Vail Daily columnist Linda Stamper Boyne: Lost in tax-time labyrinth
Vail, CO Colorado
In every relationship there is a division of labor.
It doesn’t matter the nature of the relationship – certain jobs will just fall to one party or another. Perhaps natural aptitudes play a part. Or maybe it is influenced more by the individuals’ likes and dislikes.
Regardless of the reasons, this phenomenon is no more apparent than in a marriage. Sure, there may be shared tasks that either person will do, but eventually each person has their roles. It’s not something we really notice or give much thought to until the relationship ends.
Divorce opened my eyes to this fact with a resounding smack upside my head. Holy crap! There’s a whole world of things I didn’t realize I wasn’t doing until I was suddenly the only responsible party.
Such was the case when I endeavored to do my own taxes for the first time in 15 years.
I believe myself to be a reasonably intelligent woman, capable of reading and follow directions, of doing simple mathematical equations, of collecting the appropriate information and assembling it into a comprehensive, well organized form. So how is it that the IRS could make me feel like an intellectual invalid in a matter of minutes?
It all started so well. I collected my W-9 and other official tax forms as they came in the mail. I picked up the forms and instruction booklets at the library one day in January and confidently thought, “I’m so ahead of the game.”
Then I sat down to do my taxes, innocently thinking I could knock it out in one shot. The first part was easy: Name, address, Social Security number. Check, check, check.
Filing status: Hmm. Am I single? Am I “Head of Household”? I feel like the head of the household. Is that good enough? And what’s a “qualifying person”?
“See instructions,” the form urged me parenthetically.
Right. I started flipping pages in the massive newsprint volume of instructions for my 1040 form. OK, Line 4. Yes, I am an unmarried individual who “provides a home for certain other persons.” Awesome. But it wants to define what “unmarried” is and determine if the “certain persons” are “qualifying persons.” Whoa, wait. What?
I read through two full columns of criteria and tests with numbered and lettered restrictions underneath each possibility, running so many different scenarios that it muddied the issue and I forgot what it was I was trying to determine. Then it sent me to a flow chart to establish if the qualifying person was my dependent, with a whole additional sidebar on children of divorced parents.
I’m certain the instructions were written in English, because I actually double-checked to make sure I didn’t grab the Spanish version. So why couldn’t I understand what it was saying? Was I having a stroke and could no longer make sense of the written word?
I got overwhelmed, piled up my paperwork and walked away.
Fast forward six weeks. Through process of elimination, I determined that I was head of household. Line 4: Check! Onward.
Exemptions and dependents. Yes! I had children for this very reason! I flipped a coin with the Man Formerly Known As My Husband to determine which blond deduction I got to claim and filled in Line 6.
I’m cookin’ now! This isn’t so bad. Income: Yes, please! I referred to my W-2 and filled in the correct amount. Taxable interest: $1.95. Attach Schedule B if required. Uh, is it? And do I have any tax-exempt interest? Or ordinary dividends? Or qualified dividends? What’s the difference? Do the ordinary dividends have an inferiority complex because they are, well, ordinary?
The tiny little words on the page began to blur as my eyes scanned down the form. Farm income, Schedule Whatever, Form 1234, tax credit for performing artists, SIMPLE, domestic production activities …
Overwhelmed. Pile. Walk away.
I don’t know if I thought the knowledge and patience would just magically come to me, but they didn’t, and last week I realized it was time to power through. I called my dad, a former accountant, for counsel.
As soon as he got over the shock that I had not yet filed, he said one word that made a world of difference. TurboTax.
Step by step it walked me through the forms, metaphorically holding my hand, making me feel smart and capable again. Thanks to TurboTax, I won’t be doing time for tax evasion. Or, more accurately, tax denial.
Linda Stamper Boyne of Edwards can be contacted through firstname.lastname@example.org