How the heck do you do it??
This January, like EVERY January that came before it, I pledged to file my taxes early. I hoped this would be the year I stop speeding down the road, flying through yellow lights, praying I don’t pop a tire, anxious to mail my taxes before the post office closes in five minutes. This will be the year I dodge the risk of peering through the locked Post Office doors, envelope in hand, realizing with a sinking stomach that the IRS will slap me with a late penalty for my tardy postmark.
In fact, every January I vow that filing taxes will be my first act in the New Year! I’ll drink champagne, wear a sparkly hat, and bust out my 1099′s.
But alas, reality steps in. My W-2 doesn’t show up until February. I certainly can’t calculate my taxes without my W-2. I also freelance for a handful of publications and, as anyone who works in the publishing industry can attest, editors are
lazy busy. My freelance tax forms (the 1099-MISC) don’t debut in my mailbox until March.
Then there are the requisite 1099-DIV forms, tracking my dividend payouts; the 1099-INT forms, tracking my interest income; the 1099-B forms, tracking the stocks I bought and sold. Forms pour from every brokerage house where I’ve stuffed some cash. And let me assure you: my cash is so spread out it would make a “lady of the night” blush.
My investments are scattered among so many brokerage houses and banks that they read like a guidebook to America’s financial institutions. I have a so-called good reason for choosing each one. Firm X offers the lowest stock-trading fees. Firm Y carries the highest savings interest rate. Firm Z sells one particular index fund I’ve been eyeing for months. Come tax season, all of these institutions are mailing me forms.
Each form trickles in, slowly, over the span of months, and summarily gets stuffed into a giant manila envelope without a cursory glance. When I eventually peer at the results, I’m astonished: Firm A paid me $21 in interest. Firm B says I earned $45 in stock profits. Firm C tells me I paid $2.50 in foreign taxes.
Each of these must be tallied. “Box 1a gets reported on Form 1040, line 9″ … heaven forbid I enter the wrong boxes’ tally on the wrong line. It would trigger a massive do-over.
A neighboring manila envelope holds a stack of receipts for my freelancing business. These also must be tallied and entered on Schedule SE, a self-employment form which helps me fill out Schedule C. Lather, rinse, repeat: when I’m done, I launch a second self-employment form for my other business.
I tabulate my health costs, my mileage, my contributions to tax-deferred accounts. Then I run a Google search for this year’s tax credits, find a few for which I qualify, and fill out those forms as well.
The process eats several hours. It’s boring. But it’s gratifying, in an odd sort of way. My taxes are complicated, but not SO complicated that I can’t do it myself. It’s a challenge. It’s a mystery. It’s an emblem of DIY culture.
And it’s not due until Monday. Monday at 5 p.m. when the post office closes, to be exact. So despite my promise to myself in January, I don’t actually start my taxes until Monday at noon.
It takes me four hours to finish my taxes, and another 45 minutes to rummage for an envelope, find my car keys, and honk in rush hour traffic while thinking “now I remember why I never drive anywhere at 5 pm on a weekday!” I screech my car to a halt outside the post office, clutching the envelope in my hand, at precisely 4:55 p.m. I’m shocked to see that I’m the only one there. Where is everyone? Are they all filing late? Or … have they really all filed early? Am I the only uber-procrastinator in town?
So dear responsible tax filers, those of you who processed your taxes months in advance: I hold you in high esteem. Although in the back of my mind, I suspect you e-filed at 11:59 p.m., taking advantage of the glorious 7-hour extension that e-filing brings. Which makes me truly the early bird.