IN A FEW weeks I might well be flying over to San Diego.
No, not for a holiday – but to file my taxes.
‘Are you loco?’ I can hear you asking now.
Well, what else do you do to prevent yourself breaking the law?
My thinking is that it will hopefully prevent me from becoming an ‘enemy of the states (aka ‘United States’).
My attempts to resolve the biggest pain in the ass I’ve ever known has resulted in this – me seriously contemplating spending £800+ just to receive a maximum of £400 back from the US Government.
“You have a legal obligation to file your taxes,” one cock-sure-of-himself London-based ‘tax professional’ mentioned to me last week.
“Sure, and I’m pretty sure stealing from an individual is also a crime,” I replied.
That was after he suggested I pay HIM £750 for filing a State tax return – which cost me around £75 to complete last year in San Diego.
Yeh, you do the math buddy and tell me who’s the crook here…?
This whole situation has come about after I spent 12 months working in the great US of A between 2013 and 2014.
When I began working in San Diego, California, I decided to pay the maximum amount of tax possible.
The thinking – at the time – was that the more I paid, the more I’d get back at the end of the financial year in the tax return.
A sort of ‘well done me’ for saving money, I considered.
Yes, on reflection now, it’s not the advice I should have taken at the time.
In short the US Government owes me roughly $4,000 (£2,500).
And it seems it won’t give it back lightly.
If someone, or some organization, owes you money, you ask for it back.
And therein lies the problem.
I’m now in the UK trying to ask for the money back using the Inland Revenue Service or ‘IRS’ medium of a ‘tax return’.
The snag is that the US Government makes it so difficult to file said return, you end up fast losing your mind trying to do so.
Somehow I managed to use a piece of free software to file the ‘federal’ return.
Did I do it right? God knows.
I just have to wait until the IRS – (fingers crossed) writes me a letter or emails me otherwise.
Another annoyance right now is whether I file for an ‘extension of time’.
I’ve already filed the federal tax return, but what if it’s wrong? If I don’t get an extension do I lose out?! Will people get confused if I apply for an extension when I’ve already filed the return?
The hilarity in all this is the ridiculous use of the English language by the IRS.
The form is referred to as an ‘Application for Automatic Extension of Time to File U.S. Individual Income Tax Return’.
Surely if it was ‘automatic’ you wouldn’t need to apply for it in the first place…?!
Anyhow, I digress.
So yes, the ‘federal’ return is in the post ahead of the April 15th deadline.
And that leaves me to file the ‘State’ tax return – the California state tax return.
Put simply, the State return is only a couple of pages to fill out. The problem is that I don’t actually know how to fill it in.
It’s in American-English, which to you and I in the UK is otherwise known as ‘gibberish’ or ‘gobble-dee-gook’.
‘Name and address…’ sure.
‘California adjustments – subtractions. Enter the amount from Schedule CA (540NR), line 37, column B…’ um, que?
Someone who knows what they’re doing would take the official tax documents sent to me from the State, enter a few figures, and bang three minutes later all done.
But of course, it’s not as easy as that is it? It never is.
The firm I used in the US last year to file, can’t file if I now live overseas.
And the State of California won’t let me even register on its website to file them online direct, again because I live overseas.
“Thank you for visiting the Franchise Tax Board (FTB) website.
“A nonresident is currently unable to use CalFile to file a California income tax return,” Alisha on Station 2115 handily emailed me.
In fact, the software which I used to file my federal return can’t file my State return because it requires me to have a US bank account, and a US bank card.
When I left the States I closed my account because I refused to pay a monthly fee for something which I’d use once in 12 months.
Oh wait, the best part…? Some ‘tax professional’ in London quoted me £750 to file the State return – even though I’ll only get back a maximum of £400.
“But you do realize you have a legal obligation…”
Oh do fuck off.
Trying to work out how to do all this incenses me so much I’ve been physically shaking with anger at times in the last six weeks.
How can people actually get away with this? How can this be right?
If it’s a criminal act to not pay your taxes surely it’s also a criminal act to harass and threaten a law-abiding taxpayer with legal consequences even when they’re trying to do the right thing.
A colleague asked me today why I’d even bother writing a blog post about all this.
“Does anyone really care?” they asked.
Well for a start, I care.
Writing this actually helps me to put this crazy situation into some perspective.
It also reassures me that the people I’m dealing with really are a bunch of numpties.
Also I’m pretty sure that somewhere down the line, this blog post will find some tired eyes looking for a distant light at the end of the black hole that is the US tax system.
If it helps them, even slightly, then this public outpouring of frustration will have all been worth it.
I’ve asked for help from supposed ‘friends’ in the US, but aside from offering up the ‘but your tax return is so easy to file…’ pearls of wisdom, they’re about as useful as a chocolate fireguard.
What do people say…? The question’s easy if you know the answer.
Well, I’m lost.
Anyone got any ideas/suggestions/ibuprofen?