By Ken Knepper
While shredding documents my wife and I saved since last year when we still held a glimmer of hope they would become a resource for a bountiful income tax windfall, I recalled a piece of wisdom from a friend, who spent lots of time on the links: “Golf is a lot like taxes. You work really hard to get to the green and end up in the hole.”
In the not-so-distant past, I rushed to complete my taxes so I could get my refund. But time, education, increased earnings and an unending cycle of tax code tweaks changed all that. I no longer overpay my withholdings, even if each New Year I set out with that very plan in mind. Knowing that the government would hold my money, interest free is worth a full year of contributions, I surmise. In fact, I embrace it. Although, if the shoe was on the other foot, the IRS would charge me penalties, interest and possibly toss me in jail.
In all honesty, the revelation of learning we will contribute more income by April 15 sometimes causes tension between my wife and me, even though I assure her it will work out. Instead of a vacation to the beach from the refund we anticipated, we will just go someplace a little closer to home.
And, after a practice run on the tax forms, this year is going to follow those other years when our ocean-front resort with sandy beaches became a Super 8 within driving distance to a creek. We kept track of literally every purchase last year so we could pay homage to the tax man and receive some pittance in return. And, once again, he let us down.
At this point, I can confidently state that I will be able to load up the entire family and venture all the way to the Interstate 135 rest area, about six miles south of Newton. Everyone will need to bring his own snack, however, because there will be no money left for the vending machines after the cost of the trip.
Without doubt, some of this year’s struggle was created by us. Instead of taking those extra funds we apparently saved in each paycheck and investing them in some means that rendered a return on investment, I sometimes made purchases like a deranged shopaholic. I suppose, as we write a check to the IRS, I should recall the many trinkets I collected last year as a gesture for validating my tax debt. But, somehow I believe it would fall short when I also recall all the other things I didn’t buy.
Even long ago, when we used to see a tax refund, I still wasn’t entirely satisfied. I always resented that I had to do anything to get my money back. I never felt I should have had to lift a finger. After all, it was my money and the process for returning it to me should have been completely effortless on my part. But instead, I had to perform uncompensated financial analysis on behalf of the state and federal government with each tax form I completed. That amounted to more than five hours every year when factoring unusable document shredding and time for self-reflection. That may not sound like much when compared to the time corporations spend on taxes, but I would have preferred to use those five hours for something pleasurable.
Will Rogers said, “The only difference between death and taxes is that death doesn’t get worse every time Congress meets.”
So, for this year’s contribution, I suppose I should take a long look at my current W-4 and maybe claim single status. Because, as we all know, it’s the best way to maximize withholdings from every paycheck, since young, single people are in much better positions career-wise to foot the majority of the IRS’s tax bill.
And, in the meantime, I’ll continue working on this year’s alternate vacation.
It’s times like this when I have a greater appreciation for the modern facilities at the I-135 rest area, which are funded in part by my annual tax bill. Because, his and her bathrooms, along with concrete picnic tables add a certain degree of elegance to the whole vacation experience…
Ken, whose years of taxation have helped him understand that there is one similarity between rich people and poor people—they both complain about taxes—can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.