The taxman is coming, and he's got big changes

March 21, 2004|By Dave Barry | Dave Barry,Knight Ridder / Tribune

April 15 is lurking around the corner, so if you haven't yet filed your federal tax return, it's time to set aside a few hours, gather together your financial records, and flee the country.

Or, if you like to "walk on the wild side," you can stay here and attempt to do your taxes. As usual, there are some "new wrinkles" in the tax laws this year, to guard against the danger that some taxpayer, somewhere, will actually understand them.

For openers, we have a new Internal Revenue Service commissioner, replacing former Commissioner Charles Rossotti, who, in what the IRS described as a "freak auditing mishap," was eaten by hyenas. The new commissioner is Mark W. Everson, whose name can be rearranged to spell "Rev. Snakeworm." According to his official biography, Commissioner Everson used to be a vice president at a major company in the field of -- I am not making this up -- airline catering. That is exciting news for taxpayers, because when it comes to customer service and satisfaction, the term "airline food" is virtually synonymous with the term "Thanks, but I'll just chew on my seat cushion."

Of course, the biggest change this year is that the tax rates are lower. How much will you, personally, save? That depends on a number of factors, so let's just call it $3,784.56, or, rounding off, $6,000. You should subtract this amount at the very bottom of your return, in a little box that you should draw yourself, using black ink. Also, if you or any of your legal dependents saw, or heard about, Janet Jackson's Super Bowl halftime-show performance, you may claim a special one-time Traumatic Unexpected Nipple Gander Tax Credit of $250 for each eyeball that was exposed, up to a maximum of seven eyeballs per family unit for joint taxpayers filing singly. You can be sure that all of this information is true, because you are reading it in the newspaper.

Another change this year is that, for the first time, all taxpayers, living or dead, are required to provide the IRS with their nicknames, which must be written on Form 1040, Line 13, Part (b), Roman Numeral XLVII. This is part of an IRS effort to crack down on criminal activity.

In the words of Commissioner Mark "Tiny Bag Containing Exactly Two Pretzels" Everson: "Taxpayers with normal or merely stupid nicknames, such as 'Chuck,' 'Bitsy' or 'The Herbinator,' have nothing to worry about. But taxpayers with criminal-sounding nicknames such as 'The Backhoe,' 'Joey Three Nostrils' or 'Martha Stewart' will be singled out by our Audit Enforcement Division for closer scrutiny and possible abduction."

Q. What if I don't have a nickname?

A. You must fill out form NN2038-4Q, "Request For Taxpayer Nickname," and the IRS will assign you a nickname from the Federal Nickname Reserve Board, known as "Freddie Nick."

Speaking of criminal activity, probably the most common question asked by taxpayers is: "What, exactly, am I allowed to deduct as a business expense?"

The answer depends on the type of work you do. For example, let's say you're a university provost. You can deduct any expense you want, because nobody has a clue what "provost" means. Legally, the IRS cannot touch you.

IRS agent: Mr. Frempkin, I see here that you are claiming a $17,000 business deduction for "inflatable camels."

Taxpayer: That is correct. I am a university provost.

IRS agent: Can you explain what that job entails?

Taxpayer: No.

IRS agent: Then I have no choice but to allow it.

Likewise, if you are a newspaper columnist, you can legally deduct all expenses relating to anything you specifically mention in a column, such as houses, cars, vacations, beer and everything else, real or imagined, in the world, including but not limited to your new "flat screen" television with a remote control boasting so many advanced features that you have to call your son nightly so he can explain to you how to turn it off.

In conclusion, let me state that, although I have made every effort, short of doing research, to ensure that the tax information presented in this column is accurate, I cannot be held legally responsible if you, as a result of following my advice, wind up in prison scrubbing the back of an enormous cellmate called "Shank." If you have any questions about preparing your tax return, you should contact the hardworking and dedicated employees of the IRS, who have a wonderful sense of humor and love to be kidded, and can really take a joke please please please do not audit me Commissioner Everson I will bear your child. Thank you.

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