Probably the only thing more boring than doing your taxes is reading about someone else’s tax issues, but I feel the need to write something about it before I go all Falling Down.
Sometime this last spring – late April, I think? – I received a very intimidating letter from the IRS. It informed me that my business tax return from 2007 was under review and could I please get together my documents and meet with an agent to discuss. Which seemed sort of benign at first, until I realized, “Wait … documents … agent … this is an audit!” But I complied, of course. I took two days off of work so that I could sit in my house and answer questions and provide records for a business that did nothing but lose money for five years. And closed in 2008.
At the end of those two days, I was told that I would be given a report by July 20. “It’ll probably be before then,” the agent said, “but I’ll give it that much time, just in case.” So the weeks went by and I kept waiting for another ominous envelope. And waiting. And waiting. July 20th came and went, and then on July 22, the day before I left for vacation, I got a call from the auditor saying she was going to need some additional information about my personal return, but would send out the business report and I’d have 30 days to get her the other info she needed. She gave me the gist of what I had to come up with, so when I got a thick document request in the mail, I didn’t pore over it. In fact, I didn’t even open it. But I did set about culling my credit card websites for 2-year-old statements (thank you, Chase, for the easy access to archived statements, and suck it, Bank of America, for wanting to charge me $5 each). But I wasn’t in any real hurry, since I hadn’t even gotten the report yet, and figured I had a couple more weeks at least. The auditor was calling a couple times a week with updates, but since they were just informational, I was letting the calls go to voicemail.
And then, on Tuesday, there was a message asking if we could move our Thursday meeting from my house to her office. Wait, wha? What Thursday meeting? I scrambled to get that thick envelope opened, and sure enough, there on the bottom of the second page was a date and time for her to go over the new paperwork. I didn’t think I could get everything she needed in the next 48 hours, so I called back and asked to reschedule, and mentioned that going downtown to her office was going to require me to take half a day off of work. Her schedule was full for the next month, however, and the appointment was going to take three hours regardless, so rather than drag it out any more, I quickly requested Thursday afternoon off and, two days later, hauled my computer and ten pounds of files to the IRS Service Center.
The next three hours were about what I expected. I was shuffled from a gray waiting room to a gray “Interview” room and then proceeded to look over spreadsheets and bank statements, answering questions and explaining my English major accounting process. As the details unfolded, we discovered that I’d made some small errors, but when totaled up, they basically canceled each other out. A little under here, a little over there – came out just the same in the end. There was no malicious intent or devious effort to conceal income. I doofed it up a little, but nothing major.
Which, really, just makes me more upset about the whole thing. If they had spent all this time uncovering some egregious error, I would be stressed about coming up with the money, but at least I’d feel like they had used all of this time to someone’s benefit. But as it is, I have burned more than 10% of my vacation time, not to mention hours of research, document-gathering and sleeplessness, and the IRS has spent at least 30 woman-hours to find out that … we’re square. It’s maddening. It’s absurd. It’s enough to make me dig out statements from 2006 so I can prove that they actually owe me money. Because, by gum, if they can’t make all of this hassle worth their time, I’m sure as heckfire going to make it worth mine.