Guest Column: Please say it ain’t so - Northwest Chatter - Explorer

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Guest Column: Please say it ain’t so

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James C. Sandefer

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What’s going on? It seems like it was only last week that I was watching the ball drop in Times Square on New Year’s Eve, now I’m hearing a perpetual stream of TV commercials about income tax preparation.  

My mom was right, as we age everything in life seems to accelerate even though I have medical confirmation that I’m slowing down, and oftentimes deliberately. It’s no secret that aging tends to cause us to move slower, and sometimes think and react with hesitation. This annoying phenomenon roars to the forefront whenever I attempt to do something that was commonplace as recent as a year ago. I understand that aging is an inevitable life process, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it, and I’m sure not comfortable with it yet.

Now, let’s talk about one of my least favorite topics that I’ve come to detest over the years; taxes and preparing them. I find the entire ordeal stressful. However, my wife and I share the responsibility for getting the necessary documents together in preparation for the annual event. We have a 50/50 arrangement; I only interrupt her half of the time when she’s arranging everything in her meticulously maintained file folders for use by the accountant.  

You may be wondering why I don’t prepare our taxes using a computer-based, presumably idiot-proof income tax software program. Easy answer; why fix something that isn’t broken. Our tax preparer is a proven professional who works diligently, continuously updates her knowledge to remain totally qualified, and loves her job, so I wouldn’t want rob her of having that annual pleasure.

Some of you may recall that my last year’s tax preparation operation, at least for several days, was drastically different from anything I’d ever attempted. A childhood buddy razzed me incessantly about not doing my own taxes. He insisted that it was so simple anyone who could push the start button on a computer could handle it. I grudgingly conceded, drove to a local office supply store and bought the tax software. That was the initial step toward a significant mistake.

Once at home I held in my hands the instructions for a program I’d avoided using for years while the CD loaded it onto my computer. Surprise! I actually read the directions, and according to the literature it was a simplistic, by-the-numbers process that would appear in a series of fill-in-the-blank type of screens on my own computer monitor. My intention was to compare my software-generated figures to the ones on the previous hard-copy annual tax return prepared by our accountant. How bad could it be; the guy on TV hyped the software as being foolproof with typical start-to-finish times of only a couple of hours. Trust me, my wife was not on board with my newfound tax initiative, not even for a trial run. 

Two hours, huh? The last meal I ate was breakfast, and that was merely a cup of coffee that was guzzled when the sun was still shining—now it’s dark outside. After staring into my computer monitor for what seemed like a week, my eyes were blurry, my back was in agony, and everything from the waist down was numb. Stress also comes to mind.

There’s no way regular folks can comprehend all of this tax stuff, it’s overwhelming. I will never believe that the people who devise the tax system prepare their own taxes. 

The odds of me completing the dry run tax project became less likely with each tick of the clock, and part of the delay came as a result of my taking a timeout to write a very candid letter to each one of my elected representatives. I demanded an immediate Constitutional amendment requiring each of them, without exception or fine print exclusion, to personally prepare their own taxes every year without the assistance of an accountant. And this amendment would apply to them during each year they were in office plus the one following their return to the real world.

What a nightmare. And yes, the TV guy was accurate about one thing, the endless number of help screens; they do pop up like prairie dogs, but so what. If they aren’t understandable they’re worthless. Here’s something important to etch into your mind should you get the incessant urge to do your own taxes this year—read  the fine print on the software package wrapper. It says that once you’ve opened the software packaging, as in the moment the plastic seal is broken, you own it forever, no returns. 

That package is resting comfortably on my bookshelf today and forever more.

As usual, my wife was totally accurate when asking “What are you thinking?”

When I told her I was going to buy a tax preparation software program. From my newfound perspective, it’s a mind-numbing, brain devouring, stressful piece of plastic. I now fully comprehend the look received from the accountant when I mentioned that I’d attempted to do my own taxes. It was that “You’re joking, right?” kind of stare that comes immediately after saying something so incredibly unbelievable to a person who knows you. It was also at that moment that I realized I could have listened to her and my wife and saved fifty bucks plus a load of unnecessary anxiety and loss of sleep.

There really are some things in life that should be left to the professionals to handle, and for me tax preparation is definitely one of them. As for my tax-preparing buddy, I wish him a lot of luck because he’s gonna need it this year.

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James C. Sandefer

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