I love America. What I don’t love is our 75,000 page federal tax code, plus all the hangers-on that want a piece of my paycheck (I’m talking to you cities, counties and states).
I also don’t love the time it takes to prepare them, the stress they cause, or the related expenses of CPAs and alcohol.
One day out of 356 is reserved for conversations like: Where’s the receipt from last February when you sponsored your boss’ charity run? I thought YOU had it. Ugh, I’m locked out of that investment account we only look at once a year. How do we retrieve the password? Try your maternal grandmother’s middle name. Which grandmother is that? Are we putting the right number in that box? How would I know if it’s the right number when I don’t understand what they are asking.
And the question I ask every year: How is it possible that two highly functioning adults with this many years of education can’t figure out our tax return?
We’ve always done our own taxes and we planned for this year to be no different, despite the added complexity of living abroad half the year.
Nick devoted a full day to preparing our 2011 returns while I spent a girl’s weekend in London with a friend in town from NYC. He toiled all day before calling me just as we arrived at a wine bar. I should have let it go to voice mail.
Nick: Remember how I said either we’re going to owe nothing or we’re going to owe some hugely unfathomable figure.
Me: (sip of wine) Yah…
Nick: Um, we owe the big amount.
Me: (gulp of wine) How big?
Me: (wine glass stem perpendicular to the floor) Sweet.
And then I felt sick and it wasn’t from the chardonnay. Luckily, I was with my friend Carin, and since we were buds since before she became a professional life coach, I get her services for free, all to myself, for hours at a time. Carin, the wine flight, plus the aperitif and the bottle of pinot noir with dinner are probably the only things that prevented me from jumping in front of a double decker bus rolling through Piccadilly Circle.
Pleasantly, my agony was short-lived. By the time Carin and arrived in Cambridge on Sunday morning, Nick was perfectly calm. In fact, he was rather happy. One of the many wonderful things about Nick is that he always comes up with a plan, and plans make him smile.
In the 12 hours since we had talked, he poured himself a nice glass of bourbon and decided that it was official: our situation was complicated enough that for the first time we needed to hire a CPA to help us file our returns. This option gave us a glimmer of hope that Nick had made a terrible mistake. We ignored the face that Nick doesn’t often make mistakes and found some peace.
A couple of weeks later, while in San Francisco on business, Nick took a side trip to Houston (you know, because Houston and San Fran are so close to each other) to lay the groundwork for our move and also deal with our taxes.
The tax consultant was helpful enough, but it burns me – BURNS me – that I have to pay someone to calculate how much additional money I owe the government. What’s worse, and rather annoying, was that the CPA came up with roughly the same number as Nick. This news didn’t make me feel better, but at least I had confirmation that the check I wrote was the right one.
The other fun part about doing our taxes this year was the realization that in 2011, we paid taxes to nine – NINE – taxing authorities (not counting taxes added to rental cars, hotels or purchases in the places we lived of visited). Look who got some of our money last year:
- United States
- Great Britain
- Cambridgeshire, England
- Cuyahoga County, Ohio
- Cleveland Heights, Ohio
- Cleveland, Ohio
- Avon Lake, Ohio
Today, on Tax Day 2012, I should be able to relax. The checks are written. The paperwork is filed. Everything was completed honestly and before the deadline. But I can’t relax because still I worry. Three years from now, or maybe less, we’re could get a letter from one of these NINE taxing authorities saying we owe them more money. It’s always more, never less. This dread will weight on me every time I go to the mailbox.
I love my country, but this is the day for the spirits and I don’t mean festive celebrations or the dead. I’m talking about the kind only Kentucky makes. Pour me a bourbon.