money

Tax Error in my Favor

About a month ago, something weird showed up in my mailbox.

Money.

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?

Oh well.

Andrew Yang.

Andrew Yang.

Andrew Yang.

Dear Other Former British Colonies,

So New Zealand’s thinking of changing their flag to take out the Union Jack, huh? I also heard a rumor that Australia was thinking of loosening their ties with the mother country. It’s the very same “mother” that kicked them out eighty years ago, but hey, baby steps.  Kind of like when Greg Brady moved his room to the attic. And maybe, if either of these moves prove successful, Canada can take its rightful role of “America’s Hat” instead of “Britain’s Toddler.”

As an arrogant American, if any of this happens, I’d be the first one to say “Welcome to the eighteenth century.”

Early in my teaching career, during one of the seemingly bi-annual budget cuts that schools go through, I started looking at which other countries would accept my teaching credential. When I looked at New Zealand, which I had once spent three days in and absolutely loved, I was disappointed that there was no reciprocity with the United States. They WOULD accept a Canuck Credential, or Aussie or South Africa or any number of other nationalities’. But not a Yank.

I tried to bribe a Canadian official with some maple syrup (“Have you met my friend, Aunt Jemima?”), but no luck.

Those other countries are deemed as “culturally similar” to New Zealand, but the United States is not. Evidently the whole “former British colony” didn’t seep into a people’s culture until 1850.

The whole “asking for your independence” thing makes the Commonwealthers aghast. There’s a certain cultural element to waiting until your parents kick you out of the house. I’m sure we Americans were probably a bit too brash – screaming at our parents and running away from home while still in our formative pre-teen years. But really, Kiwis? Y’all waited till your parents converted your bedroom into a game room. Then you still asked if you could just live in the garage.

And none of you three are even independent now. How do I know? Because you still depend on your parents for money.

And last I checked, all y’all still have the Queen on your money.

You also still celebrate the Queen’s birthday. Although you can’t seem to agree on when said birthday is, and it is nowhere near the actual Queen’s birthday, but that’s a post for another time.

I don’t mean to call the three of you out, but you are aware that Fiji finally got around to taking her off their money, right? This is the same Fiji that proudly made up the phrase “Fiji Time,” meaning “when we get around to it.”

“I thought the bus was supposed to get here at 7:30.”

“Ya, da bus get here at Fiji Time.”

Those people beat you to the whole “putting our own people on our currency” by six years and counting. No pressure.

So the Queen’s still on your money after, what, 85 years of independence? That’s a serious question. When did you three become independent? I tried googling Canadian Independence and Google just laughed at me. Then it gave me a whole range of dates, some as early as 1867, some as late as 1982.

But the year 1931 seems to be a regularly agreed upon date. I assume that’s when Britain made you start paying rent. The earlier date was when she told you to get a job, and it wasn’t until 1982 that you had to start paying for your own insurance.

What? You guys don’t have to pay for insurance? What the fuck?

Regardless, just like you aren’t really an adult until you have your own place, you aren’t really a country until you have money featuring people that live there.

Fortunately, I can help you out with that. After all, I’ve visited ALL THREE countries we are discussing. I don’t think there could be any more qualified person on this planet, Kiwi Teacher Credential Board be damned.

Besides, having an American condescendingly tell you how to run things is another one of those “rites of passage” for being a real country.

Since the Queen is currently among the living, I can only assume you aren’t tied down by that pesky “must be dead to be on our money” rule that ties us down in the United States. If we didn’t have this restriction, I’m sure Britney Spears would be leading Harriet Tubman in that “which woman are we going to put on the three-dollar bill” debate.

So it’s a good thing you guys don’t have that rule. Because I’m not sure I could name any historical figures from any of your countries. Wait, the Crocodile Hunter is dead, right?

So without further ado…

Canada: This one’s a little bit tougher than at first glance. The natural assumption would be to pick a hockey player. That’s the first thing that people think of when they hear Canada. And from what we hear, they are even more popular inside Canada than they are outside.

Sorry, Canada, I meant “ootside.”

There are other Canadian sports figures, too. I would suggest a curler, but the more logical person would be Steve Nash.  Not only is he a Canadian athlete, but also owns gyms throughout Canada. On the road to Vancouver, there is a Steve Nash Sports Club right next to a Tim Horton’s, and I think that spot right there is the most Canada spot on the Earth. The only thing that could make it more Canadian would be if, instead of an exact address, it was “Aboot 250 Centre Street.”

Wait, is Tim Horton a real person who can go on your money?

Outside of sports, Canada is known for a number of actors, especially comedians. I think roughly half of the SNL members have been Canucks. It’s a seriously impressive list: Dan Akroyd, Mike Myers, Jim Carrey, Martin Short, Phil Hartman, Norm MacDonald, John Candy, Seth Rogan. Shit, even Dana Carvey was born in Montana, which is effectively Canada.

But how would you even begin to pare that list down? Plus, the unfortunate fact is that most of their memorable characters aren’t Canadian. Mike Myers is known for an English secret agent, a Scottish ogre, and a teenager from Ohio. Dan Akroyd plays an alien and Norm MacDonald was last seen as a dead Kentucky Colonel.

Music? Bryan Adams defined the 1980s and Alanis Morissette took over the 1990s, but they haven’t been heard from since. A friend of mine told me that Rush was Canadian, which I found surprising. Not that Rush has a particular nationality, only that someone would think of Rush when discussing Canada. Or discussing music. Or really at any time, ever. My biggest problem with the book Ready Player One was how the the guy who created the game was a huge Rush fan. Nobody, I thought, is actually a Rush fan. Much less a big Rush fan.

But wouldn’t it be ironic if Canada put Alanis Morissette on their money? Don’t ya think?

Yeah, I’m going with the obvious one here, Canada. Wayne Gretzky’s going on your money. Maybe Mark Messier and Patrick Roy can go on different denominations

New Zealand: Ooo, this one’s a toughie. Google’s already laughed at me once today. I’m not even sure Wikipedia could help me find any famous New Zealanders.

My own personal famous Kiwi was the cute blonde that worked at the Zorb run when I visited, but I don’t think she was quite currency-ready.

You could put the kiwi bird on there. Or the kiwi fruit. Maybe a kiwi bird eating a kiwi fruit? But that sounds more like the back of money. The front really ought to have a person.

You could put the All Blacks on your currency. I’m sure the average Kiwi would know who they are. But when you try to exchange that money anywhere that doesn’t play rugby, people will just be confused. Plus you can’t have someone wearing shorts on your currency. Sorry.

I guess you’ll just have to put the hobbits on your money. The Lord of the Rings movies are what you’re most famous for.

I’ll be nice and let you guys vote on whether you use illustrations from the books or the actual actors. I assume Sean Astin would let his likeness be used.

You might have a little more problem with Orlando Bloom.

Australia: The world is your oyster, Oz.

There really are a shocking number of Australian actors. Mel Gibson, Nicole Kidman, both Wolverine AND Thor, not to mention the late Joker. Both of the Crocodiles (Dundee and Hunter). Russell Crowe.

What? Russell Crowe is from New Zealand?

Hold on, let me think.

Nah, New Zealand, you’re still good with Elijah Wood.

And it’s not just actors. Rick Springfield comes from the Land Down Under. As, of course, do Men at Work. So does Kylie Minogue. Most people might throw Kylie into the same category as Rick Springfield and Bryan Adams, as a throwback to the 1980s. Not so. I discovered when I was in Australia that not only is Kylie Minogue still making songs, but the Aussies are fiercely proud of her for it. I’m pretty sure every third song on the radio, and every other video on the TVs at the night clubs, featured the former Locomotion artist.

Keith Urban is the most unlikely Country star ever – not only is “Urban” the worst Country-sounding name, but how the hell does  an Australian get a Southern twang?

Actually, there seem to have been a few Aussies who play American cowboys. Like Russell Crowe in “3:10 to Yuma.”

Wait, Russell Crowe is a Kiwi? Are you sure?

And of course, combining singing and acting together is none other than Olivia Newton-John. I could see a full line of paper currency on her career. Maybe the five would show the good Sandy from Grease and the ten would feature naughty leather-clad Sandy. The hundred might have that memorable character from Xanadu. You know the one. Then all the coins would have the fat people working out in the Physical video.

But something’s missing from this whole thing. None of these people fit that international concept of Australia that the Aussies themselves hate so much. Where’s the “shrimp on the barbie?” I don’t see a Bloomin’ Onion anywhere.

And are we going to advertise the new currency with an “It’s Australian for Money” campaign?

You Aussies are known for getting blitzed, right? And being ready to fight at the drop of a hat? Like the time Russell Crowe got in that bar brawl or threatened that one reporter?

Dammit, Russell Crowe was born in Wellington. Wellington is in New Zealand. I can’t be the only one surprised by this.

We’re going to have to combine some of this Oz stuff together, Australia.

Let’s start with Wolverine. I don’t mean Hugh Jackman, I mean the character Wolverine. Sure, in the comics he’s Canadian. But he’s been played by an Aussie twice. Hugh is nice enough to hide his accent, but the Wolverine in the original X-Men cartoon made Steve Irwin sound like a caricature. So let’s go ahead and put him on your money.

So Wolverine snickts out his claws and we throw some shrimp on them. Then we barbie those shrimp over a fire made out of a few dried-out remnants of the Great Barrier Reef. With a Bloomin’ Onion and a Foster’s on the side. With a Kyle Minogue song playing when you take the money out of your wallet, like when you open those greeting cards. The ten can have the relatively tame “Loco-Motion.” Most people gamble with twenties, so those should play “I Should Be So Lucky.” And, giving truth to power, a hundred-dollar note should sing out “Can’t Get You Out of my Head.”

On the back, you could write, “Did You Know… That Russell Crowe is not Australian?”

So you’re welcome, former British colonies.

You’ll definitely want to re-visit this post if Prince Charles outlasts his mother.

Sincerely,

America