Tax Day

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Tuesday was tax day. I hope everyone got everything in and filed on time. I personally enjoyed the extra three days this year, because I do my taxes old school, on paper, and the last part — where I ink everything (I write the numbers in pencil to start, so I can fix my inevitable mistakes writing down the right thing on the wrong line, or the wrong thing on the right line), and make copies and take it all to the post office — always takes three times as long as it seems like it should, so I always end up running around at the last minute and then being mad at myself for running around at the last minute. That part is always the worst.

But this year, I was much better about it, and I was able to spread the painful part out over three days. On Saturday I reviewed everything and made sure I had printed all the right forms and transferred my numbers to the forms. (I have an Excel workbook where I can plug in everything, separate tabs for each of the forms I use, so if I make a change it flows through to the 1040 worksheet, and then I transfer that to paper.) On Sunday I reviewed my final numbers and made sure they added up properly on the paper. (Sometimes there are problems between the Excel numbers and the paper numbers, because Excel has dollars and cents, but on the form I round to whole dollars.) Then I did my state forms with the final numbers from my 1040. On Monday I inked them and got envelopes and made sure I had the right address for my Federal form, and then figured out my estimated taxes for 2017 to try to get back on track and all caught up again with my taxes. (I fell off the horse halfway through last year and just gave up, decided to deal with it all in April … $4,000 later, I am now caught up.)

Then on Tuesday — last chance! — my plan was to go to Kinko’s and make copies (which is a very important step if you do your taxes on paper, I forgot that one year when I first was starting … but I had faxed a copy for my dad to review, so he was able to send a copy of the faxed forms back to me for my records) and then go to the post office and mail them and I would be done.

My work day starts at 1 p.m. on Tuesdays so I figured if I left at noon that would give me plenty of time to hit Kinko’s then the post office then get to work.

I left a little bit late, around 12:20 p.m. and when I got to Kinko’s there was a line for the copiers. A line?? I was not expecting this. I do not go to Kinko’s much these days but I do not recall having to wait in line at Kinko’s. Then I realized that I’m usually at Kinko’s at like 10 or 11 p.m.,  so maybe that’s why.

It took a few minutes, but not too long, and I did get my copies made, but by the time I was done, it was 12:50 p.m., which meant that I had to get to work. I would have to take a break from work and go to the post office after my meeting.

So I went to work and had my meeting and did whatever else needed to be done, and I headed toward the door to go to the post office, having also picked up someone else’s tax forms that needed to be mailed. (He had done them online, but wasn’t able to e-file for some reason, and his housemate who shares my office was supposed to mail them for him but she had forgotten. I said I would take them with me when I took care of mine.)

Ann saw me leaving and asked if I was going for doughnuts (our code word for the weekly bank run, shhh don’t tell anyone) and I said I was going to the post office, but there was a post office near the doughnut bank if she needed to get something there and wanted to go with me.

So Ann and I took care of her doughnut banking and then went to the post office and we got there at 3:50 p.m. and there were like 10 people in line at the automated machine and about 20 people in line for the counters. And it wasn’t like they didn’t have anyone working, there were 4 or 5 clerks working.

Big day at the post office!

Ann was stressed because she was leaving on a trip the next day and she still had a bunch of stuff to take care of. Standing in line at the post office for 20 minutes was not on her list of things to do that day. I told her we should enjoy the break in the day, take some deep cleansing breaths there in the post office line.

Breathe in …. breathe out …

See, isn’t that nice?

I mailed my three envelopes (2016 Federal tax, 2016 State tax, 2017 Federal estimated tax; I’m going to adjust my withholding to cover the state taxes, so no envelope for that), and my friend’s two envelopes, which he did badly and ended up needing extra postage. (H­e put them in 9 x 12 flat envelopes instead of folding into a letter envelope; they each needed $1.19 in postage instead of $0.49, and he put two Forever stamps on but that’s only $0.98, so I spotted him the 2 x $0.21 = $0.42 so they could go out on time.)

Ann bought some Jimi Hendrix stamps. (I told her to get the Oscar de la Renta,but they didn’t have those.) And we were on our way.

And the original point of this post was not to give a minute-by-minute account of my day on April 18, 2017, but sometimes when I start writing, these things happen. We’re just going to have to roll with it.

The ACTUAL POINT of this post in the first place was to tell a story about something that happened to me in 2015 when I was getting my accounting degree at UNC.

The UNC law school runs a VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) program to help students (and anyone else who wants to come to the law school for help) file their taxes. They recruited MAC students to participate, and this was definitely something I was interested in. I had experience with taxes, and taxes are stressful for people, so I wanted to be able to help out and make things easier.

You’d think that most students would have simple taxes but it was actually fairly complicated with the way tuition and fees are reported, and education credits that are available, and whether someone is a dependent or should file on their own. There were more things to trip you up than you’d think.

I had one couple who had bought insurance through the Federal exchange, and this was the first year for reporting that so it was all new to everyone, and they had the most complicated situation imaginable (without being self-employed … being self-employed and getting insurance through the exchange and being eligible for a subsidy is the most complicated situation imaginable).

They had waited to enroll until the last moment before being penalized, and then the husband had gotten a job halfway through the year that had insurance but the wife stayed on the exchange insurance for the full year. They had three Forms 1095-A and I thought I handled it properly but then I couldn’t get the system to take Form 8962 so I knew I’d done something wrong.

I ended up having to do a bunch of research and learning completely new terms like “tax family” and I finally got it figured out and submitted. After I had it all resolved I was talking to my tax professor about it and she said, “You probably know more about this than anyone else in this building.” And that was true, I probably did.

I did 4 or 5 sessions of VITA, and it was nice to be helpful, but I actually thought I might have been better off knowing less. Sometimes I felt like I was over-thinking things, I was aware of complicating factors that most of the time turned out to not apply, and it would have been easier if I hadn’t known anything about them in the first place because it turned out the same in the end.

But whatever. It was fine and I’m glad I did it.

However, there was one piece of information disseminated by the UNC Law VITA program that was simply wrong.

I was reading their little information sheet about filing, and we did the returns on computers using the IRS tax program, so almost everyone filed electronically, but they did include information about mailing your form for anyone who wanted to do that.

The information sheet stated that if you wished to file a paper form, you should mail it at least two weeks before the filing deadline so it would be in by the due date.

I hope that everyone who reads that statement is as horrified by it as I am. This is even worse than not knowing what a phone book is.

How can you not know that the deadline of April 15 is the date that your form needs to be MAILED, not the date it needs to be received and processed by?

How can this be?

I wanted to tell them about how back in the day post offices would stay open until midnight, and the late-night ­copy shops would be filled with last-minute filers making copies of their forms before running off to the late-night post office to mail.

I remember one April 15 riding my bike to Kinko’s then heading downtown where the main post office building was closed but they had a postal truck stationed outside with postal workers taking stamped envelopes and putting them in bins on the truck. It was such a relief to hand the envelopes over to someone, to know that I made it in under the wire.

Tax day was this shared experience, all of the procrastinators in America frantically filling out forms and running around copying them and finding envelopes and stamps and rushing to get everything in the mail. Everyone doing the same thing on the same day.

And now … not so much.

I guess it’s everyone sitting at their computer trying to hit the “send” button before midnight, crashing servers and such. Just not the same drama, if you ask me.

But anyway, I hope everyone finished everything and got it all in. And that no one had to wait too long in the line at the post office.