Irs Audit? No Problem

TO WIT

April 11, 1993|By DAVE BARRY

Tax time is here, and chances are that you, like millions of other Americans, are busily going over your financial records, adding up columns of figures, trying to determine whether you have enough money left to pay for a house call by Dr. Jack Kevorkian.

Ha ha! That was just a little suicide humor to put you in a lighthearted frame of mind for preparing your tax return. You're going to want to be extra careful this year, especially after the big scandal that erupted concerning Zoe Baird, one of the estimated 430 women President Clinton attempted to nominate for attorney general.

As you recall, Baird was forced to remove herself from consideration when it was discovered that she had failed to pay the required federal tax on the two little dots she puts over the "o" in "Zoe."

I'm kidding again. The government does not tax accent marks. Yet. What got Baird in trouble was that she failed to follow the correct federal procedure regarding household help. Let me explain this procedure, using a simple example: Suppose you have a teen-age neighbor who baby-sits for your kids every Saturday night. If you pay this baby sitter more than $50 per fiscal quarter -- which works out to about $3.85 per fiscal week -- federal law requires that you file an SS-4 with the Internal Revenue Service to get an employer identification number; then, every quarter, you must file IRS Form 942, making sure to deduct 7.65 percent of the baby sitter's wages, and adding 7.65 percent yourself to cover Social Security and Medicare taxes. Then, at the end of the year, you must give your baby sitter a W-2 form and send a copy to the Social Security Administration.

Outrageous, you say? A ludicrous example of an insanely burdensome and complex tax system raging out of control? Well, perhaps it will surprise you to learn that, according to a recent nationwide investigation, these regulations are being complied with at a level approaching 93 percent by Mr. and Mrs. L. Fieldmont Vanderwacker of Ames, Iowa. Everybody else, including you, just pays the baby sitter and forgets about it.

This means that you are a tax law violator, and, therefore, cannot be in the Cabinet.

Another problem with violating the tax laws is that you might get audited. Fortunately, this is not as bad as it sounds. I know this because I recently viewed an educational videotape provided by the IRS. This tape, which was recommended to me by alert reader Sam Kent of Boulder, Colo., is titled "Hey . . . We're Being Audited!"

"Hey . . . We're Being Audited" looks sort of like a TV sitcom: It features a typical suburban family -- a perky mom, a genial, tie-wearing dad with the IQ of lettuce, and two child actors playing a brother and sister who have clearly been drugged because they never hit each other.

Everything is going fine for these people until they get an audit notice from the IRS. They're very nervous. Fortunately at this point in comes the wise old grandpa, Fred. Fred has been audited before and seems to have actually enjoyed it. He says things like: "The unique thing about our nation's tax system is that it's based on trust." (Sure it is! That's why we're being audited!) Fred also says: "You know, those IRS folks, they're just people."

Anyway, comes the big moment, and Mom and Dad go in to the IRS office. They're doing OK until the auditor discovers that they used the wrong basis for determining the deduction on Mom's home office. In a wonderful scene, an IRS supervisor hauls out the Tax Code and shows it to Mom and Dad, and they -- this is a triumph of acting skill -- pretend that they can understand it.

So it turns out that Mom and Dad owe some money, but not too much. "That wasn't so bad!" says Dad. "They never found out about our cocaine smuggling!"

No, I made that last line up. The tape ends with Grandpa Fred saying: "Our taxes help to maintain our country and the quality of life we enjoy as Americans today." They also pay for such vital programs as producing "Hey . . . We're Being Audited!" If you'd like to see it, call the IRS Taxpayer Education Office, and they'll send it to you, free. Be sure to return it on time, or they get your

house.

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