Ah, But Ain’t That America: A Journalist Deals with the IRS

Categories: Government, Tax/Finance


While I would argue government does provide many worthy functions in a civilized society, those who depend on its efficiency to help them solve problems have a tendency to be disappointed (read: enraged). Here’s the story of (former Reason magazine/soon-to-be Huffington Post) writer and native Hoosier Radley Balko and his dealings with the IRS this past year… and it sounds like he’ll get to relive this for years to come (warning: a little salty language, but you may have expected that):

So I never got around to updating you on my feud with the IRS. (See here, here and here.)

Quick summary to catch you up: Last year, the IRS rejected my tax return due to a “faulty Social Security number”. Apparently, someone else had also filed under my number. I then engaged in an increasingly frustrating series of letters and phone calls to try to get the damn thing straightened out. All on my own time, and at my own expense. But it wasn’t my mistake. The whole situation was complicated by the fact that I moved a couple weeks after filing, and no matter how many times I told them this, no matter how many times I asked them to change my address in their files, they kept sending all updates and notices to my old address.

After my last update, many of you suggested I call the IRS help line. I did. It was a really frustrating conversation. I explained the situation to the woman, who then replied, “Well what do you want me to do?”

I replied, “I’d like you to help me get my refund, and to get this corrected so I don’t have to go through it next year.”

To which she replied, “Oh, you’ll almost certainly have to go through it again next year.”

“Why?”

“Because if someone filed under your Social last year, they’ll probably use it again.”

“But that’s why I’m calling. Once I prove I’m the rightful person using that number, can’t they make a note to make sure that in the future, the return with my name on it is the only return they’ll accept under that Social Security number?”

“They can’t do that.”

“Why not?”

“Because they can’t.”

Pause, as I bite my lip.

“So what would you like me to do?”

“I want you to help me get my refund, and make sure I don’t have to go through this crap again next year.”

“Yes, but what do you specifically want me to do?”

“Well, I don’t know. I don’t know what you can do. I don’t know how the IRS works. Clearly they have my address wrong. I’d like them to change it. And I’d like them to make sure whoever filed under my number this year doesn’t do it again.”

“Yes, but what do you want me to do? You have to tell me specifically what actions you want me to take.”

“Again, how would I know that? You’re the taxpayer advocate. Aren’t you supposed to know that?”

These quotes are taken from memory. So they’re obviously approximate. But it went on like this, with me getting increasingly angry, she getting increasingly obstinate. I finally gave up. (I am proud to say I didn’t use a single, goddamned profanity during the entire conversation.)

A few days later, my refund came in the mail. It had been sent to my old address, of course. A former neighbor was kind of enough to forward it to me. Which means it had actually been sent before I called the taxpayer advocate. Yet it still wasn’t noted in whatever computer screen she was looking at. Or it was, and she didn’t tell me. This was last December. So it took eight months to get all of this straightened out. They also paid me about 15 dollars in interest.

A couple weeks later, I got another notice from the IRS. This one was sent directly to my new address. Hey, they got it right! What did it say? It was a reminder that on my 2010 return, under penalty of law, I am required to report and pay taxes on that 15 dollars I “earned” in interest while the federal government held my refund.

Here’s the punchline:  I just learned tonight that my 2010 return has again been rejected due to a “faulty Social Security number.”

Which I guess means I’ll now get to do this all over again.

If you’re looking for a bright side here, the “taxpayer advocate” did correctly warn me that the IRS would once again screw up this year. So if nothing else, I guess federal employees are at least pretty competent when it comes to predicting the incompetence of other federal employees.

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