Dave Barry

Classic '95: Service with a smile


This Dave Barry column was originally published March 12, 1995.

Income-tax-filing time: For Person A,  it's a nightmare;  yet for Person B,  it's no big deal. What's the difference?

Simple: Person B died in 1993. This is the kind of sound tax planning that can prevent numerous headaches down the road.

Unfortunately,  those of you who foolishly elected to continue living are going to have to file tax returns this year. That is the bad news. The good news is that the IRS is working hard to make its tax forms more "user-friendly." For example,  I have here the old and new versions of Form 5213,  sent to me by alert taxpayer Katie Tibbits. The two forms are identical except for the titles. The old version is titled:

Election To Postpone Determination As To Whether The Presumption That An Activity Is Engaged In For Profit Applies.

What a bunch of gobbledygook! Fortunately,  the folks who work at today's IRS (motto: "We're Human Beings Just Like You,  Except We Breathe Via Gills") no longer tolerate this kind of confusing prose. They have thoughtfully revised Form 5213,  so that it's now titled:

Election To Postpone Determination As To Whether The Presumption Applies That An Activity Is Engaged In For Profit.

That certainly clears THAT up! I think all of us taxpayers should express our gratitude by filing Form 5213 this year as many times as is humanly possible.

Ms. Tibbits also sent me Form 8328,  which was named by the IRS's state-of-the-art Random Noun Generator: It's called "Carryforward Election Of Unused Private Activity Bond Volume Cap." The instructions do not give any clear indication as to what  this form is for,  except that it has something to do with docks and wharves. My advice to you is,  if you have had anything whatsoever to do with a dock or wharf in 1994,  including simply walking on one,  you should flee to the Amazon rain forest immediately,  because trust me,  you do not want to mess with Form 8328. My eyeballs are bleeding just from looking at it.

Most taxpayers,  however,  are mainly concerned with Form 1040. The average time required to complete and file this form is about 11 hours,  according to an IRS study of average taxpayers on the Planet Zeembo. You will probably need more like a month,  not counting the time required to forge receipts. To help you with this annual chore,  I've prepared the following:


Q. Who is the current IRS commissioner,  and is he or she a wacky dude or dudette?

A. Her name is Margaret Milner Richardson,  and she surely is. Check out her "Dear Taxpayer" letter on page 3 of the form 1040 instruction package,  wherein she states that the IRS has been recognized as "a leader among government agencies in customer service."

Q. What is that comparable to?

A. That is comparable to stating that "cement is a leader among construction materials for use as a dessert topping."

Q. Does Margaret make any other comical statements in her letter?

A. Yes. She states: "I want you to know that the 'S' in IRS represents a commitment to serve you."

Q. What does the "R" represent?

A. It represents "a tiny room with a hard chair where we grill randomly selected taxpayers until they break down and tell us about their wharves."

Q. How will the O.J. Simpson case affect my 1994 tax returns?

A. You're going to have to chip in a little extra to help offset the estimated $147 million business deduction that the defense team is claiming for suits.

Q. Have you noticed that,  all of a sudden,  manufacturers are advertising baking soda as a Miracle Ingredient in just about every product you buy,  including tires?

A. You are required to keep detailed records of this.

Q. Did several alert readers send you a story from the Jan. 20 issue of the Easton,  Pa. Express-Times concerning a fascinating highway accident?

A. Yes. The story begins: "A truck carrying 40,000 pounds of frozen cow lungs slated to become dog food in France wrecked on Route 31 early Thursday." There's also a photograph,  captioned: "A worker kicks some of the 20 tons of frozen cow lungs that spilled from this truck."

Q. You are making this up.

A. No.

Q. Why did the worker kick some of the frozen cow lungs?

A. Perhaps he did not have time to kick them all.

Q. Is there a specific tax form for this situation?

A. Of course. It is Form 592038-MOO. You are required to file this form if,  during the 1994 tax year,  you,  or anyone you know,  for any reason,  owned a dog.

* * *

In following the tax advice outlined above,  please bear two things in mind:

1. I am NOT a Certified Public Accountant. I am the U.S. Treasury secretary.

2. Our tax laws are constantly changing as our elected representatives seek new ways to insure that whatever tax advice we receive is incorrect. Even as you read these words,  Congress is considering a bill that would require every 15th word in the tax code to rhyme with "uvula." So if you have ANY doubt about a tax decision,  pick up the phone and call IRS Commissioner Richardson directly. She won't mind. After all,  the "I" in IRS stands for "I have a terrific sense of humor." I hope.

© 1995 Dave Barry This column is protected by intellectual property laws, including U.S. copyright laws. Electronic or print reproduction, adaptation, or distribution without permission is prohibited. Ordinary links to this column at http://www.miamiherald.com may be posted or distributed without written permission.