About a month ago, something weird showed up in my mailbox.
Okay, not actual cash money, but a check.
And no, this isn’t a post about this obsolete technology that is a check. I’min my middle ages. Not only do I know what a check is, I remember a time where I had to pay all of my bills by check. Heck, I still write a couple checks a month myself. One to transfer money from my personal account to the joint family account and one for my car payment. Because for some reason, I can never remember my login for the bank that the car loan is through. Plus those checks I had printed up ten years ago gotta be good for something. And maybe if I use enough of them, I’ll be able to order new ones with my actual address on them.
So it wasn’t the fact that I saw an actual check that was surprising. It was that this particular check came from the federal government. Those checks look extra special, don’t they? It’s obvious straight away that this ain’t no jury summons. This ain’t no social security statement that tells me how much money I might be making if I retire, but only if I bring them the heads of twenty-five Baby Boomers who are totally fucking up the accounting model that they made when the life expectancy was 68.
But straight up cash from the government is obvious. They make that tell-tale rainbow color visible through the little window on the envelope, so that, even though you’re only looking at your name and address, you know there is a “Pay to the order of” written just out of view. And sure enough, this turns out to be bona fide money coming the government into my grubby little bank account.
Not sure WHY I’m getting money from the government on a random autumn afternoon, but hey, if you don’t ask questions, nothing bad can happen, right? Clearly El Presidente hasn’t been listening in on my private conversations. Then again, I did criticize California in a blog post once, so I guess that counts for a bonus these days.
This check wasn’t coming from just any old part of the federal government, though. The return address wasn’t for the Department of Homeland Security or the Department of the Interior. Not even the Department of the Treasury.
This one came from the Internal Revenue Service.
Yikes! I didn’t even know they sent checks out. I thought they were a black hole that sucked finances in, never to return. Or to be put to good use. Unless we bring back Space Force.
So we opened the envelope, and there it was. A check for roughly $356. No explanation whatsoever. Just two line items on the check stub: Tax overpayment ($349) and interest ($7).
So Wife and I begin the conversation. When might we have overpaid?
We got dinged for underpaying once. We had dutifully filed our taxes in, I’m going to guess, 2013? And then, nice and timely, we get a notice in something like 2017, saying they didn’t like one of the deductions we had taken. So now, four years later, they ask if we happen to have all the proper documentation for it. It turns out we did, because Wife is way better about holding on to shit than I am. But IRS still didn’t like what we said, so they took a couple dollars off but we still had to pay them a shit-ton of money. Plus interest, because it’s clearly our fault that they waited four years to make up some cockamamie bullshit.
Hey, Space Force ain’t gonna build itself, am I right?
But this time we’re facing the opposite situation. Now they’re saying we overpaid. My first thought was they were belatedly accepting our explanation and returning our penalty. But no, Wife told me the amount we owed the IRS back then was substantially higher than the amount the IRS was now paying us. Shocker, huh?
So we held on to the check. We were too scared to cash it. Maybe if we never cashed it, they couldn’t charge us interest when they realized they had sent it out, right? I mean sure, they’re much more likely to charge us for the interest we could have been earning if we had chosen to cash the check. But still, it might be a felony to cash a check that the government didn’t mean to send us. Maybe if we never cash it, they’ll never know they sent it out.
Or maybe we’ll just be a $350 annoyance that makes it so they can never properly balance their books. Like when Rickey Henderson hung his million-dollar bonus check on the wall instead of cashing it, making the Oakland A’s budget a million dollars off for more than a year.
Except the A’s were trying to balance their budget. I don’t think the government would notice if $350 went missing. Or $350 million, for that matter.
About three weeks later, we got another notice from the IRS.
Ha ha, I knew it. Tear up that check!
Wife and I each received a different notice. Two separate mailings, even though we filed our taxes jointly and there was only one check, sent in one envelope to our house and… come to think of it, we have our refund direct deposited every year. Why the heck are they sending this refund via check? If I return an item I purchased with my debit card at Target, they can just put the money right back in my account. Why can’t the government? I’m pretty sure that, if I owed extra money, they’d just take it out, right?
What’s that? Fourth amendment, you say? Ha ha, that’s a good one. You must not have been following the news for the last… century or so.
But contrary to what I assumed, these letters told us that the refund was legitimate. Woo hoo!
But wait a second. The last four digits of the social security number listed aren’t the last four digits of my social security. I knew it was too good to be true!
Hang on, it turns out that’s Wife’s social security number. I checked to see if they wrote my number on her letter. After she opened it, of course, because we’re not going to tack mail fraud on top of the tax embezzlement charge we’ll be facing when we cash that check. But nope, they wrote her number on top of both letters. She’s the primary wage earner, and since most of our tax laws are based on outdated social mores, the second wage earner doesn’t really count. This again brings up the question of why they sent separate letters, but whatever. What’s an extra 33 cents to the government? Or 35 cents? How the hell much does a stamp cost now? 55 cents? Holy crap! I guess I stopped buying stamps around the same time I stopped writing checks. Who would’ve guessed?
Okay, so if you’ve made it this far, you’re probably wondering why we got this money back from the government.
Unfortunately, I still can’t tell you.
“We apologize for the inconvenience, but we made an error on your 2018 Form 1040. To correct our mistake, we adjusted your Schedule D. As a result, you are due a refund of $349.00.”
About as clear as mud, huh? There was an error on the tax form? Not the W-2, so it’s not my employers fault. But there was an error on the actual 1040. Don’t they proofread that before they send it out to 300 million people?
The letter goes on to say, “”If you don’t agree with the changes, call XXX to review your account with a representative. We’ll assume you agree with the information in this notice if we don’t hear from you.”
Umm, I still don’t exactly know what the “changes” are, only that I get $350. How am I supposed to agree or disagree? Is this like those class-action lawsuits that I can opt out of if I want to go for more money individually? Of course, the problem with those class-action lawsuits is that I don’t remember if I stayed at a Motel 6 between June 33rd and Octember 71st of 1972, so I guess I’ll just take the fifteen cents and be done with it.
And that’s the same problem we have here. But at least it seems to be on the government. If we had erred, I doubt we’d see a penny. Isn’t that why they make super Byzantine tax laws that nobody can understand? Because then if we overpay, we’ll never know. And if we underpay, they’ll call us on it and we’ll have to believe them. I’m guessing the only reason this money is coming my way is because it also affected a senator or some other person who matters. Then they just told the computer to send money back to everyone who had put something on line 135.A.ii.c-2 of the EZ form.
The other proof that this affected someone higher up the food chain than me is how quickly it’s being resolved. This fuck-up was related to our 2018 tax returns. 2018! As in the taxes we filed THIS YEAR. Like SIX MONTHS ago.
Shit, that’s faster than the line at the DMV to get a new REAL ID.
But wait a second. If this is from this year, how the hell was there seven dollars in interest? Let me play with some numbers here. I assume they’re only paying interest on the part we overpaid. So by my calculation, seven dollars is about three percent of that total. The government gets three percent interest?
But wait a second. We filed our taxes in March. So does that seven dollars only represent six months of interest? Is the government getting SIX percent somewhere? Where can I find that amount of return? I’ve got twenty thousand in a savings account and I highly doubt I’ve made seven dollars in interest over the past six years, much less six months. Most months I make about eight cents of interest. Yet somehow the government makes a dollar a month off of $350. Must be nice to know some senators. Have they been short-selling a bunch of stocks right before they announce tariffs?
But I shouldn’t get too excited about that interest rate. The letter tells me that, “Your refund may include interest. Keep in mind that any interest you receive on tax refunds is considered taxable income during the year you receive it.”
Oh joy. What’s the tax rate on seven dollars of income? I’ll just put five hundred aside to be safe.
And then there’s the kicker. The letter says, “If you haven’t received a refund for $349.00, you should receive a refund check within 2-3 weeks as long as you don’t owe other taxes or debts we’re required to collect.”
They don’t even know if and when the check’s coming out!
Had this letter come a day or two before or after the check, it would be one thing. But this thing came a whole fucking month later. Like “Oh hey, yeah, you might be wondering why you got some random money from us. No? You spent it already and forgot about it? Well, here’s a vaguely worded explanation. Or, who knows, maybe it’s coming next year.”
I’m reminded of something Andrew Yang said. Not that I’m a Yang-ophile, but I think if I tag him, I will immediately get a thousand more blog views. So Andrew Yang, Andrew Yang, Andrew Yang.
Anyway, he’s running on a Universal Basic Income. He wants to give everyone $1,000 a month. When explaining it, he talked about all of the random isolated shit that the government had been trying to fix forever. And none of it gets fixed because the government isn’t very good at isolating problems and/or devising solutions. There’s one thing the government is really good at: sending out checks to people.
Yeah, Mr. Yang. Like, four weeks better than explaining why.
And they probably could’ve saved 33-cents by forgoing the explanation. Or 55-cents. Crap. Why can’t I keep that straight?