Finally, the blessed tax refund

Wednesday, February 19, 2003

It's tax season, also known as Uncle Sam leaves Heidi a bitter, penniless pauper season.

There's no other time of year I come closer to writing on a piece of cardboard, stapling it to a yardstick and marching around government buildings. That's because there's no other time of year some strange entity reaches into my purse and takes out wads of cash against my will. (Not counting my husband.)

The trouble is that The Other Half and I refuse to follow Uncle Sam's plan. The plan is that people get married and buy a home. Big tax credit. And then they have a child. Another big tax credit. Any additional children represent even more tax credits.

First of all, we rent. And don't tell me I'm throwing my money down the toilet. Mr. Half and I haven't a clue how to fix that toilet. We almost burned one apartment down trying to install a ceiling fan. He's allergic to grass. The two of us have absolutely no business owning a home.

Second, we have no children, and there are no children on the horizon. I blame my little brother. Not only did he cry nonstop from infancy to age 5, he recently dropped out of college, is working part-time at a mall kiosk and didn't come home two of the three nights he stayed with me this month.

I don't need that. And those are the genes I'm carrying.

Thus, Mr. Half and I only get the marriage PENALTY. As if marriage isn't penalty enough on its own, one also has to pay more taxes. And don't tell me to file separately. You don't get to pretend to Uncle Sam you aren't married just because you file separately. We figured that out the first April 15 we were married.

For the first six years of wedded bliss, we owed a couple hundred in taxes each year. That was manageable but disappointing. We'd see those ads:

"Use your tax refund as a payment on your new stereo!"

"Get instant cash with our refund anticipation program!"

"No money? No problem! We'll finance against your tax refund!"

What are these stereo-sized refunds people are talking about? I wondered, writing out my check and giving it a nasty hand gesture before dropping it into the mail chute.

Then I'd think, hey, that's not entirely fair. I enjoy our federal highway system, our military protection, our national parks, John Ashcroft's curtain over the breast-revealing justice statue, etc. And somebody has to pay for it.

So I continued, mildly discontented, until we took a couple of jobs in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., almost doubled our income, didn't change our deductions and in one year owed $4,300.

Don't panic, I told myself. Isn't there some kind of IRS payment program?

Ends up there is. It's called the You'd Be Better Off to Borrow Money from a Guy Named "Vinny the Horse" Payment Program. To give you an idea, I sent $300 in earnest money with my tax form on April 15. By May, the $300 was gone in interest.

Which brings us to last year, when our accountant gave us some good advice. (Oh, who am I kidding with "our accountant"? It's the guy who is kind enough to take a break from handling real money to do our taxes once a year.) He told us exactly how much should be taken out of each of our checks if we wanted a refund.

And this year, his joyous voice mail confirmed it: We were getting a refund.

I whooped. I hollered. The whole office knows about my refund. Everybody looked at me a little crazy, but that's because they've been getting refunds all this time.

And then it hit me.

The refund has to go toward repaying Vinny the Horse for that bad tax year.

Oh well. There's always 2004.

Heidi Hall is managing editor of the Southeast Missourian.

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