I’m not an idiot. Really. In fact, in many settings and situations, someone might even call me intelligent. My IQ test ranked me significantly high on the scale, and I would consider myself well-read in many areas. I’m really not boasting here – I just want to make a point.
So why is it that, with all the recent changes, in order to make it “easier/simpler/more understandable,” the whole exercise of doing federal income tax is such a royal pain? I’ve been doing my taxes since I was 16 years old, and I refuse to break down in fear and trembling like many of my colleagues do every year. I do contend, however, that it shouldn’t be, and doesn’t need to be so ridiculously convoluted, and unnecessarily complicated. But it is.
Now, I haven’t started on my own taxes yet – given the fact that I will have half a year of employment, and half a year with pension, it should be a real knee-slapper when I get to it. No, I decided I would start small, and get Aaron’s taxes in place for him to file first.
Aaron worked this year teaching part-time at the university, while applying for faculty positions all over the country. Unfortunately, of course, just when he had completed his PhD., CoVid swept in and kicked the bottom out of almost all hiring at universities. He’s been living with us, and that’s been just fine. So, Aaron’s tax information consists of one W-2 form, with a fairly small income, and even smaller tax withholding. He also didn’t get his second stimulus check, and the government promised he could just add that in on him 1040 form, and they would get it out to him lickety-split. I figured his taxes would take maybe a half-hour tops to do, since every year the folks in charge have a riotous time amending and revising the tax form. Let me tell you, it’s a laugh a minute.
I walked through the instructions very carefully. Of course, everything now is “on-line,” so you can’t turn pages back and forth between the different parts that need to be filled out, and I end up using my own paper and ink to print off hard copies. At least “we” are saving the federal government money on printing. Please realize, however, that when we are told the government is “saving” something, it really means the burden of the cost has once again been shifted. Really – if it were truly something that would be saved, you wouldn’t need over 100 pages to fill out a “simple” form. Just my opinion.
So my half hour turned into two hours and change. It really is not hard to do, but you can assume nothing as you go through it. It’s like putting together a gas grill from Home Depot. Looks simple, but after a while, you start wishing you had just paid the store a great deal of money to have a 16-year-old sales associate put it together for you.
Aaron had eight numbers to be inserted on the front of his form. He’s not 66 and blind, fortunately has no dependents, no stocks, no virtual currency. The only thing he does have is interest from his school loans that he can mostly deduct. Of his eight numbers, three of them were repeated, as you get to the bottom of one section, and they ask you to add or subtract or find the cosine times the square root of the net result of the worksheet you had to fill out before you could accurately put the number in the right spot. AND, since he indeed did have student loan interest to claim, he had to fill out a separate entire “schedule,” after completing the worksheet that I’m sure next year will include an essay portion.
With the eight numbers, and two schedules, I came to the bottom of the first page, and lo and behold – Aaron owes no taxes this year. I could have told the government that at the top of the page – I mean, just look at his income! If the government needed Aaron’s money that bad, then it’s time to start turning off some lights and selling off some of the fleet of cars. Just an aside: I found out by accident that members of Congress have their own gyms – more than one – for their use, free of charge. Not only that, after they are all sweaty from their free workouts, they can simply toss their workout clothes into a little bag, that then is taken and laundered by a federal employee, and then are ready to be picked up, probably by an aide or assistant to one of the leaders of the free world. I tell you what – Aaron had better not owe any taxes…
The back side of the form has you put down the amount of taxes that you owe – being careful not to use the list in the on-line publication that is meant to calculate the earned income amount, which apparently, for some people is the amount that they get instead of having to pay taxes. Brilliant. No, you have to use the “tax tables.” It was easy to find Aaron’s spot – the first number that asks your modified adjusted gross income… well, that was “zero” and so I wrote that number in the appropriate spot. Eight spots followed, which included more math problems, and I ended up with – zero.
Now, we were getting somewhere. I wrote down the amount withheld from Aaron’s paycheck, which doesn’t include the amount for social security, or Medicare or congressional gym clothes laundry. I didn’t round the number off, since I figured Aaron could use the additional 10 cents. I then came to another worksheet, since I needed to include the money Aaron hadn’t received to make it through the pandemic. However, instead of the worksheet asking, “Were you alive in 2020? Did we forget to send you your check? Did you make too much money so you don’t deserve a check? Do you plan to waste this money with frivolous purchases, or do you now understand the value of a dollar, mister?” Nope. It was more tangents and parabolas and such, until I got to the bottom, and it was revealed to me: write $600 on line 30, and then add it to the other withholding money that you have been dreaming about getting.
So, the good news is, if we can figure out how to electronically send in the form(s), and then trust the government to have access to Aaron’s checking account, he should have his refund… in a while.
I’m glad I’m retired. I’m also glad it’s only February, so I will have a couple of months to do my own taxes – should, again, be a laugh a minute. I guess that’s part of the joy and responsibility of being a citizen of this great land, but I just have to say, it could be done more easily. It just appears that it’s meant to be daunting – which is a pretty lousy way to be intentional.
The good news is, it only happens once a year – so, enjoy your own time with your own taxes, and I wish you well!
Word for the day: talliate. Pronounced TAL-ee-ate. It actually comes from the Latin talliare, which means simply “to tax.” Actually, it’s a bit more complicated than that. The word more exactly means “to cut down the center.” It was meant to use a “tally stick,” with notches for what was owed, or for what needed to be kept or taken away. “Tailors” would talliate, and others would “tally” something – we also get retail, and detail and a ton of other words from the Latin. It, however, was well-used in medieval times to tax or levy money from barons or knights or such to help pay for the public services. It was known then as a “tallage” to be paid. I suppose that is ingrained in the psyche of most folks, as they seem to enjoy “taxing the rich.” By the way, re-talliate meant to get something back…
After 43 years of ministry, Randy Cross lived his "fourth life" and shared about retirement, living boldly and intentionally in our world. To be sure, there was some North Dakota thrown in.