Deep In The Heart Of Taxes

Never has there been a greater lie than 'EZ.'

I’ve never quite resented paying my taxes as much as, say, the Tea Party does. That is, I don’t resent the paying part – I do, however, resent the large amount of math-oriented paperwork that leads up to the paying part. Actually, when I get to the paying part, I usually don’t pay anything – the one benefit to not making loads of money is that, just like a bear ignoring a human he thinks is dead, the government doesn’t want to mess with your money if there isn’t a lot of it there.

I got pretty serious about taxes this year, because this was the first year that my parents were no longer claiming me as a dependent on their taxes, which meant I could claim myself as a dependant, which is both a cause for philosophical introspection about the degree to which a man must depend on himself and also a chance to get a fat tax refund in the middle of a cash-strapped couple of months.

As previously mentioned, I started saving my receipts with the compulsion of a schizophrenic collecting newspapers and keeping careful track of the mileage on The Mystery Wagon in hopes of milking as much money as possible out of my tax return. In retrospect, I guess it’s kind of shady to try and grab as much money as I can from our dysfunctional, bankrupt government – like taking money from an overweight guy with a huge credit card bill who keeps trying to pick fights with shifty Middle Eastern dudes – but for the time being at least, I need it a lot more than they do.

Normally I just print out the necessary form and spend the better part of an afternoon sweating my way through it with help from the online tax guide and my first grade math skills, but this year, based on recommendations from my friends Dylan and Holly, I opted to try TurboTax, the online tax software that… Yeah, you all know what TurboTax is.

Dylan, as it turned out, had gotten a huge refund, because filing through TurboTax he’d discovered that he technically owned his own business last year when he shot a bunch of TV commercials for local Eugene businesses.* If he’d been filing on paper, he would’ve just reported his income and been taxed on it, but because TurboTax knows all the loopholes, he was able to write off the cost of his camera as a business expense.

*Technically, though, Dylan should’ve received a grant from a charitable organization to do that, because before he started making them Eugene had arguably the worst local commercials anywhere in America – nay, the world.

This got me started wondering just how many potential refunds I’d missed in the blur of confusion, tears, ink smudges, and fears of an audit that accompanied my pen and paper tax preparation in the past. The American tax code is huge with lots of loopholes, but you have to know about them to exploit them – for all I knew, there could’ve been a gaggle of Bush-era tax credits for white people with good hair still in the system just waiting to be found.

I hit up the TurboTax website, got the free version of the software, and went to work figuring out how much money the government was going to give me. I’m in no way trying to shill for TurboTax here, but I actually caught myself having fun using it, because basically the whole process is answering a lot of pretty easy yes or no questions and looking to see if your answers will get you money or not. It’s sort of like a really boring, simplistic, low stakes quiz show where the big winners generally have disabled children or a truck large enough to write off as farm equipment.

I had a pretty solid $179 bonus coming to me when I hit a snag – one of the jobs I’d worked hired me on as an ‘independent contractor’, which required me to fill out separate forms that my basic version of TurboTax didn’t have access to. Figuring that independent contractor status might bump me into pretty cool writeoff territory, I shelled out $20 for upgraded software, considering it to be an investment in a higher refund.

My shiny new version of TurboTax ran the numbers and told me that my independent contactor job meant that, according to the IRS, I was self employed for nine days in August. I figured this was probably going to turn out to be a good thing, even though in the Capps family the words ‘self employed’ are usually our way of delicately implying that someone is a prostitute.* Then I glanced at the upper right corner of the screen and realized that my $179 refund had turned into me owing the government $10.

*That said, I do degrading jobs because I need the money, so technically maybe I’ve been ‘self employed’ for way more than just those nine days. And then there’s the matter of the two weeks I spent living in a brothel…

I moved on to the credits and writeoffs section of my taxes, hoping undo the damage, and started throwing down everything I could – mileage on The Mystery Wagon, every receipt in my large envelope full of receipts, the four dollar LED flashlight I bought at Rite Aid and used two times on a PA job… But no matter what I gave TurboTax, it insisted that I owed $10. What’s more, it told me I owed $30 to the State of Oregon.

So this first year that I’m not a dependent, I owe $40 in taxes out of the $6500 I made – or 162.5% of my annual earnings.* Don’t forget, on top of that, the $20 I spent on an upgraded version of TurboTax.

*That can’t be right. I think I did the math wrong. How do you find percentages, again?

I can understand how using tax preparation software can save you money – it knows the loopholes and it can tell you if you’ll fit through them. But let’s imagine for a moment that I didn’t use TurboTax. I never would’ve known that I was technically self employed, and thanks to my mathematical limitations I probably wouldn’t have even been able to figure out that I owed money. It wouldn’t have cost me a red cent, and if the government had come after me for its $40 I could’ve legitimately pled ignorance (and probably some sort of learning disability in the numbers department to boot.)

As it turns out, ignorance is bliss – or, at the very least, it’s cheap.

Truman Capps just got you to read a blog update about him doing his taxes. SUCKER.