Saturday, February 12, 2011


I sat down the other night to do my income taxes using one of those computer tax programs that walks you through your tax preparation step by step. The program I purchased made it sound as if following the instructions was so simple, kindergarten students could use it to prepare their parents’ taxes.

Armed with a stack of receipts, I opened the program on my computer and began to fill in the basics such as name, address and date of birth. “This is going to be a snap,” I told myself, smiling and feeling confident.

Things did go along pretty smoothly…until I came to the section about home offices and itemized deductions. Suddenly the questions became a little more complicated.

First of all, the program asked about our house. How many rooms? How many square feet of living area? How many square feet in the office? I just sat there and stared at the screen.

“When you count how many rooms this house has,” I shouted to my husband, who was watching TV, “do you count the breezeway, laundry room and bathrooms?”

“I don’t think so,” he said. “Although the size of your walk-in closet probably could qualify as a room.”

The next thing I knew, I was on my hands and knees on my office floor, struggling with a tape measure. I wasn’t about to measure the entire house to get the square footage, however, so I set out to find the blueprints, which I knew were somewhere in the basement. Two hours and 20 spider carcasses later, I found the blueprints in the bottom of a bag that was full of old posters…along with two more spider carcasses.

Next, the program asked how much we’d spent on the town portion of our automobile taxes. I knew the amount would be listed on our registrations…out in our cars. The temperature just happened to be 12 below zero that night, and the meteorologist on the 6:00 news had mentioned that exposed skin could freeze within two minutes, but I figured I’d just do a quick dash and grab, so I didn’t need a coat.

I found my car’s registration right away, but after searching through the glove compartment in my husband’s van until my eyeballs started to freeze, I headed back into the house.

“Where’s the registration for your van?” I shouted at him from the doorway.

“Over the visor!” he shouted back.

After retrieving both registrations, I was less than pleased to discover I’d nearly frozen off essential body parts for a grand total of $123.

The tax program then wanted to know if I had donated anything to charity during the past year. I had to laugh. When I cleaned out our old house to sell it, I took over 30 bags of clothes and household items to Goodwill. One bag alone had over 70 of my husband’s neckties in it, some dating so far back, they were wide enough to double as lobster bibs.

The program offered a chart that estimated what each item was worth – so much for coats, so much for shoes, so much for blenders, etc. I took one look at the chart and decided that unless I wanted to spend the next three months working on my taxes, I’d just forget about the bags of stuff I took to Goodwill. I was eager to get my taxes done as swiftly as possible so I could get my greedy little paws on my refund…that is, providing I was going to get a refund. The burning desire to find out motivated me to continue.

I noticed a deduction for hobbies that caught my attention, mainly because my husband and I have a variety of hobbies. I clicked on the deduction to see what hobbies qualified, and it listed breeding, training and showing race horses. I found myself wondering if I threw a couple saddles on my rottweilers if they would qualify (in food consumption alone, they probably would).

I also noticed a homebuyer’s credit for up to $8,000 for people who recently either bought or built a house. My eyebrows rose. We’d built a house! I clicked onto the information and it said we could qualify if we’d moved into the house after December 31, 2009.

We moved into our house on November 20, 2009.

Then there was a section on gambling deductions that made me wonder if the numerous painful losses I’d suffered buying lottery scratch-tickets could be deducted. I discovered they couldn’t unless I’d won a large amount of money on them, then I could deduct what I’d paid for them. I chuckled. The odds of me winning a large amount of money on scratch tickets were about the same as the odds I’d be chosen to be on the next cover of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition.

After I spent nearly four hours itemizing my deductions, the program informed me that my total didn’t equal the percentage needed and I would be better off taking the standard deduction. At that point, the tax-program’s disk very nearly became a new Frisbee for my dogs.

The sun was rising by the time I finally finished my taxes. By then, I felt as if I’d just run a marathon in high heels. But the fact we were going to get back a refund of nearly $2,000 made all of my suffering worth it. I smiled with satisfaction as I hit the e-file button. My tax forms would be zipped off electronically to the IRS and I’d have my refund in a flash.

That’s when an error notice popped up saying I couldn’t file until some new, updated tax form came out, probably at the end of February, and they would notify me by e-mail when it was available.

My dogs really are enjoying their new Frisbee.

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