How much money did you make last year? Mail it in.”– Stanton Delaplane’s Simplified Tax Form
I hardly believe it myself.
For someone who shuns left turns; driving in the rain, after dark, or in downtown Atlanta anytime; I still wonder what kind of spunk could have caused timid me to take on the IRS some 30 years ago. I may miss a few details after all this time, but I’ll never forget the fray. So, for those immersed in the widely reported flock of citizen-IRS shenanigans today, perhaps my story will offer a ray of hope.
There were perks galore for soldiers stationed in Germany those many years ago. With the currency rate more advantageous to the U.S. dollar than it is today, we were able to purchase several items that would have been out of our price range back in the States. Silver, china and other incidentals still grace my cupboards and guest table today. But sometime before my husband’s tour of duty ended, we made one of the largest purchases of our lives: a new Mercedes.
We could bring back the housewares without any declaration, but the car was another matter. There were rules, lots of rules, about how much the taxes would be if you bought the car too close to the time of departure. But we had studied all the bold and fine print before the purchase. We were convinced we and our prized Mercedes could re-enter the US tax-free.
All went according to plan, until a few weeks after we had settled into our new home in Columbia County. First came a letter telling us how much tax and, by now, penalties we owed on our imported car. I quickly answered that letter with our version of the tax story, without the requested check.
Next came an IRS agent to our door, with a more strongly worded statement that we did, indeed, owe the money. I was the only one home at the time, but I just as strongly repeated our view, that we had followed the rules and did not owe this tax.
Weeks went by; we thought the matter was solved. Then came another letter telling us on what day, time and place my husband and I were to be in court to show just cause why we should not pay the tax.
This is where I have to pinch myself. Did I really answer that letter by saying, “I’m sorry. Both my husband and I are working that day and we will be unable to be present for this inquiry.” I ended the letter with the now repetitious statement that, “We do not owe this tax.”
More weeks went by – yes, delays are sometimes helpful when dealing with this organization.
Then, another letter, which went something like this: “Mr. and Mrs. Seaborn, this is to inform you that Agent —— was in error when he informed you that you owed this tax. He has been fired; you owe nothing further.”
There was no apology, but to this day I wear that letter and rare burst of courage as a badge of honor. I may not take on every battle that comes my way, but I’m very glad I stood firm on this one.
Oh, I just remembered. That memory must have been what I needed years later, the first year I filled out my first, single-again income tax return and was audited! What? A single woman with two children making less than $20,000 a year audited? Why?
My accountant found the answer right away. “They just don’t believe anyone who makes as little as you do could possibly tithe your income.” This time, with all the necessary documentation again in hand, there wasn’t even a follow-up letter.
And that, boys and girls, is the last I’ve ever heard from the IRS, beyond my normal, unaudited tax forms every spring.
(Barbara Seaborn is a local freelance writer and author of the book As Long As the Rivers Run: Highlights of Columbia County’s Past. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)