COLUMNISTS

Jerry Nelson: New Year's hangovers, income taxes will make your head ache all the same

Jerry Nelson
Special to the Farm Forum
Jerry Nelson

If you’re reading this, you may have recently survived a wild New Year’s Eve celebration and are thinking that your first new year’s resolution should be that you’ll never attend such a party ever again.

My wife and I haven’t attended a New Year’s party in ages. But we do what we can to emulate the resulting hangover by starting work on our income taxes. We figure it’s a cold and wretched time of year anyway; what’s a little more misery?

I hate to brag, but my wife and I have one of the best bookkeeping systems ever. It works like this: I do the spending and she keeps track of things.

My wife is of German heritage, which means that ensuring that everything is organized is in her blood. I am of Norwegian ancestry, which means that I have Viking genetics. Vikings were never known for keeping things neat. There’s no record of a long-ago villager exclaiming after a raid, “Those darn Vikings left everything in such a state of organization!”  

There was much commentary when it was recently suggested that the Treasury Department might be hiring a number of additional IRS agents over the next several years. Like many things nowadays, it was bemoaned by some as The End Of Life As We Know It.

The majority of the new hires will be replacing agents who have quit or retired. But I don’t have an issue with the IRS adding more agents because – here’s a secret – I don’t cheat on my tax returns!

Fretting about increased staffing at the IRS is like grousing about the police getting more speed detectors. It’s only a problem if you have a lead foot.

But, you may ask, what about innocent taxpayers who are unjustifiably slapped with a tax bill the size of the national deficit? That’s pretty much what happened to my wife and me some years ago.

My wife’s father, Dale, was an IRS agent for 30 years. After he retired Dale became an enrolled agent, meaning he could prepare tax returns and represent people in tax court.

We hired Dale to do our taxes. It was like having a former undercover spy working for us, someone who understood all of the other side’s obscure protocols and convoluted strategies.

One day we received a letter from the IRS. The missive informed us that we owed the government more money than we had earned during the tax year in question.

We immediately took the letter to Dale. “Uffda!” he muttered, “Let me handle this.”

Dale dashed off a reply to his former employer, telling them in polite, bureaucratic terms that they were in error and that they should rescind the proposed taxes, penalties, and interest.

We never heard back from the IRS, so Dale’s letter must have done the trick.

Personally knowing an IRS guy gave me some insights regarding the agency. When my wife and I visited Dale at his IRS office one day, he showed us a long bookshelf that groaned beneath a conglomeration of novel-sized tomes. I guessed that the books contained the entirety of our nation’s tax laws.

“Nope,” Dale said, “Those are just the changes to the tax codes. For just one year!”

No wonder preparing your own taxes is akin to performing do-it-yourself brain surgery.

Dale had strong opinions regarding where to place the blame.

“It’s congress’s fault,” he said. “They’re always messing with the tax laws. That’s why hardly anybody understands the codes, including many at the IRS.”

Dale expressed that sentiment many years ago, but it still rings true. Congresspersons pride themselves on “bringing home the bacon” in the form of pet projects or bizarre tax breaks. This can lead to such things as a National Pickerel Museum or special deductions for folks who collect Hummel figurines.

So, if your think your taxes are too high, take it up with your congressperson. If you want to do so in person, find their field office via the internet and drive there on the highway using your car’s GPS as a guide. And while you’re at it, tell your congressperson to keep their filthy government hands off my Social Security.

By the way, the internet, our interstate highway system, and GPS were all created by the government.

Leland, a local farmer who did my tax preparation when I was a struggling young dairyman, once said, “I never complain about paying taxes because it means that I made money.”

I thought about that as my wife waded through our financial records.

“How’s it looking?” I asked.

“Not so good,” she replied. “How do you feel about buying a bunch of Hummel figurines?”

If you'd like to contact Jerry Nelson to do some public speaking, or just to register your comments, you can email him at jjpcnels@itctel.com. His book, “Dear County Agent Guy,” is available at Workman.com and at booksellers everywhere.