This Dave Barry column was originally published April 4, 1999.
Perhaps you are one of the many Americans who are afraid of preparing their own income-tax returns. If so, let me offer these words of encouragement: You stupid idiot. I say this because doing your own taxes has never been easier, thanks to modern technology such as the telephone, the personal computer and the canned frozen margarita.
Take me. I am not a so-called "Certified Public Accountant, " but I have been handling my own taxes for years, using a simple, three-step system:
STEP ONE: One week before the April 15 tax deadline, I gather together all my financial records. This is easy, because I keep all my records in one convenient place, which is the kitchen drawer where I also keep my butane lighters with no butane in them and my package of "AAA" batteries, which I bought in 1987 because I thought they were "AA" batteries, and which I plan to return to the drug store for a refund as soon as I locate the receipt. So all my records are compressed into one convenient, dense wad.
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STEP TWO: Using a Sears Craftsman chisel, I separate my records and sort them according to size and color. This takes a while, but it "paves the way" for the heart of my tax-return preparation system, which is:
STEP THREE: Using the telephone, I call Evan, who is my accountant, and urgently ask if I can file for an extension, and he tells me that he already did. Then he hangs up and goes back to sleep because at this point it is 3:30 a.m. on April 18.
The advantage of using this system, which is called the "Extension System, " is that you can postpone filing your tax return for several months, and even longer if, the good Lord willing, the earth is destroyed by an asteroid.
You know what makes me want to puke, aside from Geraldo Rivera? I'll tell you what: so-called "tax-preparation software." When I go to the computer superstore and see these clueless taxpayers paying good money for software that is allegedly going to make their tax preparation "fast and easy, " I laugh so hard that sometimes it takes four store employees to wrestle me to the floor and inject my special medicine into my neck.
I react this way because I know that this "tax-preparation software" is NOT going to prepare these clueless people's returns for them; it is going to ask them 14 skillion technical questions about things such as their name, Social Security number, income, expenses and the exact number - right down to the decimal point! - of their children.
Listen, software geeks: If we KNEW all these details, WE WOULDN'T NEED THE COMPUTER TO HELP US! Why don't you make USEFUL tax software? I'm talking about software that, when you put it into your computer, says to you: "You've done ENOUGH already! Go enjoy a canned margarita while I use my modem to wake Evan up and get you an extension!"
If Al Capone had possessed such software, he would be a free man today. Dead, but free.
For those of you who wish, for whatever insane reason, to actually prepare your tax returns, there are some changes this year that you need to know about. The main one is that the Internal Revenue Service now has a positive, taxpayer-friendly image, expressed by the upbeat new IRS motto: "We Acknowledge That There Is A Possibility, However Remote, That You Are Not Criminal Scum." Instead of hassling taxpayers, the new IRS wants to serve them. What does this mean to you, the individual taxpayer? According to IRS Commissioner Charles Rossotti, it means you are now expected to tip.
"If you're a married taxpayer filing jointly, " states Rossotti in his official Letter to Taxpayers, "tucking a fifty-dollar bill inside your tax return will definitely cause the IRS employee serving you to feel appreciated and be less likely to select you for the auditing procedure we call 'The Closet Full Of Snakes'."
Rossotti also points out that when we sign our tax returns, we are in effect taking a legal oath. "This means, " he sternly reminds us, "that the information you provide must meet the same standard of truth and accuracy that President Clinton met when he testified under oath about alleged acts of internship with Monica Lewinsky." For example, if you have three dependents, when you fill in the box that says "Number of Dependents, " the following answers would meet the Clinton Accuracy Standard:
* "Around 27."
* "I don't recall."
* "It depends what you mean by 'dependent'."
Remember that, as always, if you have questions about filling out your tax forms, you can call up your congressperson or senators at any hour of the day or night and ask them what brand of glue they were sniffing when they thought up our tax laws. But let us not become bitter and negative. Let us remember that, in a democratic society, if we do not pay our "fair share" of taxes for vital government services, we will be able to buy ourselves a boat. So let's sharpen our pencils and start accurately writing down our income. I don't recall having any.
© Dave Barry
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