Write a Check, Get an Entirely Unrelated Check

Oh, boy, Tax Day! That’s when I find out how much my refund is!

(Checks paperwork)

WHAT?!??!?

(Writes check to IRS, grumbles)

Well, at least I got this check today:

That’s right! I am now verified on Twitter! It’s your assurance that whenever I write about gremlins, it’s really me, and not, say, Mary Robinette Kowal, posing as me for nefarious purposes. And what a relief that is. For all of us.

31 thoughts on “Write a Check, Get an Entirely Unrelated Check

  1. Because it might come up: The grumbling is not about the fact I have to pay taxes, or the belief that I pay too much in taxes — I’m fine with taxes as a general concept, and percentage I pay in taxes is overall not out of line for what I want and expect in government services for myself and others. But the lump sum that we have to write out can be… disconcerting.

  2. I think taxes are worth paying too, but this is the first time in several years that I owe a little on tax day instead of getting a refund. It’s less than $50, but it’s still a bit of a surprise. I guess I finally got the number of exemptions right on my W-4.

    Congratulations on the verification. I understand it’s a long and mysterious process. Does it, perhaps, involve a spare goat?

  3. I’m not against the idea of dentists, and I positively encourage everyone to go to their dentists. I just don’t like it when it’s my turn to go to the dentist.

  4. There’s an argument I’ve heard that it’s good for people to pay out a lump sum because it drives home the cost of government in a way which paying small amounts spread out over the year doesn’t. (And that tax refunds actually mask this effect – any thoughts about the amount I pay are covered up by the OOH SHINY MONEYBITS coming back my way.)

    Of course, the counter-argument is that I don’t tend to receive big lumps of government service, so pay-as-you-go more accurately reflects the benefits of things like defense and roads and clean air and public schools, etc. etc.

    Temperamentally, I’m with John – I have a good life in a good country, and the total sum I pay is a pretty good deal for what I get. (Especially if I consider the quality of life in countries which charge less.) But I find it interesting to consider the psychological effects of paying one way or another.

  5. @Joe:

    I’m also on board with paying my taxes, but to the point of understanding the impact, I was just thinking about the last time I bought something online from an indie bookstore. Porter Square Books sends you a little feel-good graphic showing the advantages to buying local on the area’s economy. I don’t know if it would influence people’s opinion (my cynical side says “no”), but it’d be nice if we got a one-sheet breakdown of what our taxes pay for.

  6. Warren Buffett always says he enjoys writing an enormous check for taxes, because that means he made a lot that year.

    Also, didn’t Mary Robinette Kowal earn a verification check when she was Patrick Rothfuss? TWICE? So that check may be from her pretending to be you, rather than you pretending to be you. But congratulations all the same!

  7. @mikes75

    As a matter of fact, such a tool does exist. (Probably multiple such tools, but this one floats toward the top of Google.)

    http://www.whitehouse.gov/2013-taxreceipt

    I agree, though, that a cool infographic or two would be worthwhile on that site – as would delivering them automagically to everyone who provides an email address when they e-file…

    I don’t know that we could predict how it would influence opinion. Looking at my own list, I’m having roughly equal amounts of “shouldn’t I pay more for that thing” and “now, wait a second.” Maybe that would be enough to improve the discussion… heck, it’s not like it could hurt.

  8. Hold on – an actual paper check? They still make those?

    More seriously, like others here, I don’t mind that we have taxes, but they sure could be simpler. And it doesn’t help that some powerful interests are exacerbating Congress’ natural tendency to complicate the tax code (link to propublica/NPR article).

    As the Economist quotes J Bernstein, simplifying the tax code “almost certainly creates marginal winners and solid losers, which means that tax reform legislation produces intense opposition and mild support.”

  9. I had to write a check too. It wasn’t a large one, but I’m getting enough back from the state of Ohio, that it’s kind of a wash.

    Paying taxes is always something easy to grumble about, but when I consider what my taxes help fund, I’m proud to contribute. The roads in my village are well taken care of, my local library is excellent, the public school system in my area is outstanding (I don’t have kids, but the local kids are smart and polite). I’m sure I could use that extra money to buy the vintage Gibson Hummingbird that I’ve been looking at, but it deserves to be in the hands of a better guitar player than I.

  10. “it’s really me … posing as me for nefarious purposes”

    Yup, that’s exactly what your twitter feed sounds like to me.

  11. @Joe: I actually did get an email from the White House with a breakdown of how taxes are spent! Though I agree that the IRS site could stand to be a little more user friendly.

  12. Count me as one more who really doesn’t mind paying taxes. I live a great life that I sure wouldn’t have in Somalia.

    John, you may want to step into the modern payment age. While it may still sting a bit, it’s so much easier to type all those zeros into an electronic payment than to physically write them on a check. Something about applying pen to paper makes it feel more like blood draining from my veins.

    Now going to the dentist, on the other hand, is really asking quite a bit! It doesn’t help that my dentist’s favorite movie is Marathon Man. (Seriously!!!)

  13. As someone who broke a tooth yesterday (for the first time) and won’t get to the dentist until this afternoon, I’m finding the timing of this discussion unnerving. Which, in dental matters, might be desirable.

    (Someone at work had put out a plate of soft-looking chocolate chip cookies. I found out they were crunchy, which I generally prefer. As I’m chewing, I find an unchewable bit like a rock and spit it out. It looks like a piece of a tooth. I actually think: how did someone else’s tooth get into this cookie? Two or three minutes later I notice a rough edge in my mouth that hadn’t been there previously. Oh, and it turned out that the cookies were “recently discovered” and were probably soft when they’d been brought in a month prior but for some reason had been put in a covered plate on top of the refrigerator. Sigh.)

  14. Huh. I would have thought that as a moderately successful self-employed individual you would be doing the estimated-payments-four-times-a-year thing. Or is your income sufficiently irregular that it wouldn’t work?

  15. Yeah, we got the exemptions wrong last year, so we ended up sending an unexpectedly large chunk off to Uncle Sugar yesterday. Also, we’re doing our evaluations at work, which makes me impatient for November to come so I can vote against every single incumbent on my ballot.

  16. I usually wind up with a Federal refund but owing DC some. Since I retired in January and my government pension doesn’t withhold state tax even by request, I’ll have to do quarterly estimated tax for DC, and possibly the Feds as well.

    But that’s next year.

  17. @Brian_B It’s not just the tax preparers trying to keep the tax code complicated – Grover Norquest and all of the anti-tax crusaders are also in there. They figure if they can make taxes as painful as possible for everyone, they can get more pressure to lower them. Even more than TurboTax, they’re the reason the IRS isn’t allowed to prepare a return for you. After all, they already have all your info and have to create the return to verify it, so would actually be cheaper for them to prepare the return for you, vice having to accept an electronic filing.

  18. I always try to set up my tax year to get a $0 return. I missed by only $650 this year, so that’s good.

    Theoretically one should aspire to owe 1 dollar less than would result in a penalty so that you get the interest on the money. Of course that assumes that anyone pays interest any more.

    I also aspire to zero, since I really would rather not have to write a big check.

    Hold on – an actual paper check? They still make those?

    Yup, and most of the ones I write are to governments. Even there things are changing. I can use a credit card to renew my license plates.

    Lately with taxes, it’s been direct deposit for refunds and writing physical checks for payments, though it does turn out that you can pay Illinois income tax electronically.

  19. UNFOLLOWED! (Insert a super irrational angry face emoticon that has yet to be invented). I only have twitter on the off-hand chance that MRK is impersonating somebody. This verified business is going to ruin the internet.

  20. Its kind of funny how people view a refund check as some sort of triumph, something the media (and tax-preparers) try to cultivate. “YES! I overpaid my taxes again this year! AWESOME!” The idea that somehow, you’re putting one over on the government (and that the government needs to have one put over on them) is a little odd to me.

    Then again, I was kind of stunned when I was watching the PBS documentary on Prohibition to discover that income tax collection only started during WWII or that prior to prohibition, a large part of the federal budget came from tax on liquor and beer.

    I say all this secure in the knowledge that i have gotten a sizable refund the last two years (but due to a house purchase/move and some fund stuff, paid a large tax debt three years ago). I mean, I get that getting a check out of the blue is pretty cool…but at the same time, it’s MY MONEY that I gave to the government when I didn’t have to because I didn’t plan as well as I might.

    SIDE NOTE: the whole ‘get your Billion back, America’ add campaign makes me a little crazy: how about you get the BILLIONS back from the corrupt banking system instead of the federal government?

  21. SIDE NOTE: the whole ‘get your Billion back, America’ add campaign makes me a little crazy: how about you get the BILLIONS back from the corrupt banking system instead of the federal government?

    As I recall, the billion was over-payments, due in theory to not getting professional tax advice. So isn’t government’s money in the first place, as you just pointed out.

    Those commercials also make me crazy for a different reason.

    There are 130 million plus, tax returns filed, so if uniformly distributed, that’s $7 apiece. Of course it isn’t uniformly distributed. How many of those 131 million are 1040 EZ returns where there is little likelihood of Block doing anything different?

  22. Mike said:
    There are 130 million plus, tax returns filed, so if uniformly distributed, that’s $7 apiece. Of course it isn’t uniformly distributed. How many of those 131 million are 1040 EZ returns where there is little likelihood of Block doing anything different?

    In the fine print on those ads, Block admits that 4 out of 5 people who bring in their returns get no additional money back.

  23. “I always try to set up my tax year to get a $0 return. I missed by only $650 this year, so that’s good.

    Theoretically one should aspire to owe 1 dollar less than would result in a penalty so that you get the interest on the money. Of course that assumes that anyone pays interest any more.”

    That is in fact the theory. It just gets harder to realize as your tax situation gets more complex. The $650 return represents a 1.8% miss against my total liability for me, which is pretty good. I took six months off last year, though, so my income will be higher this year, necessitating the withholding adjustment.

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