The Good Life: Deluding Myself About Filing My Income Tax
I “got away” with not filing my federal income tax by last Monday, April 15.
I felt as though I had just sneaked through a red light, run a stop sign and made an obscene gesture to “The Man.”
I had a “get out of jail free” card in play. In early March, I had filed a federal Form 4868, requesting an extension.
It is automatic, if the filer(s) owe no money. Since we expect to get our usual pittance back, we are eligible, and why not? Uncle Sugar gets to keep that tax refund for a while longer. I get extra time to round up the missing Form 1099s that kept me from filing on time. So the interest … maybe as much as $10! … goes to “The Man,” and not to us.
Heck, that interest income would not have gone to us in any event. For five decades, I have demonstrated that I am incapable of voluntarily saving money. I don’t go into debt to any great extent. We have been debt-free for close to 10 years now. But whenever I got a few thousand dollars in the bank, I used to spend it.
I know why. When I was 13, Dad died, from an unexpected stroke. As an inveterate pessimist, I assumed that I would die young as well, long before I needed to have any substantial savings for retirement. Therefore, I lived from paycheck to paycheck, or worse.
What is worse? When we had six children at home, I lived by spending about 10 percent more than we brought home in wages. I made up the difference by “playing the float,” in the days when it took banks awhile to reconcile checks after they had been presented for payment.
That was risky, especially with respect to perennial and substantial one-time payments: Insurance on autos and homes; money set aside for extra-large winter heating bills; and a few dollars for a summer vacation excursion.
To get on a more solid financial footing, I started using our federal income tax refund check as a forced savings mechanism. I opened a separate savings account. I did not link that account to a checking account. Instead, I would be forced to physically go to the bank to withdraw that tax-refund money.. When automated teller machines came along, I got the then-named “MAC” cards for our checking accounts, but not for our tax refund account.
That worked for me.
Though I got itchy check-writing tingles in my fingers whenever our regular bank account balances rose to four figures, I persuaded (or deluded) myself to not touch the tax refund account. When the special payments came due, enough money was available, if I had budgeted correctly. We could meet our looming obligation without losing our insurance or our winter heat.
This year, in retirement, I might set aside money for gravel to resurface our driveway after wintertime plows and snow blowers deplete what is now there. I plan to pre-buy our propane heating fuel, using a tax refund chunk to foot that bill.
Yes, I will lose the interest I would have earned had I put that money into regular bank accounts each time we got a direct deposit from retirement income, or a check from occasional work.
I am not that disciplined, especially now that the Internet makes it possible to just go into our bank accounts from home and transfer money out with a few clicks on a keyboard. So that tax refund bank account is not accessible to me via the Internet. I still need to make a 10-minute drive into town to get it. That interval gives me time to come to my senses and not spend the money that is already allocated for future needs.
I did not file on time because, during our Florida winter sojourn, I lost or never got a few Form 1099s that reflect income from a few pensions.
I have been told that one of the surest ways to trigger an Internal Revenue Service audit is to report “guesstimates” on Form 1099 income that do not match what the issuing companies send to the IRS, so I stopped preparing the income tax forms while in Florida. We returned in early April, not enough time to hunt down the addresses of the Form 1099 issuers and contact them to request duplicate copies.
I decided instead that I would start to write this column.
Writing newspaper columns can be fun. Finishing income tax returns is not fun.
I now have until October, so what’s the rush?
That is the same mindset that tempts me to spend “extra” money whenever I have it, an “I am entitled to it” mentality.
I have until October to file, but some of those perennial big-ticket budget items will come due sooner. Uncle Sugar won’t send my refund until I request it.
I might have gotten an extension, but I did not “get away” with anything.
Now, I’ll get back to work.
Denny Bonavita is a former editor at newspapers in DuBois and Warren. He lives near Brookville. Email: email@example.com.