Bad Tax Advice Available Here


February 24, 1991|By Dave Barry

Tax-return time is coming, and I have bad news and good news:

The bad news is, tax-return time is coming. The good news is, I figured out how to get rich from it.

My plan is to set up Bad Taxpayer Advice Centers. The way these would work is, taxpayers would pay a fee, and our trained personnel would give them ludicrously incorrect information, such as that they can deduct the full cost of any item whose name contains two or more vowels. (Examples: "Boat" is deductible. So is "eel." But not "phlegm" or "cat.")

With this system, you would enjoy the confidence of knowing you were getting incorrect advice, as opposed to when you ask any of the so-called tax experts, who are frequently wrong, but not always, thus leaving you with an insecure feeling. Although you can't really blame the experts. Nobody understands the U.S. Tax Code, a huge, complex, mutant organism kept in a heavily guarded basement section of the Internal Revenue Service building. "Don't go in there!" the guards warn people. "The Tax Code is in there!" At night they throw meat to it.

This is why most of us taxpayers wisely elect to fill in our tax forms with essentially random numbers. Oh, we'll be diligent at first. We'll get out the cardboard box where we keep our financial records, and we'll make an honest effort to give accurate answers to the earlier questions, such as "Taxpayer Name." But when we get to the tricky questions such as how much money we earned, how we spent it and exactly how many children we have, we tend to develop looser standards, especially when we realize that our financial records consist of a 1982 receipt from Burger King and six increasingly desperate letters asking us to renew our subscription to Newsweek.

So when we get to the question about how much, exactly, we spent on "child care," we are going to have some questions of our own, including: What about Captain Skyhawk? Captain Skyhawk is a Nintendo game that we purchased for our son. It cost $41.99, and we definitely view this as a child-care expense on rainy Saturday afternoons when our son has what sounds like 73 friends over, and if they weren't totally engrossed in an effort to get to the last stage of Captain Skyhawk, then they would probably be putting spiders into the toaster.

So we say to ourselves, OK, that's $41.99 worth of child care right there, plus mileage to and from the mall, plus psychiatric damage caused by looking for a parking space. Pretty soon we realize that just this one item amounts to thousands of dollars in ++ tax-deductible child-care expenses, and if the IRS agents don't agree with our calculations, then let them clean the charred spiders out of our toaster.

But this probably will not be necessary, because the IRS is always eager to accommodate us taxpayers, to the point where sometimes we could just scream with gratitude. A heartwarming example of this is an IRS document that I received from alert reader Rick Guldan. The IRS issued this document last November to explain the tax-filing procedure for people being held hostage in Iraq. I am not making this up. And it's a good thing I'm not, because when a person is taken hostage, the first thing he says to himself is: "Uh-oh! How am I going to file my federal tax return?!"

In case you ever find yourself in this situation, here's a direct quote from the IRS document:

"Individuals who are detained by the Iraqi government probably will be unable to file returns until their release. . . . However, those who are detained in a foreign country against their will are allowed additional time to file their federal income tax returns. The due date for filing is extended until the 15th day of the third month following their release."

Whew. You talk about a big-hearted bunch! You talk about tying a yellow ribbon 'round the old oak tree! Not only does the IRS have the sensitivity to recognize that people being held prisoner in foreign countries probably can't file tax returns, but it also gives them additional time.

Oh, I know what you're thinking. You're thinking: "But couldn't the IRS do more? Couldn't it form a Hostage Taxpayer Assistance Commando Task Force, consisting of highly trained IRS agents who would parachute at night into the hostile nation, quietly make their way to the location where the hostages were being held, overpower the guards and provide the captured NTC taxpayers with the tax forms they'd need to file their returns on time?"

That's a very thoughtful suggestion, so please don't take it the wrong way when I point out that it's stupid.

So we're probably better off under our present system, although there have been a number of important tax-code changes this year that you should be aware of. Unfortunately I don't have enough space left to go into detail, but to summarize the key facts:

1. There have been a number of important tax-law changes.

1% 2. You should be aware of them. *

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