It's not tax season, but this is not really about taxes anyway….
I got a call from the office yesterday, a guy had gotten a letter saying he owed $400 or so, had left the letter at the office, had no idea what it was about. This happens often enough. Computer generated, something doesn't match up between the tax return that was filed and various data the tax folks receive from other sources.
And you never know, sometimes the tax folks are right, and sometimes they are wrong. The one thing you are pretty sure of is that it will be a pain in the butt to take care of.
This one is from Massachusetts, and they are sometimes better to deal with than the IRS, sometimes worse. But there is at least the possibility of resolving it on the phone. It does happen.
The letter is mostly cryptic, full of paragraphs about the process if you want to appeal and the shit you are in if you don't pay, and maybe it's best if you just pay first and then think about appealing later. And it's only in the fine print that I find out the problem, namely, that MA wants to be paid the tax on 7K of unemployment that was received in 2011. Yup, we're still dealing with 2011.
So I pull out the client's file, wondering why we didn't report the 7K on the MA return, and it doesn't take long before the bell starts ringing, oh yeah, this guy got unemployment from the railroad, and there are special rules for that, like it's not taxable at the state level. Excellent.
But before I call, I'd like to be able to cite chapter and verse of the law that says this, but I can't find anything on the state website. But I do find other statements on the web that this is the case, just no references to the actual law.
And I do have a note in the file from 2011 that I had talked to a guy at MA tax place about this.
So time to call. I already have a bad feeling because the phone number the letter gives seems to be the general phone number for the tax folks, not one dealing with audits. Which it is.
Thirty minutes later a guy finally answers. We go through all the identification process before he'll talk to me, then I explain the issue and why we are right, and it's about then that he says, "Oh, you've got the wrong department. I'll transfer you to the audit division."
At the audit department things are looking up. A guy answers almost immediately. Do the ID stuff, he pulls up the file, I explain the issue, oops, sorry, you've got the wrong department.
Again, a guy answers almost immediately, we do the ID stuff, he pulls up the file, I explain the issue, he asks if he can put me on hold. No, he sure can't, not before I give him my phone number in case we get cut off. But then I'm on hold, and listen to music for a few minutes.
And then he's back.
"You're right, I voided it."
Boom, just like that, no letter to be written, no documents to be faxed.
And he says, the return was actually filed correctly, just the way you're supposed to, report the unemployment on the first page, take it back off on another form, just right. Except the computer can't deal with it. So you got the notice.
I look in my file, the 2012 and 2013 returns will have the same issue. The guy says maybe the software will be fixed by then, maybe not. He'll put a note in the file. And he couldn't have been nicer or more on the ball.
So I spent an hour. I was pissed that it took an hour, and also pleased that I could make an easy call to my client. And the case was closed.
A mix of competency and incompetency. I think that just reflects the nature of humanity and institutions. The challenge is to find the competency, figure out how to make it so that systems work. But that can be very hard.
It is similar in organizing O' events. It is very hard. It is a matter of finding the competencies and matching them up with the jobs, and then pushing the learning curve as much as you can. And still keeping your fingers crossed.
But when that is done, when things work right, as they did this past weekend for all of Ed's technical stuff, then it is quite amazing and a pleasure to behold. Because these things are not easy.