As he would sit on the bed with tons of
paper receipts piled on the quilt, he would explain to me that a
person should always do his own taxes. No one, my father perceived,
was more interested in finding every deduction for the family than
he was. More than I would be someday.
In this day and age my father's
thinking is Neanderthal at best. So many tax laws, so many loopholes
waiting to be penciled in just beg for professional assistance with
filling out the 2003 1040 form that sits on my desk. I truly
recommend that all of you who have any complexity to your taxes seek
professional assistance. I am hypocritical, of course, because I
will not. It's not because I shouldn't. It's just that my birthright
compels me to do otherwise.
Every January, I revel in getting the
latest tax preparation books. I find myself searching the Web for
some little-known fact that keeps me from owing and rewards me with
a payback instead. I spend time reading IRS brochures and pamphlets
that I would bet have never been read by any IRS agent, including
the dolt who wrote the ambiguous passages in the first place. Every
year I have a diatribe with myself when I find something so
ridiculous, so incredible that I find it hard to believe such a rule
exists. This year, as always, I found several.
You may receive a college tuition
credit if you are a student or the parents of a student.
These credits listed under IRS
Publication 8863 are the Hope Credit or the Lifetime Learning
Credit. As with all IRS deductions, there are several circumstances
that make you or your child ineligible to receive this tax credit.
This is where it gets weird. The student or the parents of a student
cannot take this tax credit if the student was, and I quote, "ever
convicted of a felony for possessing or distributing a controlled
It seems a country that professes a
penal system that is devoted to rehabilitation doesn't really mean
it. A child dumb enough to get caught with a bag of illegal pills
cannot go to college and receive a minuscule amount of tax relief
for the burden of tuition and board. Amazingly, a convicted mass
murderer or pedophile has no such problem receiving the $1,500 to
$2,000 credit. Only someone convicted of being dumb enough to get
involved with drugs is ineligible. Isn't it strange that someone who
wipes out a whole town with an M-16 can get this credit, while dumb
Johnnie caught and convicted with a bag of "something" is
[to top of second
column in this commentary]
The next point is so bizarre that after
reading it a hundred times I cannot believe the conclusion I am
making as to the words.
Look at the tax code and you will see
that someone who has had the bad fortune to lose a spouse during the
year can still file as married filing jointly rather than single.
This saves a person just over $3,000 in taxes. Losing a spouse
should be terrible enough in one's life, but look at what the IRS
says if you happen to be incredibly unlucky:
"You may be eligible to file as a
qualifying widow(er) with dependent child, even if the child who
qualifies you for this filing status has been kidnapped. You can
claim qualifying widow(er) with dependent child filing status if all
the following statements are true. … Point 2: In the year of the
kidnapping, the child lived with you for more than half the part
of the year before the kidnapping."
I have to ask all of you if that means
someone who lost a spouse and then has a child kidnapped before July
1 cannot take the dependent deduction? That seems to be what they're
saying, isn't it? Are we so in need of taxes that we cannot let a
widow(er) who has been destroyed with the loss of a child receive a
meager $3,050 deduction? Is there really an IRS agent who will tell
someone that, darn the luck, the most important person in your life,
your child, was kidnapped in May -- so sorry, no deduction?
I'm not sure of my interpretation
because I have never heard the phrase "half the part of" before.
What the heck is a "half the part of"?
Compounding the issue is that the
wording for married filing jointly is different. Again on Page 9,
part two for married filing jointly states: "The child must have
qualified for your dependent for the part of the year before
the kidnapping." You tell me if that means they can claim the child.
It is obviously worded differently than the qualifying widow(er)
Then again, why can't the government
just say that in the event your child was kidnapped, you can claim
them, period? Do we need someone's taxes so badly that we can't just
say a person has had enough grief this year without now being
subject to the scrutiny of the IRS?
I would love
to ask an IRS agent if I have the correct interpretation of the
rules on Page 9 of Publication 501. I doubt an inquiry would do me
any good, of course. The latest U.S. Treasury audit showed a 67
percent failure by IRS auditors to interpret rulings correctly. If a
person starts out getting two out of three questions wrong, how the
heck can you expect them to explain "half the part of"?