Ladies and gentlemen of the blogosphere, it gives me great pleasure to announce that as of last evening, I have officially filed my federal taxes as well as taxes for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the great State of Wisconsin. I’d like to thank all the people who helped me along the way, including… well, no one, actually, because I did them myself. But I have to give a big shout-out to H&RBlock.com, a fantastic website which, although not paying me to advertise for them (I wish), deserves recognition for being so user-friendly and saving me lots of money on my federal taxes. And nearly two months early! This is an incredible accomplishment for me.
Here’s the thing, though: my tax outcome this year has left me totally confused.
Because of various elements of my income (primarily relating to my filing status and a few writing prizes I received last year), I was expecting to pay some modest additional amount in federal taxes when I filed. I knew that my employer(s) had not been withholding funds from my weekly checks as rigorously as they might have, and it looked like the taxman would soon be heading my way with an open sack.
In fact, part of the reason I chose to complete my taxes so early was so that I could assess just how much the damage was going to be.
On the state side of things, I had hoped that modest refunds would more or less balance whatever I owed the feds, perhaps leaving a small remainder so that I could buy something nice for myself. Like a candy bar.
As it turns out, though, the entire filing process was one big emotional roller coaster. Those who had to talk me through it unfortunately had to deal with the worst of it, and I’m grateful for that—I’m not the calmest of people when it comes to the interaction of the federal government and my paycheck.
At one point in the process, it looked as though I in fact owed Uncle Sam hundreds of dollars in unpaid taxes, with additional penalties thrown in just to sweeten the deal. (Did you know that if your employer fails to withhold adequately from your paycheck, you can be penalized for it?) Seeing my tax budget dip from modest black to major red was wreaking havoc on my numbers for the rest of the academic year (I live within a fairly narrow margin of error), and the prospect was not pretty.
This was when I went into rant mode. How can this be? I fumed. I’m a full-time student. I make almost no money. I donate ten percent of what I do make to churches and other charities. Shouldn’t I be on, like… food stamps, or something?
Unfortunately, it turns out that the government only starts caring about how much of your salary you give back to the community after you’ve already given back $5700. For those of us living on a shoestring, the feds only care about getting whatever there is to be gotten.
After a sleepless night spent thinking on these and other exciting fiscal topics, I decided to take another stab at the ol’ taxes the next day. I rechecked all of the math and made sure that I hadn’t made any errors. I hadn’t. I ran down the list of special deductions and credits to see if there were any I had missed. There weren’t. It appeared that that big red number in the top right corner of the screen was going to dominate my life for the next few months.
I took a deep breath, proceeded to the penultimate page, and prepared to schedule a bone marrow donation appointment at the next available opportunity.
Before I finished, though, H&R Block had one last question for me: “Compared to your Adjusted Gross Income (IRS 1040, line 37), did your guardian(s) contribute more or less than twice that number to your support last year?”
Suddenly—miracle of miracles—the angry, red “Your estimated federal tax is $746” disappeared and was replaced by a serene, green “Your estimated federal refund is $1067”! I couldn’t believe my eyes. Nervously, I clicked all the way through the tax return again, just to make sure I hadn’t accidentally killed someone in Chicago. But everything was in order.
Someone in heaven (or the federal government) had heard my prayer.
Of course, when the federal government owes you money, state taxes are a breeze. After filing everything last night, I came up with a total refund that was substantially greater than I had ever expected, and all of it should be arriving soon in a bank account near me. God is good!
Now, I know what you’re thinking: How dare you sit back and gloat about your refund when the rest of us will probably end up paying through the nose?
It’s a fair criticism. And believe me, I feel your pain. I know how much agony I was in when I was staring that pernicious red number in the face, and I honestly don’t think I could have afforded to pay it if I had had to.
As for my refund, the majority of it actually seems to be a credit, and I’m not quite sure how I feel about that. It’s nice of the government to waive my taxes if I have very little income, but I’m not really sure I deserve a handout above and beyond that. I can pay my rent and have plenty of food to eat, and I have enough left over to visit other places and do things that I enjoy. I know that there are many folks who are worse off than me, and I’m sure I’m not the sort of case our fine legislators had in mind when they dreamed up whatever charity they’re giving me. I’m torn between appreciation and self-consciousness, and I’m beginning to wonder if this is how welfare recipients feel.
On the other hand, I’m not going to complain, and I’m not going to send back the money. Who am I to argue if they think I need it?
It’s just that, walking past the homeless of Harvard Square as I do every day, I’m surprised to be considered someone in need.