Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Tax Time: You do the Math

Every March I sort through my prior year’s financial history, add the profits and subtract the losses, enter the numbers in a booklet provided by my tax accountant, place all the corroborating evidence in plastic folders, and clip the folders to the appropriate pages.

“Oh, the rest of my clients could take lessons,” my accountant gushes. “This is beautifully organized.” But for all my hard work, the only thing I seem to get back is gratitude. When it comes to the income tax returns themselves, we don’t, by mutual agreement, cheat, fudge, or even snicker. As for his fee, I don’t think my accountant really cares much whether my records are in a leather portfolio or jammed inside a pair of old tube socks. He charges the same -- a lot -- one way or the other.

I kind of resent paying the accountant so much money to simply transfer the arithmetic from my forms to his. I feel particularly resentful as he typically finishes early and we spend the rest of the hour discussing the progress of his vineyard in Napa.

So this year, rather than fork over my hard-earned pennies to learn more about the growth habit of the California pinot grape, I decide to take matters into my own hands. I’ll file my own taxes. When it comes to numbers, I’m not a half-wit. I’m not a full wit either; I fall solidly within the three-quarter wit range. Besides, and not to get too personal about this, I didn’t exactly win the lottery last year. My 2011 financial escapades make for some pretty dull reading.

When handling your own tax returns, the first decision is whether to e-file or paper-file. As I haven’t time for the e-file learning curve right now, I sharpen a pencil and plan to party like it’s 1999.

Using last year’s return as a template, I go in search of forms. Which, in spite of the Internet, turns out to be surprisingly difficult. Of course, making fun of any dot gov site is like shooting fish in a barrel, but the IRS site is particularly incoherent, sporting old-school links scattered all over one ugly home page. Apparently I'm not the only one partying like it's 1999.

Some of the forms I need do not appear when I click on FORMS, and they still don’t appear when I click MORE forms. I try for some navigational advice by clicking TAX MAP, which turns out to be a map in name only, so then I move to the FAQ.

I hate FAQ’s, with their perky, disingenuously stupid pretense that we’re conversing in-person. “Where can I …” and “Why do I …” Spare me this antiquated attempt at warm and fuzzy, which couldn’t have fooled anyone even back in that party year of which the IRS and I are both so fond. (More on Patch)

27 comments:

Kalei's Best Friend said...

You're braver than I am.. I e-file via my accountant who sends me an e-org and I fax him via email statements, k-1's etc... The amount I pay, is worth it cuz I have not a clue... My plate is full enough w/a gen X son, parents who are getting old and dealing w/everyday crappy drivers...

Pasadena Adjacent said...

Can you take the old form and pull out a little 1999 white out - change the date? party like it's 2011

Desiree said...

PLEASE check out Turbo tax/home business.
I'll bet it makes your life easier.
You can even test drive it for free before you file

Anonymous said...

Hahahahaha

TheChieftess said...

Nothing better than a good tax man (person) in our book!!! We go to a guy who personally I don't particularly like (you know the type, male chauvinist tendencies...) but he does a great job!!! Well worth the expense...besides, his fees are tax deductible the next year!!!

Paula said...

Your library no longer has them on display? Ours always, or used to, have them on a table near the front door. And then, and then, there's going to the local Senior Center and getting help for free. You're from California so you could be 80+ for all they know. I'll bet you could pull it off if you wear white cotton gloves - hands are a dead give away for age.

Katie said...

I do my own taxes and also do them by hand. And I keep all my old tax returns in manila envelopes. Not sure why I haven't gone the online route yet, but I guess I'm just an old-fashioned gal. (However I do have the Feds deposit my refund, if any, directly into my checking account.) But I'm a form wizard, so if you tell me what forms you need I'll happily send them to you in PDF!

altadenahiker said...

No, I guess I just wanted to know whether I was getting my money's worth. And in my case, I was. And am. And will be.

Ms M said...

Hahaha! Great article!
And exactly why we have an accountant do our taxes....

Bellis said...

Did Paula just say you could pose as an old woman if you wore white gloves? I'm sure she didn't mean it.

Our accountant charges a lot but saves us even more. We got our file to him last week and he did it the next day. We balked at the amount of extra tax we owed the IRS (because of our pensions, not because we're rich) and he came up with a way to pay it in instalments. I don't care how many vineyards he owns, so long as I get a bottle of wine from him now and again.

altadenahiker said...

Ah, it's ok Bellis, Paula is my virtual friend and we've never met. But I'll keep the white gloves in mind because, scratched and abused, my hands looked like an 80 year old's from the time I was 10.

But you're right about the accountant -- seems he would give me a bottle of pinot every other year or so.

Ms M, we aren't surprised Katie does her own taxes, are we?

Paula said...

I meant that you look too young for the Senior Center but that they couldn't bust you for crashing the help table cuz, well you're in Lotus Land so, who knew?

BaysideLife said...

I feel deprived. No accountant = no pinot. But no worries, when we finish our taxes, we break out a bottle (whatever's in the rack)to ease the pain of writing that check to IRS.

Mister Earl said...

I laughed out loud when I read your post!

Rob said...

Um, so, why are you not using TurboTax? Oh, that's right, your laptop was stolen.

Marjie said...

Ah, the accountant....and all of his assistants...did I ever tell you about the time his assistant called me to ask what depreciation schedule to use for the holly bushes we had planted around the office?

I was a little floored by that one. Then I told her that since half were already dead - done in by the Tennessee sun - maybe she should double deduct them.

And what's a refund? No matter how much we pay, it's never enough.

Cafe Pasadena said...

So you're not using Tax software?

I look 4ward to the next installment of your taxing adventure, KB.

Mister Earl said...

But, Karin, do you know how to fill out an NCAA tournament bracket? Could have used the help.

altadenahiker said...

And then there was the year I walked into the office and got shoved to the B-team accountants when a guy and 10 handlers came in. The guy had won the lottery. Really. $28 million. So much for my leather-bound portfolio and plastic page protectors.

Kaori said...

You are a brave brave woman to take on the IRS. We even hear horror stories about them here in Tokyo.

Petrea Burchard said...

I did my own taxes 'til I got married.

This is one of your best, Karin, and that's saying something.

Trish said...

KB...never knew you went to Laird out in the valley! Or did another CPA win $28M too?

My mother was a CPA. I've done my own taxes since I was 10. I HATE doing taxes. I *STILL* think the IRS should send a bill. Seriously. They are going to tell me what they think I owe ANYWAY, why get into this business of them threatening me with legalese if I transpose a number? Send me a bill, if I disagree, we'll talk.

But, that does pose the problem of a few billion CPAs, their handlers, their assistants and oh yeah, ALL those IRS employees who would be out of a job!

Eh, not my problem, MY tax headache would be gone! ;-)

Banjo52 said...

You know, I was actually thinking, by about para. 4, this would make a good Patch piece.

I'm surprised that a wildcat like you fills out their form for them. I don't put mine in an old sock, but I do just stick the stuff in an envelope, with their form left blank, and say, "Here," with a smile. It's a present I give myself--I'd like to say the only one, but . . . I figure if I'm gonna pay for anything, they're gonna do everything. Otherwise, I'd make the choice you've just made, which for quarter-wit me, would be a working definition of masochism.

Ken Mac said...

I am so organized at tax time. it let's Uncle Sam take my money all that sooner...

Susan Campisi said...

I started using an accountant a few years ago and I've never looked back. Every year he gets annoyed with me for sending in my info so late. Every year I promise myself it will be different - but it never is. I could definitely take lessons from you.

Vanda said...

I've been e-filing using Turbotax for years. It takes me half a day, but actually it's rather easy, the software walks you through every step.

I went to an accountant once and he told me I didn't need him, I could do it myself. o.O

Soilman said...

You did your own tax return??

OMG. I only dared do this once, when I was self-employed, and I nearly had a breakdown. Was ready to shoot myself at 3am after 24 hrs of wrestling with forms, numbers and Inland Revenue (=IRS in the UK) gobbledegook.

Whatever the accountant charges, it's cheap.