. . . and still I am not done! April 15th is Tax Day in the U.S. The day of reckoning. This year that fell on the weekend, so it should have been pushed to Monday. But thanks to some never-heard-of holiday in D.C., it was moved to the 17th. And let’s not forget it is a leap year, so we had an extra day squeezed in between.
Since I knew I would be paying and not receiving this year, I waited. That was my first mistake. I gave myself a week to fill out the forms. In my defense, prior to that I had gathered all of the relevant info, so I didn’t think it would be so bad. I had also contacted several accountants for assistance. They wanted too much money so I would be going it alone.
Let me take a step back. I have been doing my own taxes for the most part since I had to start filing. I don’t remember when that was but it was likely when I turned 18. Back in law school, it was required to take the “Federal Income Tax” course. It was one of the few courses that I loved. Sick, right? But I loved the logic (more like illogic) of it all. And I loved the math. I loved that I knew how to read the code – start with chapter 14, jump to 2 for exceptions, over to 78 for more deductions – etc. No, those chapter numbers are not lodged in my memory so don’t try following it as advice.
The Federal Tax exam was a different story. It was a nightmare. Get the answer (a number) to the first question wrong and you were screwed. All of the following questions were based on that number. I dragged myself out of there with my head hung low, straight to the bar that adjoined campus. My classmates filed in one by one. When they saw me sitting at the bar, with empty shot glasses lined in front of me, they sent my good friend Kelli over to check on me. As she approached, I raised my head slowly in agony. She barely had the words out of her mouth, “What’s wrong?” when the tears started to pour uncontrollably from my eyes. Yes, the Feds made me cry.
It wasn’t until I bought my first home that I started using software, Turbo Tax, to complete the required forms. It was still rather straightforward. TT asked questions. I answered. Press a button. Zip. Wait for the refund.
Upon buying a second house with my then boyfriend, a resident alien, (how dare they call him that!) things got more complicated. One rental property, two incomes, a foreigner, etc. I hired an accountant.
Things went pretty well with he accountant at first. I finally sold that rental property, but things remained complicated as my husband started to work out-of-state. Then he moved back to Turkey – becoming a non-resident alien. I stayed behind another 6 months and sold the house.
After moving to Turkey, I thought filing taxes would get easier. After all, I couldn’t see a reason why the hubby would have to pay taxes at all. I had little self-employment income, which was deductible up to a certain amount since I didn’t live in the country. That turned out to be not true the first year since I didn’t meet the 330 day presence test. We had nothing else really. My accountant seemed to be able to handle it.
Then the audits from prior years started rolling in. We had filed separately when we owned the house before marriage. We split the mortgage interest deduction. Who knew that the idiots at the bank would only put one SS number on their forms? It took a while, but it worked itself out. The folks in the Philadelphia tax office for internationally based citizens are just swell.
And so this year, I considered the accountant again. But his office wasn’t able to answer what I thought were some very simple questions last year. For example, why are we filing jointly and calling my hubby a resident alien when he’s not (although that is permissible)? What is the benefit? I received a smart-a$$ response from his assistant, so I decided against using them again this year. Accountants are usually sort of like doctors when it comes to providing information. They feel out how smart you are, whether or not you will understand what they are saying, and whether or not it will cause more harm than good by providing you with that information. This assistant clearly did not understand my capabilities – or else she was just looking for a quick and cheap way to get to her vacation home in Florida. I was prepared to kick her there and back!
So this year I was left to decide what to do with my husband’s status. I could opt to leave him off or claim him. (Either way, if you do this, be sure to add a statement to the IRS.) So I would have to do my taxes twice to figure out if there was any benefit to claiming him as a resident trekkie, um, I mean alien.
Well, I wasn’t able to get through the forms even once. 1040. Schedule A. Schedule B. Schedule C. Schedule SE. Form 1116. Form 2555. Form 8283. And what happened to last year’s Schedule M? “Making Work Pay” didn’t even appear on this year’s 1040. Holy crap, Batman. There was a lot of work to do. So I did my research and downloaded the most expensive version of Turbo Tax – not a problem for expats.
Or so they said. In the first series of questions, I answered that my husband was a nonresident alien. TT’s reply, “Contact your tax consultant.” Damn it. I thought TT was my tax consultant!
So I battled the tax forms for days on end to know avail. When TT refers you back to the tax code, you know you are in trouble. They hide it by using flowery language, calling it a “publication” instead of what it is, a 4″ thick book that makes absolutely no sense, even to the brighest lawyerly minds! (That would be me.)
April 17th finally arrived yesterday. I settled in with the fact that I would need an extension. This didn’t seem too tough for expats like us. The Feds automatically give an extension to those living abroad. But that raised a few questions. One, I knew I still had to pay an estimated tax due – so how would I physically do that? Mailing from Turkey is not a good option. Two, what happens with Pennsylvania? Did the automatic extension apply there too? Three, what amounts would I estimate?
It took over 4 hours to figure out how to pay those dagnabbit taxes! And I never found the answer to whether I got an automatic extension for my state taxes. First Turbo Tax. They are useless. For the automatic extension, they simply allow you to add a statement to your 1040. So I tried filing the extension form. They do not electronically file the form. Nor do they give you an option to pay.
There are many websites that claim you can pay online with as low as an approximate $4 fee. I tried ALL of them. They would ask for an address. Did they want my billing address (US) or my Turkish address? No answers to be found and no numbers to call for support. They want to know what ( a category selections) I am paying. The only close option was a Form 4868 extension, not an automatic extension. I switched over to PA. Similar issues with that website. What the f! I just wanted to pay! Take my money and leave me alone!!!
After fighting the PA website for a while, I managed to pay – more than I thought I needed to. I jumped back to an online website for paying the Feds and I worked my magic on that too. On both sites, and this is completely unbelievable to me, it was not until after I made the payment that I was informed that an automatic extension is granted simply by paying, without filling in any forms!!!!
You know, it’s not rocket science. It’s a payment. They all should be ashamed of themselves. All they need to do is hire some 15 year old kid to setup their websites!
And so my friends, filling out tax forms cost me many many hours of life, some which would have been better spent earning money rather than losing it. It has caused wear and tear on my body. A neck ache. The arthritis is acting up in my hand. It has stressed me out to dangerously high levels.
So I did what any other true-blue American would have done last night. I went shopping. It made me feel much better. Ok, maybe not true-blue. Most Americans who get a refund will buy themselves a little something as a reward. I had to pay. But I bought myself a new (refurbished) laptop anyway.
The really fun part was how I got it. Last week it was on sale but I waited. Then Sunday night there was a 15% off deal that was supposed to last a week. For certain reasons, this laptop showed up as part of that sale for a day, then it was no longer there on the website. It had been a mistake and was not 15% off. So I called Sony and I won! I may not be able to beat the Feds, but darn it, I will always get a good deal on a laptop!
Today? Back to work for me. I have to make up some serious time. Oh yeah, and I still have to file my taxes. Grrrrrrrr.
. . don’t you just love the fuedal ‘capitalist’ system? Screw the plebs and peons to the floorboards whilst the elites off to their tax havens in Barbuda and (I think) Connecticut!
Oh Alan, the images you arouse!
I always thought the Federal tax system was complicated and you’ve just confirmed it!
Jack, They say there are two things a person must do, pay taxes and die.
As someone who was on the phone to UK Inland Revenue last week, you have my total sympathy.