Thursday, June 3, 2010

Day 198: One of Life's Unfortunate Certainties

"The only things certain in life are death and taxes." -- Benjamin Franklin

When I am out of ideas for things that I’ve never done before, I often turn to Justin and Mo because they love getting mentioned in the blog, and they'll stop at nothing to come up with the day's activity if I don't have any ideas.

"Have you ever done your own taxes?" Justin asked me one day via email.

Ugh, taxes. Though I've recently enlisted the help of an accountant (I swear I'm not that lazy, I just have some multi-state filings that make doing them myself tricky), yes, I told him, I used to do my taxes on my own every year.

"Have you ever done someone else's taxes?" Mo followed up. Before I could answer, "No," he said, "You can do mine."

Day 198's thing I've never done before is someone else's (Mo's) taxes.

Telling people about this challenge for the blog was met with a lot of unpleasant expressions. Like writing thank-you notes and completing house repairs, no one could understand why I agreed to do something for someone else that I don’t enjoy doing for myself.

But truthfully, the only thing that concerned me about this project was that it was going to take me a long time to complete it. I feared Mo would bring me a manila envelope full of receipts and charitable donations for me to write off and I’d become a frazzled accountant with papers strewn about house.

But he didn't. Just his W-2 from work, and a 1099 for a cash prize he'd won at the Thrashers game.

I'd done my own taxes the old fashioned way, so I knew how to use the tables, and more less what to do. I also enjoy filling out the forms, and that’s essentially all “doing taxes” involves when there aren’t a whole lot of dependents or property to factor in. Plug the number into the box, transfer another number from a table into another box, subtract and voila!

Taxes done.

I wasn't terrible concerned about an audit. We weren't dealing with huge sums of money, but when I subtracted and added, the form said he owed around $1000, I was confused and felt that maybe I had done something incorrectly.

So I went back and checked my work, and arrived, again, at the same amount.

I texted Mo, "I have you owing a grand. Does that sound right?"

He replied, "Hmmm . . . sounds like a lot, but could be."


I checked my math a third time and the table in the back several times to make sure I'd lined all of the numbers up correctly.

Each time I checked it, the amount I calculated that Mo owed to the government stayed the same: $1025.

I turned Mo’s completed taxes over to him the next day. Later I stopped by his desk to find, with a calculator, also doing them. I gave him a look like, “What the hell, dude?”

He laughed, and said, “I mean, I have to check your work.”

I admit I was a little annoyed that he didn’t trust me, or my math. But on the other hand, I didn’t really trust myself either, and these were his taxes, and his money, so I guess I understood.

He arrived at the same amount I did and wrote the IRS a check, but didn’t send the form until I signed the box labeled "preparer."

I looked at him confused, but I knew what he was after.

When my own accountant mails me my returns, he signs his own name in this box as the person who prepared the report. I trust my accountant completely, so I usually just sign where he tells me and trust that everything he did is honest and correct. I presume that with his name on the return as well as mine, the chance for error is slim to none.

Mo wanted to ensure that if the government was unhappy with the way I did his taxes we'd both take the fall. I can't blame him for that.

Not until I had to print and sign my name on the line labeled “Preparer,” did this exercise make me a little nervous.

Turns out he was right to do so, because despite my careful math and Mo's double-checking, just a few days ago he received a $400 check in the mail and a notice saying, more or less, "you overpaid us."

A further description of the discrepancy is expected to come in the next few days, and I'm anxious to see what it has to say, but like I told Mo, "I did your taxes and now you're getting money from the government?"

I'm the best worst accountant ever.

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