August 20th, 2019

The Tax Man Cometh

By G. E. Shuman

It’s tax season. You probably didn’t need a reminder of that, but, just in caseÉ It’s tax season. I have known the man who does our taxes for many, many years. In fact, I probably should have added one more ‘many’ to that last sentence. My taxman is the smartest ‘math’ person I know. In fact, he was my high school geometry teacher. You can’t get any smarter than that. No, he is not a hundred years of age, as, if you know how old I look, you may be assuming. I was in the first class that he taught right after he graduated from college. He was a great teacher, and the only guy who could ever make math fun for me. He made geometry exciting. Unfortunately, he has never been able to do the same with my tax return.

Anyway, for years now this nice, smart man has had his own tax return business, and, as I said, has done my taxes. Being a high school teacher myself, I can understand why he made the jump. The following phone conversation with him is completely fictional, but just as completely based upon the cold, hard facts of our tax system, and on my present financial position within that system. For the sake of brevity and anonymity, (I haven’t told my tax guy I was writing this.) I will refer to him as TG, (which stands for tax guy) and I will refer to myself as ME, (which stands for me.) His real initials are B S. NoÉ I don’t mean that they’re ‘b s’. They really are B S. The conversation, if it had taken place for real, would have gone something, but not exactly, like this.

TG: “Hi George. I wanted to let you know that your tax return is done.”

ME: “Hey, that’s great, TG. I hope you were able to get me a big refund this year.”

TG: “WellÉ your refund isn’t as big as it usually is.”

ME: “Oh. Oh? It isn’t? WellÉ well, why not? And please be gentle when you tell me what it is.”

TG: “It’s about a quarter of what it was last time.”

ME: “A Quarter? A Quarter? UghÉWhy? I meanÉ what happened?”

TG: “The problem is, you made too much money last year, that’s all. You had some untaxed income.”

ME: “I know I had untaxed income, from the editing job I do, evenings. But you’re the smartest math guy I know, and that was the idea, and I thought you would take care of that for me. You knowÉ make it disappear or something. Didn’t you do that?”

TG: “WellÉ That’s just it. You would have had a bigger refund if you hadn’t earned all that money.”

ME: “What do you mean, ALL that money? I don’t even have any of that money left. It wasn’t that much, anyway. It’s gone, and now you’re saying I can’t even get a decent sized refund? And I earned it working evenings. Isn’t there a deduction for working evenings?”

TG: “Nope, you can’t deduct for working evenings, and, nope, you can’t get a big refund. But you had all that extra money to spend all year. What did you do with it, if you no longer have it?”

ME: “I guess I blew it on stupid stuff like heating oil and food.”

TG: “So, you got to use the money. Isn’t that a good thing?”

ME: “I suppose so. I GOT to use it? What do you mean, I GOT to use it? Wasn’t it MY money?”

TG: “Well, some of it was.”

ME: “But I spent all that time doing that extra job, (evenings, pant, pant,) so that we would have extra money.”

TG: “Ha, Ha, Ha. You do have a great sense of humor! OhÉ I’m sorryÉ you were seriousÉ about the extra money thing, (In this fictional conversation I could hear him chuckling. I really could.) Anyway, you could always quit the extra job. Then your refund would be bigger next year, if that’s what you want. Or you could put some of the ‘extra’ (another chuckle) money away to pay next year’s taxes with, since that employer doesn’t deduct taxes from your pay. That would help.”

ME: “SoÉ how much would I need to put away? What is the tax rate on that money?”

TG: “The rate is 38%.”

ME: “Thirty-eight percent? THIRTY-EIGHT percent? NO! That’s a third of the money! That’s almost half of the money! (I liked geometry. I wasn’t good with percentages.) I would need to save almost HALF of the extra money?”

TG: “That’s right. But then you would be in a better position at tax time.

ME: “But you were my math teacherÉ the smartest math guy I know. Can’t you fix it? Can’t you do something more?”

TG: “No, I can’t. And you can stop calling me the smartest math guy you know, even though I probably am.”

ME: “This is awful! They’re going to take almost half of my money! I feel like I can’t win.”

TG: “That’s because you can’t win.”

TG: “Oh. One more thing. Last year was the last year you can claim your son on your taxes.”

ME: “What? It’s the last year I can what? But why?”

TG: “Because that’s the way it is. He’s 21 now. You can’t claim him again.”

ME: “But he lives with us. We buy his food. He watches our TVÉ more than I do. He uses our shower, (sometimes.) He sleeps here. He washes his clothes here, (sometimes.) I make his lunch every morning, just like in high school. I help him change the oil in his car. IÉ IÉ”

TG: “That doesn’t matter.”

ME: “Why?”

TG: “Because it doesn’t.”

ME: “Are you sure?”

TG: “Trust me. I’m sure.”

ME: “Why should I trust you?”

TG: “Because I’m the tax guy. I know this stuff.”

ME: “I need to go. Someone’s at the door. I think we just got another oil delivery.”

TG: “Okay. Well, here’s what you owe me for the tax return.”

ME: “That’s a little more than last year.”

TG: “Your tax return required 36 forms this time.” (This part is not fictional.)

ME: “Why? What? 36 forms? Whatever happened to doing our taxes on a postcard?”

TG: “The forms are mostly because of your extra job that earned you all that ‘extra’ money. (Chuckle.) Besides, no one uses postcards anymore.”

ME: “Okay. I guess.”

TG: “Just send me a check when you can. And remember, it’s tax deductible.”

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