I'm a tax preparer, and I've heard it all

Posted: Tuesday, April 27, 2004

I'm exhausted, frazzled, down to my last nerve. Why? Why should a middle-aged divorcee be so used up? Is it menopause? Well, no, I've felt this way every April for the last 25 years.

Then, what's my problem? Is it an allergy? Is it something related to the increase in Alaskan daylight? Nope. Here's a hint, it's April, and I'm a tax preparer.

Now, no booing. Save the rotten tomatoes for some other victim. See, I get that kind of reaction from lots of people. Just the mention of the word "tax" and suddenly people get this terrible pain in their pocketbook. They grimace and growl at the idea of having to pay the government yet again for being productive.

But, wait. I said tax preparer, not tax collector. I'm the person who does everything possible to minimize the shrinkage to your bank account. I'm the one who took college courses to learn tax preparation.

I spend weeks every January and February studying the stupefying, confusing conglomeration of technical terms commonly known as the IRS regulations, which the president and Congress, in their vain attempt to please their campaign contributors, see fit to change at least every year. I read and study, trying to untangle the calculating verbiage and find some logic in their methods, until my eyes go crossed, and, I swear, there's smoke coming out of my ears.

For 25 years, my 40 or so clients have tortured me with amazing questions. "Can't I claim Rover as a dependent? He's like a child to me."

"Not unless you can prove that he's a blood relative," I reply.

"You mean, I was supposed to save all the receipts for the stuff I bought for my business? I just thought I could take the standard amount the IRS allows ... you know, so much a day."

"How come I have to claim this as wages? I considered this $10,000 a gift for helping my friend out during the fishing season."

I just roll my eyes at the ones who listen to talk radio for their tax education.

"The whole dang thing is unconstitutional! The government can't force me to tell them how much money I made. There's such a thing as the right to refuse on the grounds of self incrimination!"

Then, there are those "special cases" that come out of the woodwork every now and again.

"Well, honey," the little lady with the white hair and orthopedic shoes tells me, "Charlie decided back in the seventies when he drew out all his retirement that he wasn't going to pay taxes anymore. He was going to be a tax protester, bless his dear departed soul. But now the IRS is putting a lien on my house and taking my permanent fund dividend and I want you to get them to stop it right now."

Then, there's: "I just didn't get around to filing, I've been busy farming. But I've got all the receipts here in these grocery bags. Every penny I've spent for the past eight years is accounted for right there. You just need to sort them out by year."

Most of my clients are "regulars" who have been coming to me for 20 years or more. I have managed to get them trained to keep fairly good records and just bring me a nice neat sheet with the pertinent information all totaled and ready to enter into the tax forms.

They fall into two general categories.

The "early birds" are the ones who are expecting to get a tax refund. They come to me Feb. 1, the ink still wet on their W-2 forms. They want to file as soon as possible so they can buy that new snowmachine before the trails get all hard and worn out. I love these guys. Most of their returns are simple, and I can get them out of the way quickly.

Then, I have those "sorry I waited until the last minute, can you still squeeze me in?" clients who show up April 10 with information on their three businesses, commercial fishing and stocks and bond sales.

They know they're going to pay through the nose and expect me to work some kind of miracle so that they can get a refund, too. They call me 10 times a day with just one more little thing they think should be added to save them a bundle. They even get angry when my line is busy because there are 10 other people doing the same thing. And they all wonder how soon am I going to get it finished so they'll know how much they're getting back.

Of course, when they get the sad news that because they still have $50,000 of taxable income after every possible deduction and write-off has been taken and that they owe Uncle Sam a huge chunk of money that they failed to save before they took that trip to Las Vegas, somehow, they're not in such a rush to come pick up that dreaded tax return.

It's as if they don't pick it up, they don't really owe it.

Never mind that I've spent 20 hours calculating and recalculating, going over the numbers with a magnifying glass, trying to make sure that no loophole has been overlooked, and that I'm patiently waiting to be compensated for my efforts. They aren't going to pay those unfair taxes until midnight April 15, and that's when I can expect to get paid for my work.

Some of them come to me and say, "Gee, I just don't have the 50 bucks to pay you right now, but as soon as I get my refund I'll be able to do it." Years of practice and numerous sad experiences with the reality of trusting in the good of my fellow man have taught me how to deal with those types. "Sorry. Joe, no money, no tax return!"

Of course, all this goes on nights and weekends only, because I work a 9-to-5 job trying to keep the mortgage paid and manage my contribution to the Homeland Security fund. I haven't seen my front yard for three months! The last thing I watched on TV was the ball dropping over Times Square. I have bags under my eyes from lack of sleep, swollen ankles from sitting in an office chair for 20 hours a day and a neck stiff as a stainless steel rod from being transfixed in front of a computer screen every hour I'm awake.

But after April 15 comes and goes, I have a smile on my face and roses back in my cheeks when I walk into the bank and deposit the last of the checks I've finally collected from my customers. I do a victory dance to rival any Super Bowl quarterback as I walk out the doors of my financial institution.

My bank balance is bulging until I stop at the insurance office and pay for the comprehensive and collision and pull up to the pumps to get enough gas to get to work next week.

In addition to being a tax preparer, Victoria Steik works in the business office at Kenai Peninsula College. She also is a writing student at KPC. She has lived on the peninsula since 1972.

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