My Son Did His Taxes for the First Time. Rage Ensued.
Nothing focuses the mind quite so intently on the sheer stupidity of government as doing your taxes. What is taken from us is excessive, the intrusiveness is maddening, and the rules are byzantine, which is the distilled essence of most of our interactions with the state. So, it was with a certain degree of anticipation that I told my son that, after working hard at the supermarket in addition to his homeschooling and martial arts, he would have to file his first tax return. Much fun ensued.
Given the complexity of our returns, involving a trust, commercial real estate, and business entities, my wife and I pay an accountant to wrangle our taxes. But before Anthony heads down that path, we thought he should understand what it means to fill out his own return and hope for the best.
“The whole system is based on the premise that the government already knows how much you owe, but won’t tell you. You have to guess,” I told my son.
“What happens if you guess wrong?” he asked.
“Well, there’s no actual right answer in terms of how much you’re supposed to pay. If you can even reach them, IRS employees contradict each other all the time because nobody really understands the rules. But if you come up with something they don’t like, they just might destroy your life.”
“Oh, shit,” he said.
At the IRS website, we clicked on the “File Your Taxes for Free” link which touted “a public-private partnership between the IRS and many tax preparation and filing software industry companies who provide their online tax preparation and filing for free.” The first option was for “guided tax preparation” involving “simple questions” and letting “software do the work.” That sounded like a great way to undergo an expensive and potentially perilous process without understanding what the hell is happening. We opted for “free fillable forms” instead, which walked Anthony through a 1040.
“What the fuck does that even mean?” my son asked multiple times as he worked his way through the usual questions about wages, capital gains, deductions, withholding and the like.
“Pull up the instructions,” I told him, as if they offered much in the way of help.
He doggedly plowed through the dense verbiage. Because I’m not a complete monster, I helped him through the spots where he was stuck. When the 1040 itself was finished, he had to reenter all of the information from his W-2 because scanning has no
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