Overly Taxing

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The U.S. tax system is absurd. I don’t object to paying money to the government, but I take issue with making people tally their own bills. Perhaps lawmakers don’t realize most of us learned math in American public schools. Congress must think we all grew up in Canada. Filling out my tax return is like taking a comprehensive end-of-the-year test, but it’s open book and I administer it to myself. I’ve never been audited by the Internal Revenue Service – although that will definitely change if someone there sees this article – so for all intents and purposes I’ve never been graded. For some reason, Uncle Sam trusts me to use a red pen on my own answer sheet, even though what’s at stake are thousands of dollars, not a meaningless letter grade. Predictably, my final score every year shows the government owes me money. Numbers aren’t biased, but my questionable arithmetic definitely is. Selective ignorance is exactly as profitable as it sounds.
As Jesus said, “Give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and give unto God whatever you want to deduct as a charitable contribution. Be sure to save the receipt.”
I did my taxes this weekend, and I once again got a huge windfall from the IRS. It’s been that way ever since I had kids. The government continues to subsidize my poor decision to reproduce. Either that or I’m being compensated for the pain and suffering of living with two toddlers. My wife would never have sex with me if it didn’t lead to tax deductions. Yes, I realize the refund is “my money” because I paid too much in taxes in the first place. But in reality, no money is ever mine. I just hold onto it for a few minutes before it gets sucked away by bills or kids, which are more or less synonymous. Just ask my daycare provider. I pay a small fortune to live out the fantasy of not having children for 40 hours a week.

My wife Lola and I will apply this refund toward a minivan, which we need before she gives birth in June. My current car only holds two car seats, and the hospital won’t let us take the baby home in the trunk. Nurses are so unreasonable. The refund money will be gone almost as soon as it hits my bank account, so I really hope I don’t get audited. If it turns out I wasn’t due all of those funds, I’ll have to sell either the van or one of the children since we won’t have the money or seats for both.

I don’t know why the nurses won’t let us stick the baby in the trunk. We’d put down some straw or something first.
Experts insist I should reduce the automatic tax withholding from my paychecks so I don’t give the government a free loan for most of the year. In practice, it wouldn’t make a difference. If I originally kept the money I plan to put toward the minivan, it would’ve just sat in the bank. Last year, my main account earned exactly $1.75 in interest. The bank paid more for the stamps to send me a 1099 than it actually gave me in dividends. At this point, the only reason I keep my money there at all is so I don’t have to go through the trouble of burying it my back yard. I’d hate for a shovel to put callouses on my soft, beautiful hands.

Instead of paying too much to the government up front, I could’ve put those funds in the stock market, but that would’ve turned out even worse. When I give money to the IRS early, I get nothing in return; when I give it to the bank, I get pocket change; and when I put it in a dirt hole, I get rugged man-hands. But if I put it in stocks, I would get negative money back. The market can go up or down, unless I’m in it. Then it only crashes. The year I opened my 401(k) marked the start of the Great Recession, so it’s my fault no one can afford to retire anymore. The artificial joy I get from being surprised by a large tax refund is worth more than the handful of nickels I’d get from the bank or the devastating losses I’d get from the stock market. It’s kind of like when I discover a bottle of booze I forgot about in the liquor cabinet. Yes, it was technically mine the whole time, but that doesn’t make me any less drunk right now.

I’ve done my own taxes for the past five years, but I still have no idea how they actually work. I just answer yes-or-no questions on a free website that for all I know could be run by a Nigerian prince who can’t even find America on a map. He’ll fly here, though, if I forward my refund to him. It wouldn’t take deliberate third-party fraud to get me in trouble. The website lists the running total for the refund like it’s a high score in a videogame. If my input makes that amount go down, then my honest answer was also the wrong one. If I click “no” and lose $1,000, I rack my brain to see if there’s any possible justification for a “yes” instead. Now that I think about it, I did raise soybeans on an Indiana Reservation this year. Multimillion dollar refund, here I come.

I would’ve gotten twice as much money if my farm hands were blind albinos with learning disabilities. I’ll do better next year.

With the complexities and temptations of the system, even the professionals get it wrong sometimes. My friend stopped going to one expert after the guy missed a huge credit that was advertised all over TV at the time. The moral of the story is never hire someone who does taxes in a Walmart bathroom. Certified public accountants in fancy office buildings aren’t necessarily any better. If I went to one, I’d just trade blind trust in a website for blind trust in a guy who claims to have a fancy degree. I don’t even think “Harvard” is a real college. I could deal with the trust issues, but the condescending glances are a deal-breaker. Accountants look down on me because I keep my tax records in an old Taco Bell carryout bag. I don’t see why. I usually remember to take out the petrified burritos first.

After considering the alternatives, I have no choice but to continue paying the government too much up front and doing my taxes myself. There’s a chance I filled out my return correctly this year, although if that happened it would be entirely by accident. I guess I’ll find out when the IRS finally audits me. I may have to mail my next article from prison.