It’s Election Day. By the time you read this, I will have voted. It’s possible that by the time you read this the fat lady will have sung and the election will be over; votes counted; streets swept clean of confetti. If you waited long enough, the recount lawyers may already have walked away, and the nation’s attention will be back on football. And that’s fine with me, because I don’t want to talk about politics. I want to talk about something that everyone can agree on; how painful it is to deal with the IRS.
After we filed our taxes last April, we got a letter from the IRS claiming that we owed them money. After a painstaking review we were able to figure out that we had made a mistake with an IRA. In layman’s terms, money went into one bucket that should have gone into another. We remedied the mistake and filed an amended return. The new return showed that the IRS owed us money. In the fullness of time, the IRS notified us that they had seen and accepted our amended return and that a refund would be sent to us, which was good to know since the check arrived the day before the letter!
We fast forward now to a day not so long ago, when the letter carrier rang our doorbell. Andrew got there first so he was signing when I said, “Oo, it’s so exciting to get a letter you need to sign for!” I was envisioning an offer of representation from a fancy New York agent, or better yet, a three book deal from the Random Penguin! I was vaguely aware that the letter carrier was apologizing for the delivery and I couldn’t understand why good news would upset her. Then Andrew handed me the letter, addressed to me, from the IRS.
The letter said I had thirty days to send them $353.03 or they would start garnishing my wages. My first thought was, not so smart are you IRS? I don’t have a job! My next thought was, hold on, we don’t owe the IRS money. And if we did, why was it addressed to me? It wasn’t hard to determine that the sum was the amount of my personal IRA (re-characterized for our amended return) plus $11.76 of “failure to pay” and $5.27 of interest. Now we get to the painful part.
I spent fifteen minutes on hold, only to find out that the woman who finally plucked me out of telephone limbo couldn’t help me. I was an advanced issue. I had a moment of panic when she said she was going to transfer me, envisioning the call being dropped and having to start again from scratch, but she got me successfully to the next person. And there the success ended. Sixty-two minutes later, most of it spent on hold with brief interruptions to assure me that she was still working on it or to confirm something I’d already told her, the verdict was in – she couldn’t help me over the phone.
The computer indicated that we, the married-filing-jointly-entity owed nothing to the IRS. The form that included the numbers that produced the $353.03 indicated that we owed no money. And yet, somehow, I owed money. She allowed as how it was highly irregular, and she may even have said I might be right, I didn’t owe anything, but I may have been hallucinating by then. But in any case, she would have to escalate the issue, off-line, and someone would get back to me in a month or so. I only hope it’s before they try to garnish my wages.