Sunday, February 21, 2016

Don't Spend It All In One Place

The State of Utah owes us $3.

This year I had to get my taxes in early, and by early I mean “before April 13,” which is usually my filing deadline since I like at least a couple of days leeway.  You never know when you’ll get sick or something, so no point waiting until the last minute. 

I don’t usually file earlier than that, because I don’t need to.  There are only two possible outcomes when it comes to filing your taxes.  Either you will owe money – in which case why bother doing that before you have to – or they will owe you money.  People tell me that the latter case is good reason to file on January 1, or whenever the paperwork is available, but we’re academics.  We work on 9-month contracts.  If you do the math, that means we don’t get paid in the summertime, which is when we would need that money.  If you file in April, the check comes sometime in June, and that is right on time as far as I am concerned.

Also, given that the average interest rate for a savings account in the modern US is something like 0.003% (compounded biennially), I’m not worried about sacrificing the interest.

But last year some waste of time, space, and oxygen apparently tried (unsuccessfully, for which we are glad) to hack our tax return.  This is now common enough that the IRS has a form for it.  MERCA!  We got a letter from the IRS explaining the situation, as well as a long list of instructions, PINs, free credit monitoring, tax recommendations, and general advice on how to handle this situation this year, one piece of which was to file as early as practicable so as to pre-empt the next waste of time, space, and oxygen from trying his hand.

Of course, the joke is on the wastes, as the last couple of years we have owed money – as an adjunct professor, paid by the course and guaranteed nothing further than 17 weeks out, my income is erratic and subject to change.  It’s been a busy couple of years for teaching for me, which caught my withholding by surprise, and by the time I got that straightened out last spring one year was in the books and the other was not really salvageable.  So checks get written.  And if the wastes want a share of that I suppose they are welcome to chip in.

We don’t rest in the summer, though.  That’s one of the great myths people have about teachers, that summer is just one long vacation.  Long empty summers are simply not economically feasible, so we look for other work.  I’ve been pretty fortunate with summer classes recently – which has only added to the withholding issue, but that’s a nice problem to have, really – and Kim has administrative things to fall back on. 

And she grades AP exams.

If you’ve ever taken an AP exam you know that at some point you will get a score back, one that with luck will allow you to skip a few classes in college and move on to more interesting, more advanced classes (or just get you out of a requirement, either way).  You’ve never thought about how that happened, is my guess.  I certainly never did.  But the AP folks are actually folks – real people who just happen to spend an intense week in the early summer holed up in a hotel somewhere doing nothing but grading exams.

Academics: do we know how to have fun or what?

Kim has done this a few times, but always in states that had reciprocal tax arrangements with Wisconsin so we didn’t have to file anything with them.  Last year, however: Utah.

This is why I like those tax prep programs they have now.  You enter in the data, pay an exorbitant amount for a second state return, and they do all the math for you.  Of course you can solve problems by throwing money at them.  What else do you think money is for?

We owe the Feds.  We owe Wisconsin.  But Utah owes us, and that is somehow satisfying.

This is the first year I’ve ever e-filed, in large part because it was one of the recommendations that the IRS made in their letter.  It’s a strange process, and a costly one.  I’m hoping it works.  And I still have to mail them their check, so I’m not really saving anything.  But it might keep the wastes at bay, so I’ll try it this once and see.

So now my taxes are in.  The checks will go out tomorrow (no, seriously, they will).  And I will be done with this process for another year.

People get all up in arms about taxes these days, but we are some of the least-taxed people in the industrialized world and our infrastructure reflects that.  I don’t mind paying taxes.  I buy a functioning society with them.  That seems a bargain to me.

Although I’m hoping next year will be less melodramatic.

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