The Third Third

Tax Troubles

It’s as if the obligation to pay your taxes comes as a surprise to some folks, as if they’ve never heard the adage about taxes and death. How can that be? I learned how to fill out the 1040 form in high school civics class; it’s not rocket science, and it doesn’t take a law degree like my husband’s to understand what’s required. Turbo Tax has even made it sort of fun. It makes my computer ask all kinds of questions (including *“Do you have any additional sources of income?”* and *“Did you have any household employees?”*), and after I answer them and fill in the blanks with numbers, it does the math and prints out a very professional looking return. I am very careful. I keep terrific records. I take no short cuts. I let the program walk me through every possibility. I feel the responsibility to get it right – on my own behalf and also jointly, for my bent-over-backwards-to-be-honest husband, who approaches things a little differently than I. Every year after we sign the forms and mail them, he worries: What if we’re audited and they find a mistake and think we cheated? I on the other hand am certain anyone who examines our returns will simply laugh and call over a colleague: “Hey, Joe, Look at these suckers – they’re paying everything and then some!” But we agree, in a vaguely cheese-y way, that we’re not only obligated, but happy to do our share, to pay our way for the opportunity to live here and do well. So what are these tax-dodgers, the ones striving to be **Somebody** in Washington, D.C., thinking? Admittedly, the tax law is complex and arcane and in many places, patently unfair, especially if all you’re trying to do is pay your required taxes on legitimately earned income, when you’re not really seeking out loopholes or tax-avoidance strategies. It often is actually more taxing to my patience than to my money. I’ve literally spent hours penciling through calculations only to learn that if the sum is ultimately less than some very small percentage of my adjusted gross income, it does not qualify. It also seems to me to require a leap of faith when you’re entering numbers from various lines of a K-1 on a grid whose purpose is not entirely clear. But even at that, I am not about to make an “inadvertent” five- or six-figure error. It’s easy to check to see if people with your income pay approximately the same or more or less of a percentage of it to taxes; and to compare one year’s income and percentage of taxes paid to years’ past; to reconfigure a couple of different scenarios; and to check with tax professionals about what the IRS means when you don’t understand. What’s missing from all the calculations and excuses we’ve heard from Washington these last couple of weeks is the rather elementary lesson of high school civics: we all have to pay our taxes – *all* of us have to pay and we have to pay *all* our taxes. Clearly those boys in D.C. need a remedial course! I wonder if Coach Ayers is still teaching. . . .
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