$78 & A Bag Of Chips: A Tax Tale

Today, dear reader, we’re going on an adventure. Yay! The adventure is into the world of high finances, otherwise known as the once a year drudgery of doing one’s income taxes. That’s not an adventure, you say with a disappointed look on your faceplace. Though that is true, we’re going anyway.

While you try to contain your sadness at the thought of tax forms, I will tell you that I’ve been looking forward to this adventure all year, because it means money in my pocket.

You see, I have a lot of money taken out of my paycheck. Some of it is for health and dental insurance, some is ripped away for social security that I will never see because the baby boomers will have eaten it all by the time I get there, some goes to the state of California, but the lion’s share goes to the federal government.

Some people put a number on their employment paperwork that allows them to have the least amount of money taken out. I put a number there (I forget which oneโ€“eleventy or twelbens?) that takes out more than is needed.

I have more taxes taken out than I owe for several reasons. First, I don’t miss it. There’s very little difference between getting a paycheck for $100 and one for $102. (Yes, I make more than $100 a week. It’s just an example.) That $2 extra isn’t going to make much difference to me in the short-term, but when you add $2 per week up over a year, it’s $104 saved. That’s like an entire tax-free paycheck! Since I don’t get a bonus at work ever, I give myself one.

I also have more money taken out because I’m rubbish at saving. If I were to try to save $2 every paycheck on my own, by the end of the year, I’d have a deficit of $75.

I have a brilliant savings account attached to my checking account that transfers little bites of money every time I buy something. It’s perfect for terrible savers like me, because when I check my account balances, I get to see $300 saved that I had nothing to do with putting there. The problem with my savings account is that I can withdraw that $300 any time I want. Overpaying taxes is much like my auto-transfer savings account, but better, since I can’t touch it until tax time when I get a big fat check with a comma.

I think of my tax over-payment as a gift to the government. You can have a short-term loan of my money for eleven months. During that time, you can buy all the hookers, blow or drones your heart desires, then I want it back. The last reason I take more out up front is that I never, ever have to worry about paying. Paying taxes sucks.

For ten years, I had a wizard accountant. He was a chatty, chain-smoking, overweight, Christian, Republican, NRA member who referred to liberals as “pansies.” Going to get my taxes done every year was torture. It took hours and hours in a smoke-filled room, mostly because he’d stop doing my taxes to talk about things to which I am completely ideologically opposed. The only topics on which we agreed were that dogs are awesome and should be tax deductible, and that I should pay less taxes.

Why would I see an accountant like that? Well, he usually doubled the tax refund I was able to get on my own, he never lost an audit, and he only charged $80 to do it. But, as occasionally happens to overweight, chain-smokers, he had a heart attack and died. For a couple of years, I’ve been on my own. I could find another accountant, but so far, I haven’t.

In January, I got a letter from the franchise tax board for the state of California saying that they were revamping their online system, which meant I’d have to request a PIN that would be sent in the mail before I was able to do my state taxes online. It would have infuriated me had I gone to do my taxes only to find out I’d have to wait 5-10 days for a PIN in snail mail, so I was all proud of myself for being ahead of the curve. Pat on the back.

When I got the PIN, I put it in my stack of mail to-dos until such time as I got around to doing my taxes. Weeks later, I started the arduous process. I got to the credits section before I noticed something called a Savers Credit, which gives a special tax break to low and moderate-income taxpayers who are saving for retirement.

Wait, I’m a moderate-income taxpayer who is saving for retirement! I want a credit! Oh, but I don’t have any of my retirement fund information. When I started at my current job in August 2014, I signed up for a matching retirement 401K and then, as is my wont, completely forgot all about it. I’ve been saving money and having it matched for a year and a half now! I must have at least a million dollars saved up!

I put doing my taxes on hold until I could get my retirement fund information, because every credit counts. The following Monday, I contacted human resources. She got me all logged in whereupon, instead of a million dollars, I found this:

Screen Shot 2016-02-23 at 8.43.52 AM$77.94? That must be month to date or something. Where’s the total? Then I found this:

Screen Shot 2016-02-23 at 8.48.15 AMIt turns out, $77.94 is the total. My account has only been pulling money from my paycheck since 1/1/2016. Why?

I got back on the horn with human resources. She told me that even though I signed up for it in 2014, employees are only vested after one full year of service and since new “savers” are only added in January, for me, that meant my retirement account started in January 2016.

They do this because they don’t want people to work three months and then have to transfer five dollars from a retirement account. That’s fine I suppose, but as is typical of the company I work for, nobody told me that. I was all excited when I remembered that I’ve been saving for a year and a half, while in actuality, I’ve been saving for a month and a half.

While I was at it, I asked her to increase the percentage I’m contributing since, at the $77.94 rate, I’d maybe be able to buy a second-hand van down by the river when I retire at the age of 95.

Welcome home!
Welcome home!

Finally, last weekend, I got back into my taxes. I finished and submitted my federal taxes without a Savers Credit. Sadface. Then I went to the state of California with my proudly pre-acquired PIN. I re-registered for their system as they asked and put in my PIN.

Your PIN is not valid.

What? Of course, it’s valid, silly system. You sent it to me! I typed it in at least three more times and got the same message. Finally, I looked at the rest of the piece of paper on which the PIN is printed. There were more words. Some of them were these:

This PIN will be valid for 21 days from the date of issue.

Like a movie montage, I looked at the top of the letter and the date said:

January 29, 2016

The day I was doing my taxes for the second time was February 21, 2016, which theoretically was a just smidge (more than a dash, less than a dollop) of days more than 21. I am a math prodigy since I quickly created this formula to double check my suspicion:

21 days elapsed in February + however many days in January after the 29th = more than 21.

DAMMIT! That’s what I get for going against my nature and planning ahead. Next time, I’m just flyin’ by the seat of my pants as usual. Screw this planning business.

Now, I have to wait another 5-10 business days to get another PIN in the mail that will be valid for 21 days and waste a third weekend doing taxes. Well, at least I finished my federal return.

The really awesome thing is that had I not wasted a week on trying to get a Savers Credit, the PIN would have been valid.