Dave Barry

Classic '87: Tips for doing your taxes (IRS, if you're reading, please don't audit me)


AP File Photo

This Dave Barry column was originally published Sunday, February 22, 1987 with the headline "The Lie of the Land"

Each year at this time (11:30) we present helpful tips for preparing your federal income-tax return so you can obtain the maximum possible financial benefits combined with the minimum possible prison term. As usual, we wish to caution you that these helpful tips are not necessarily accurate or true or representative of human brain wave activity. These tips are here solely for the purpose of taking up space in the newspaper, similar to editorials, and before you attempt any of these maneuvers yourself you should consult a trained accountant.

That's what we do. We consult with our accountant, Evan, every year at tax time, and he always tells us: "Dammit, you have to keep complete financial records. These are NOT complete financial records. These are expired service warranties from various fondue sets." Evan is constantly nitpicking like this, but we keep him as our accountant anyway because he has attractive picture books in his office that you can look at while he attempts to imagine what your actual incomes and expenses might have been if you had thought to write them down. Also, he invited us to his wedding, and when the minister asked him if he would love and cherish his wife-to-be, Kathy, who works with him, he answered, right in front of the audience, and this a true quote: "Only until the end of Tax Season."

But you're not interested in my accountant's wedding: You're interested in seeing Sophia Loren naked. We all are! It's perfectly normal! But first we must pay our income taxes.

This is especially important this year, because the government needs all the money it can get to combat that darned pesky federal budget deficit, which in 1987 will zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Whoops! Sorry! It's just that the deficit has grown so large and boring that even we journalists can't write about it without our faces crashing down onto our word processors. The same thing happens when we try to write about the tragic situation over there in the war-torn Middle Easzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Back to tax tips. By now, you should have received your 1986 tax form in the mail from the Internal Revenue Service ("Your IRS: Working to Put You in Jail").

As in past years, my No. 1 tax-preparation tip is: NEVER USE ROUND NUMBERS FOR DEDUCTIBLE EXPENSES, BECAUSE IT WILL BE OBVIOUS YOU'RE LYING. To quote from Official IRS Information Pamphlet Number 2893-C, How to Fill Out Your Tax Forms So You Don't Get Caught: "Taxpayers should try to make up numbers that look like they might be real, such as '$1,407.62,' or even '$3,219.83.' " This is important, taxpayers. If you write a number like "$500," you might just as well add: "Go ahead and audit me, scuzzballs!" This is how they got mobster Al Capone, who put down, under Business Expenses, "Cement: $100,000." If he had put: "Cement: $100,000.79," they probably would never have nailed him (except that he also made the common taxpayer error of listing his occupation as "mobster").

COMMON TAXPAYER QUESTION: Well, what if you really DO have a legitimate tax-deductible expense that by sheer random chance happens to be $500?

ANSWER: You should put a little explanatory note in the margin stating: "Really! I'm not lying! On this one!"

In the unlikely event that, despite following these tax tips, you are called in for an audit, do not become needlessly alarmed. Remember: The people who work for the IRS are just human beings like yourself, with normal families and homes and kitchens where they like to put live chipmunks into their Veg-O- Matics. JUST KIDDING, IRS workers! You know how much you love to kid around! Please give me back my child!

Seriously, a tax audit is not the end of the world. All that happens is, you take your financial records to the IRS office, and they put you into a tank filled with giant stinging leeches. Many taxpayers are pleasantly surprised to find that they die within hours.

Still, it's probably better to avoid an audit altogether by obeying the tax law to the maximum extent you can considering that neither you nor anybody else has ever actually seen it. And to help you get fired up, this year the IRS plans to produce a series of motivational TV commercials called "Taxpayers in Action," patterned after the highly successful armed-forces recruitment commercials that show young armed-forces personnel having fun helicopter adventures and learning Valuable Career Skills, but never being shot at or getting mandatory comical haircuts or standing in the rain at 4:30 a.m. getting yelled at by angry men with no foreheads. Similarly, the "Taxpayers in Action" commercials will stress the positive side of taxpaying, showing, for example, a group of happy taxpayers dancing around and triumphantly giving each other the "high-five" handshake after successfully getting through on the convenient IRS Taxpayer Assistance Telephone Hotline in under 200 tries.

So the government has done its part, and now we taxpayers should do ours, by following the many helpful tips that have appeared in this column, thanks to all the research that I did, which caused me to drive 352,792.4 miles and eat innumerable business-related lunches.