Friday, February 7, 2014

Tales from Tax Season: Part 1

The tax season is in full swing.  There has been a steady stream of clients for the last few weeks, including a number who came in during January, before the IRS even started accepting returns.  A common theme among many of these early season clients is the mix of desperation and entitlement.  Desperation, because they are flat broke, and they really need money.  Entitlement, because they have been led to expect that the IRS exists to give out money.

Now, I don't know about you, but I have never thought of the IRS as a source of cash.  To me, it has always been the other way around.  But for low income tax filers with children, the tax system is a conduit of funds from people who pay taxes directly to them.

The key to that last sentence however, lies in the words "low income" and "children."  If you have no income, or no kids, the tax system is not an overflowing cornucopia of cash.  This is true of the entire panoply of benefits available from the American welfare state.  However, since they talk to people who are getting big checks, they think they should get a big check too.

This leads to conversations that go a bit like this:

Client: "I hope you can help me out, because I really need a big refund this year."

Me: "Well, let's see.  With your standard deduction and personal exemption, those exceed the amount of money listed on your W-2.  That means you have no taxable income, so you are getting all of your withholding back.  Your refund will be $250, before we subtract our fees."

Client: "Wait, is that all!  That's not very much.  Can't you do any better than that?"

Me: Think: Did you hear me when I said you were getting all of your withholding back?  Say: "Without dependents, you con't get any Child Tax Credit, and only a little Earned Income Credit.  You only had a little withholding taken out of your check."

Client: "So I should tell them to have more withholding taken out?"

Me: Think: Lady, what part of this are you struggling with?  Say: "If you have more withholding taken out, you'll get less money every week, but you'll get it back at the end of the year.  I don't think you are really gaining from that situation."

Client: "It is not much money, but I guess it will have to do.  Can I get that today?"

Me: "Well, the refund actually comes from the IRS.  We are telling people to expect their refund in21 days or less from the date we file their return."

Client: "Twenty-one days!  So you're saying I drove all this way here for nothing."

Me: Think: I drove all the way here.  For this.  Say: "I'm sorry you're disappointed.  But I have no control over the IRS."

Entitlement and desperation is a bad mix.

1 comment:

Michael O'Donnell said...

My compliments on choosing one of the less dainbramaged (ie. more legible) Blogspot layouts. I should have gotten over it by now but still cannot help but be amazed that anybody ever chooses any of those "artiste" themes with lovely pastel tones and (for example) darkish grey text over a lightish grey background - completely illegible!

It's times like that, BTW, I'm grateful for the various "zap annoyances" bookmarklets available at to force things back to good ole black text on white background.