Tax season's busting out at long last
While those holidays certainly make three (or four) good reasons to celebrate this month, what I'm talking about is that it's finally ... (drum roll, please) ... tax time!
That's right. Thanks to the squabbling of our duly elected members of Congress, the tax laws that apply to this year's returns didn't get approved until it already was this year. Congress didn't enact the American Taxpayer Relief Act until Jan. 2, leaving the Internal Revenue Service folks who write the rules and program the computers not nearly enough time.
After all, it takes a lot of effort to cook up a sentence like, "If you had an NOL for 2009, enter the amount of that NOL from line 25 of the 2009 Form 1045, Schedule A, you filed with Form 1045 or Form 1040X."
Taxing our patience
Last year, taxpayers were able to start filing their returns as early as Jan. 5. While many of us could have filed toward the end of this past January, until last Monday your return wouldn't be accepted if it included any of 29 different forms -- ranging from the Energy Efficient Home Credit to my all-time personal favorite, the Credit for Alcohol Used as Fuel. (Take that, Wheaties!)
Things could be worse when you go to file in 2014. The mandatory furloughs of the automatic budget cuts under the sequester could push many older civil service workers who've been delaying retirement during the bad economy to put in their papers. The reason is that the nearly two-dozen payless paydays they face with this year's furloughs will lower their pension payments.
So, when Congress passes the 2013 tax rules sometime after Groundhog Day 2014, all of the IRS workers with the recipe to make the changes will be playing shuffleboard in Arizona.
Keep your shirt on
Your best defense, of course, is to avoid getting a refund in the first place. Grab your last paystub and a copy of last year's return and fire up the very nifty IRS withholding calculator at http://www.bit.ly/withholdingcalc.
That way, you can hang on to your own money, instead of waiting impatiently by the mailbox next May. If you're the kind of person who uses a tax refund like a big savings account, just open a separate account and have the $50 a week or whatever deposited directly. That way you can get at it when needed, instead of waiting on the mail carrier in May.
Of course, if you'll end up owing tax instead of getting a refund, make sure you get that return in by Tax Day on April 15. Much like National Cleavage Day, it's something you really shouldn't look down on.
(Brian J. O'Connor is an award-winning columnist for The Detroit News. Contact him at email@example.com.)