Thursday, May 2, 2013

A taxing situation

Everybody who likes paying taxes please raise your hand.  Other than  Barney Frank and Warren Buffet it’s a safe bet that there aren’t a whole lot of extended arms.  Most people I know see taxes as a necessary part of life and have various philosophies on them.  This is not an essay on the evils of taxes – instead in my tradition of pointing out irony – my own situation is this week’s case study.
I dutifully went through the arduous process of reporting every part of my life where funds were expended to the IRS and various state entities as for 2012.  I had to report to three different states! My political (and financial) distaste for taxes gets reinforced more and more each time I go through the process.  In order to benefit from various incentives the cost is providing additional bits of information.  Before I digress into a diatribe about the tax code – back to the story.  I finished the process, double, triple and quintuple checked  the information.  Submit.
An error.  Tried again.  And again.  And again.  OK, tech support – here we go.  45 minutes on hold, and I got a very helpful young man who over the course of the next hour was able to confirm that I had already filed my tax return, and my oh my, wasn’t it a nice big refund!  Uh – no, not really.  I am due a refund, and for me a reasonable one – but it’s not a 5-figure refund.
He gave me the number for the IRS Fraud Department.  An hour long hold led me to a seasoned agent. Did I file form 14039?  Uh, no – I’m calling to find out what I need to do to get my refund.  File the form.  And then wait.  180 days.  Ok, so after 6 months this will be resolved?  She laughed.  A real laugh.  An oh-my-god-I’m-talking-to-an-idiot laugh.  No, they have 6 months to acknowledge that I submitted form 14039.  No promise or guarantee when or even IF it will be resolved.  If the refund I think I'm due and I don't have causes me a financial hardship there’s a whole other series of forms I can file.  After 180 days.  And, no, I won’t be getting the same level of interest as what the IRS charges if you pay late.
I regularly check my credit score, such that it is.  Somebody  borrowed my identity over 20 years ago before it became popular, so I’m really quite protective of my data.  The United States Postal Service – not the model of efficiency or innovation – does a double-check whenever somebody moves to make sure that the request is authentic.  You’d think the IRS might have some sort of flag like that.  You'd think that when somebody’s address and bank information changes after it’s been constant for years and years and YEARS they too might want to verify it?  You’d think they’d raise a flag that somebody who’s never gotten a 5-figure refund before is suddenly getting one.  You’d think that the person asking for an investigation for a small refund might have some legitimacy versus the guy who got a huge payday.  You’d be wrong, just like me.
“Oh, hon – it’s really easy! Much easier to do fraud with the IRS than them credit cards – that’s hard.”  My new IRS friend remarked as we ended our call.

The irony is not so much that somebody who abhors taxes has been defrauded with the IRS and my hard earned money is in the government coffers.  No, the real irony is that once you file form 14039 your name and social security number is flagged FOR LIFE.  So after having gone through (and won) 2 audits (nothing found) and my philosophical and political objection to the tax code – I will now have the privilege of having my return reviewed by a human being for the rest of my life.  A taxing situation indeed. 

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