Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task. ~William James

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Happy Tax Day, Procrastinators of the World!

Mail handler John Mayo has worked for the United States Postal Service for 21 years and has worked tax day the past five. Mayo, along with three other mail handlers, walk up and down the streets surrounding the Fort Point Station Post Office collecting stamped returns ready to be mailed. 'I see some of the same people in their cars dropping off returns every year,' he said. 'People are happy to see us out here doing this job for them.'

What's wrong with this picture?  I'm not in it!  Thanks to my Turbo-Taxing second husband, I no longer join the throng of cars snaking past the post office at midnight on April 15th.  Of course, this image is from the Boston Globe's tax day gallery, and it's unlikely I ever would have driven across the country to file my taxes in Boston.  But still, these last-minute desperadoes are my fiscal brothers and sisters.

Don't get me wrong.  I'm no TEA party sympathizer.  I'm relatively okay with paying my taxes.  I'd be a lot happier if my money weren't being spent to maim and kill other citizens of the world.  I would gladly ante up at a higher rate to support more pro-social programs.  And I'd feel better about the whole thing if the IRS didn't expect me to put in all the work up front to figure out how much I owe.  It feels like being visited by a burglar who expects me to show him where all the good stuff is, to pack it neatly and load it into his truck, and give him gas money to drive it away.

And then there's the deadline, the bane of procrastinators everywhere.  The imperviousness with which they blithely delay, knowing there's plenty of time.  Continuing to find better things to do.  Then that cold gripping sensation on or about April 13th, when they finally realize how little time they have left, how much there is still to do.  The desperate searching for misplaced forms, "documentation," fugitive receipts and renegade numbers.  The calls to the IRS "tax help" line, crucial minutes ticking by on hold.  The dash to completion.  The breathless race to the post office.  The long line of revelers, some tired and relieved, some high on the thrill of having made it.  I was one of them.  But no more.  

According to Joseph Cox from Liberty Tax (the folks who brought us the green clad Statues of Liberty waving tirelessly to us wretched refuse from teeming street corners), more people are taking matters into their own hands in this recession year, unable to afford professional tax preparation.  And many of them will not file, either because they just can't get it done, or because they decide not to file because they owe money they can't pay.  Of course, they are leaving themselves open to deeper gouging down the road, what with penalties and all.

Apparently, even Canadians, so much better than we on so many levels, also procrastinate when it comes to paying taxes.  Their deadline is different--April 30--and they write their checks to the "Receiver General."  But H&R Block Canada Inc., in an attempt to admonish Canadians to do their duty--oh, and yes, to drum up business--identifies these "Top Five Reasons for Procrastinating on Your Taxes:"

- You know you owe: 
Just because you will be writing a cheque to the Receiver General on April 30th does not mean you should wait to prepare your return. Getting the documents together and your T1 Form completed early means no pressure when it comes to the deadline. You can even file your return early and then send payment later.
- Outstanding debt means no refund: 
If you fall behind on your student loan payments or child support payments, the debt can be registered with theCanada Revenue Agency. It means that any tax refund or benefits like the GST/HST payment are designated to pay off the loan. Just because you don't get the money doesn't mean you shouldn't file. You have to pay off your student debt eventually.
- Dog ate my slips: 
You moved two times during 2009 so your T4s slips and other information receipts have gone astray or you haven't found them in your new place. Or your employer did not send a T4. You can track down replacement slips or get duplicates from other sources. Under Canada's self assessment system, you are required to provide an accurate estimate of the income you earned in 2009. You need to find your paperwork.
- Don't owe money: 
Your tax refund is money you have already paid in taxes so not filing means you are letting the government keep your money interest free. If you want your money to work for you, it should be invested where it earns some interest at least at a better rate than the CRA offers...which is zero.
- Weather is too nice: 
For many parts of the country, it has been a beautiful spring but the deadline for filing remains April 30. Though taxes and rainy days seem to go well together, you still have to file when the weather is nice.
Kind of lecture-y for my taste.  But solid advice, I suppose.  

I feel a little guilty as I contemplate my fellow North American procrastinators struggling with this onerous annual task.  I have had this cup taken from me.  There but for the grace of the partner I appreciate especially on this day. . .

I plan to celebrate my good fortune today at Starbuck's Make a Difference event.  Bring in your reusable mug and get free coffee!  I'm going to treat my husband.  And without spending a penny of his hard-earned tax return. 

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