April 15 is almost here, and as a public service we have once again assembled a distinguished panel of leading consumer financial advisers from around the nation to answer your common tax questions. Unfortunately they once again got into the gin at the hotel hospitality suite and were arrested in the lobby fountain wearing only a thin film of avocado dip. So once again we are going to answer your common tax questions ourselves.
But first we have word of an important new initiative by the Internal Revenue Service (official motto: "See Schedule 936850345-D For Official Motto"). We found out about this from a newsletter sent out by Donald Mitgang, director of the Buffalo, N.Y., IRS district. A copy was mailed to us by alert reader and certified public accountant Suzanne Pfister, to whom we say: Thanks, and be prepared to spend the rest of your life undergoing tax audits so thorough that you will be required to produce your individual toenail clippings from as far back as 1967.
According to Director Mitgang's newsletter, the IRS initiative is called "Compliance 2000."
"To put it in a nutshell," he states, "it is a new philosophical approach toward compliance. We hope it will result in a more compliant taxpayer."
We love the sound of that: " . . . result in a more compliant taxpayer." It sounds as though they're developing a new strain of goat.
Director Mitgang explains that the goal of the Compliance 2000 initiative is "to determine why taxpayers are not complying and what we need to do to make them compliant."
Whoa! There's a real mystery! Why aren't taxpayers complying with the tax code? Hmmmmm. We have been wracking our brain, trying to think of a possible cause, and we are wondering if -- this is going to sound far-fetched -- maybe it has something to do with the fact that the tax code is larger than the average taxpayer's home and nobody in the entire world really understands it because it was apparently written by hostile mutant non-English-speaking lawyers from space, plus it is revised about every 25 minutes, plus it is used to take taxpayers' money away and turn it over to a federal government that routinely spends it on activities like declaring National Deviled Ham Awareness Month.
Nah, that couldn't be it. It's probably some kind of chemical disorder in the taxpayers' brains.
Anyway, until the IRS is able to develop an improved taxpayer, possibly through a combination of genetic engineering and electric fences, you should try to be as compliant as possible. You can start by studying the answers to these:
Q: What is a good amount to pretend that I gave to charity?
A: Many taxpayers have obtained excellent results with "$2,379.52."
Q: I am a joint taxpayer filing singly with three dependents living separately but calling all the time. In 1991 my gross exclusionary non-reimbursed net taxable income was $26,365.47, with an adjusted excess itemized disqualifying redemption of $3,109.23, but I don't have any questions because I mailed in my tax return on Jan. 3 and I already got my refund, nyah nyah nyah.
A: We hope you develop a kidney stone the size of Richard Simmons.
Q: In reviewing my tax records for 1991, I find that they consist of a cardboard box filled with cash-register receipts that are impossible to read because apparently nobody in the United States has ever replaced a cash-register ribbon. So now I'm trying to do my taxes and it's 1:30 a.m. and I have IRS forms all over the kitchen table snarling at me and demanding to know things like do I have any capital gain distributions not reported on line 13, and all I have to refresh my memory are 500 little pieces of curled-up paper, each of which has maybe four ink molecules on it, and the only financial information I can obtain from them, using a powerful magnifying glass, is "Have a Nice Day." My question is: Is the commissioner of Internal Revenue still named Fred?
A: Yes, and Fred has a nice letter in the Form 1040 instruction booklet in which he states that the IRS is "testing exciting new approaches by letting certain taxpayers file by telephone and by doing the math for taxpayers who ask for our help."
Q: I'm going to call him right now.
A: Good idea! Don't mention our name.