!

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    1. I used to hope I'd die before my piano teacher, so I GUESS I know what you mean, but anyway I didn't. He's gone. Sob.

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  18. Oh crap, it's April, isn't it. If it's any consolation, we commie pinko socialist reds up in Canuckistan have to go through the same agony, except that ours aren't due until April 30th.

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    1. Y'all aren't so pinko now, from what I gather. You got Conservative Leaders and everything. Right?

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  19. Taxes seem much simpler here in Aus.
    A % is removed from our wages every week, or fortnight if you are paid fortnightly. At tax time we fill out our forms (I do mine online) declaring what we've earned, how much tax we've paid, then declare any interest on our bank accounts, dividends from shares etc, (I don't have any) and a few more reasonably simple questions relating to family and health insurance. That's it. If you paid too much, you get a refund, if you didn't pay enough, you pay them. Easy-peasy. For years. Then you log on one year to find they've changed all the questions and even though they mean exactly the same thing, they're written in legalese which takes longer to decipher. Phooey!
    Pootie looks so darn cute with his glasses!

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    1. That sounds like a dream. And yes, Pootie is one fine-lookin' dog.

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  20. Last year, as I was pulling things together for the accountant, looking for form 4497-D, and praying I hadn't accidentally re-cycled it, Poor Kyle kept interrupting me with kind offers of snacks and tea, and remarks on the birds outside, until I roared, "Leave me the F--- alone!" We had a long talk. This year, he did the tax prep. He hated it, too. And we got form 4479-D a week after we submitted the taxes, but it didn't make any difference.

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    1. I think Dave stayed home and tried to be nice the first time, but he's bailed out every year since.

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  21. Like you, I tackle the tax forms with trepidation. On my meager income I'll be damned if I pay someone to do them for me.
    the Ol'Buzzard

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    1. I can't either. I did once. It was probably worth it, but it's just one of those expenses that goes in the "down the drain" category.

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  22. This is why I open a vein and bleed money to an accountant. I completely agree with you. If they want the right answers, they should ask better questions. Pass the beer.

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    1. I have several in the fridge with your name on them at all times, Ms Jayne.

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  23. We used to use Turbo but now use Milton. Milton is a soft-spoken man at H&R Block who shuffles through our shoebox of receipts and stubs and politely dismisses us within 45 minutes. We go home. Refund goes to bank. Milton can take whatever he wants. He deserves it.

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  24. The accountant lobby will never allow the tax code to be simplified. Nevertheless, I hire one anyway, after too many years frustrating myself with the gobbledegook. Increases my tax bill about six per cent, but it's worth it.

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    1. There's an accountant lobby? I think the rich people lobby have all that covered.

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