Terror

Have you ever experienced a true David and Goliath moment?  Have you  hunkered down in mental anguish, desperately unsure of survival?  Have you railed against the fates, mired in the soul-wrenching misery of the downtrodden?  If you’ve been audited by the IRS, the answer is yes.

That is not a  typo. I did not write ISIS. I repeat – IRS.

The funny thing is I had nothing at all to hide.  Yet when the dreaded envelope arrived, declaring my government’s dissatisfaction, I was shaken to the core. It could be because they were threatening an ungodly amount in fines and restitution, funds I do not possess. It could have been the stone formality of phrasing, the utter certainty that I had somehow erred.  I felt like a criminal and feared for my financial survival.

Time was not my friend. The tax year concerned was three years in the past so it felt like the powers that be had avidly searched for a reason to persecute me.  The wait was heavy. I had a full six months in which to imagine many possible outcomes, most of them grim.

The most striking thing about the whole experience was the way in which the burden of evidence fell to me.   In what other circumstance in this great nation of ours are you considered guilty until proven innocent?  Because that IS the presumption: that you have somehow cheated, or misreported in order to deceive the higher powers.  I had to go back into our financial history and gather documents. I called and hunted, gathered and submitted in the hope it would clear misunderstanding.

My initial response was deemed insufficient.  I was notified I would have to appear in federal tax court if I wished to defend my position.  I gathered more evidence, met with an accountant and returned yet more documents.  Sounds like I have offshore accounts, underhanded dealings and nefarious business practices, does it not?  I was actually proving our right to educational credits, having had three sons in college at the same time.

Transcripts, billing statements and diplomas proved our case.  No courtroom was necessary. After my second round of documents I was sent a letter. The IRS decided to accept the return in question exactly as filed. I felt like I won the lottery.  I felt as if I had escaped the hangman’s noose.

Death and taxes are inescapable.   But we do try to make dying as comfortable as possible for those we love.  Could we not at least try to lessen the intimidation factor involved with tax issues?  The majority of taxpayers are not a class of criminals.  We are working people who struggle to meet our obligations.  A friendly voice on the phone, a real human to answer our call might be nice.   A personal meeting with someone who tries to help the taxpayer…is that asking too much?  Tax law is ever changing and truly complex.  I pay my own accountant who was greatly helpful to me. What about those who cannot afford to pay someone to help them understand?  And shorten the time factor if at all possible.  It is difficult to have weighty issues unresolved, hanging like anvils over your future.

Thank you to those who helped me through the long night.  You buoyed me up, hoped with me and shared in my outrage.  It was long and painful but justice did triumph. To all those Davids out there, do not despair.  If you are right do not give up. Fight on. You are not alone.

death and taxes

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