Life can be taxing
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written by Bill:
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Bill Barth
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            Apparently, I am miscast in the parade of human endeavor. I should not be a newspaper editor. Nor a columnist, or blogger, or whatever you call folks who commit digitized words to these ephemeral things we call Web sites.
            Instead, I should be a member of President Obama’s Cabinet.
             How do I know?
  Easy. I have a tax problem.
            Not like the tax problem that embarrassed Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner or the one that tanked the nomination of Health and Human Services designate Tom Daschle, mind you, but a tax problem nonetheless.
            The difference? I paid my taxes.
            My problem: Convincing the Internal Revenue Service.
             It’s a long story, but bear with me — really, there’s a point.
            It all started on Aug. 15, 1988. That’s when my second son, John, arrived naked and screaming into this world. Almost immediately, his mother and I were struck by the notion that, one day, this hairless, wrinkled, red creature would make us proud as he walked to receive his college diploma.
             So we soon set about shopping for the sort of investment that would ease the pain of paying for the education of our brilliant son. A local broker steered us into the sort of government-issued instrument designed to accrue tax-free value at maturity. The amount is immaterial. It seemed substantial then. It seems laughable now, with the cost of higher education.
            Anyway, the investment lasted much longer than the marriage. But many years later, when the investment matured, we collaborated to cash it in so the funds could at least pay for stamps to send money to college for John’s education.
            In the intervening years since the split, John’s mom — long remarried — had established a successful banking career. She had retained the investment certificates, so it only made sense for her to work with the bank’s securities people to redeem the funds and roll the cash into an appropriate college-designated account.
These securities folks confirmed the investment was reportable, but not taxable.So it seemed reasonable, when the tax preparer for John’s mom and her husband said the redemption did not need to be filed on anybody’s forms.
            Well. That was then. This is now.
             Delivered to my mailbox was a nastygram from the IRS. It noted the redemption of the investment had been received by the IRS — that’s the “reportable” part. But the IRS letter said — naughty, naughty — the money had not been claimed on a tax return and no taxable figure had been established. So, long story short, the IRS decided I owed a few thousand in taxes and penalties and general fees for being such a damn nuisance to our poor, cash-strapped government.
            And I’m just the poor sap who hasn’t seen the certificates in 15 years. Or any of the money. If I’ve got to be in trouble, it would be nice to at least have the money.
            The “ex” was sympathetic. We get along just fine, thank God, for John’s sake and everyone’s sanity. She had all the paperwork of the redemption, the reinvestment and so forth. I spent a long night copying it all, writing a lengthy letter of explanation to the IRS, packaging it all up to send out. I dropped it in the mailbox and hoped for the best.
             Foolish optimist.
            A few weeks later came another big packet of form letters and forms and gibberish that would make a lawyer’s head hurt. The only thing that made sense to me was a telephone number, to call for help.
             If you have never called the IRS — and I sincerely hope you have not — count your lucky stars. The IRS is in possession of the most thoroughly infuriating recorded phone tree in the solar system, if not the universe. You go from one set of instructions, to the next, to the next, to the next, and never even hit an option to speak to anyone. I tried three times. Gave up.
            Realizing that was not a winning strategy, I tried again the next day. Here’s the synopsis: 35 minutes on the phone tree; 8 minutes waiting in queue for the first person, who couldn’t help me (after trying for 4 minutes); 11 minutes in queue waiting for IRS person number two, who also couldn’t help me after 7 minutes of trying; 9 minutes on hold, listening to the most annoying damn music, until IRS person number three answered; 16 minutes later, after a valiant effort to help, person number three gave up, too, with the suggestion I hire a tax professional to help.
             IRS person number three finally surrendered when I couldn’t help myself anymore, and laughed out loud hysterically. The poor gentleman kept reading from this publication and that paragraph and that subsection, in language that I vaguely recognized. I think it was Klingon.
             So, here I am, trying to figure out my next move. Costa Rica, maybe?
            The plan is to find a tax preparer who, hopefully, can persuade the IRS that, really, we’re just honest tax-paying Americans trying to get a kid through college. The “ex” is cooperating fully and trying to make sure I get all the documentation necessary. I think her incentive is to make sure she doesn’t get the adjoining cell.
            Meanwhile, I am left to ponder why this massive government agency with power over our lives is so damned determined to boil my brain and make the uncomplicated as complicated as possible.
            This question keeps nagging at me: Do we really want these folks running the healthcare system?
            Look for additional chapters to the IRS saga in later columns. Wonder if Leavenworth has wireless access.