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“All representatives are busy helping other customers. Please remain on the line …”

dT8xa6GTeIt really shouldn’t be so hard to give the Internal Revenue Service my money.

I mean, if they don’t want it, I’m more than happy to hold onto it. But I know they do want it, and if I don’t move heaven and earth to get it to them I have no doubt they’ll move a few firewalls from my bank account to take it themselves.

Let me explain first by saying this: I am not a tax evader. I pay taxes with every paycheck – even a little more than is required – and file my taxes diligently before April 15 every year. Every. Year.

What I am, though, is a single mom (even though the “kids” are now young adults and one lives on his own) living on a single person’s budget (child support ended when The Youngest turned 18, college or no) and someone who can generally find a place to put any extra income that comes my way.

That said, in 2009, 2010 and 2011 I ghost-wrote or co-wrote three books, and received healthy advances for each of them. Those checks were very nice to get, especially since I still had two teenagers in high school for the first two of those years. Those checks helped with school expenses, clothing, car expenses as the kids got older, and just bills in general.

They were very, very nice to get.

What those checks didn’t do was pay their own taxes. There were no taxes taken out of them (think “contract worker”) and I failed to set anything aside. With any of them.

To say I took a beating when it came time to file taxes was an understatement.

I set up a payment plan the first year, and it was so easy that when I forgot/neglected to set anything aside with the second book, I extended my plan. By the third book extending the plan just seemed like the right thing to do.

The payment plan wasn’t a big deal, just a set amount paid every month. The IRS sends me a ticket stub, I send it back with a check. Easy peasy.

Easy, that is, until you’re late. The IRS doesn’t like you to be late.

What happens when you’re late – even a day late, I’ve since learned – is that you only get so many of those before the IRS determines you’re in default. When you’re in default, they stop sending you the payment tickets. When they stop sending you the payment tickets, you have no real address to forward your payment, and you can’t go online to set up a payment plan or pay on your existing plan because, well, you’re in default.

So … I was in default. And I didn’t want to be. I wanted to pay the IRS the money I owed, and I really, really, REALLY didn’t want them just taking it out of my paycheck or my bank account.

I scoured the website for a contact number. I called the local office only to be told, via message, that that office doesn’t offer live telephone help. I scoured the website again. And again. Finally I found a toll-free number (well, it’s the IRS, so I’m sure it’s only kind of free) and called. After going through six (or was it seven?) prompts to get me to where I needed to be, I received a message telling me my expected wait time is “15 to 30 minutes.”

Yeah. Right. This is the federal government, after all.

A mere 57 minutes later, I heard a click on the other end of my phone (“Oh, God, no, please don’t disconnect!”) and then a ringing. Then Brian or Mike or Steve, Badge No. XYZ, came on the line to see what he could do to help.

“I just want to give you money, but I don’t know how to do it,” I said.

I highly doubt he gets many of those calls.

In less than 20 minutes, Brian or Mike or Steve, Badge No. XYZ had me set up with an online payment plan, an extended due date and a free pass for October (“… although you’re certainly welcome to make any kind of payment you want in October, if you’d like.”).

It really shouldn’t be that hard to give the IRS my money …

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Writing the ‘old-fashioned’ way

Help! I’ve fallen into the digital world and I can’t get out!

OK, maybe it’s not that bad. But here’s a case in point: A Facebook friend (clue number one – I have to qualify my friends by “friends I’ve hung out with” and “friends I know from Facebook”) posted a status today challenging all of her friends to write a letter, to anyone. It took me just a second to fall in love with the idea – not because I’m huge on letter-writing (although I used to be) but because I love doing things the old-fashioned way.

Lady-Writing-a-Letter-xx-Thomas-FaedThat’s what I thought. Honestly. The old-fashioned way. Like I grew up with Laura Ingalls on the prairie.

The closest thing I’ve come to writing a letter in a very long time is leaving a note for my daughter when I leave in the morning, asking her to empty the dishwasher or to remember to take the dogs out. More often than not, though, those “notes” are in the form of a text message sent on the fly. If I have to send a package through the mail I do usually include a note – but it’s never more than a sentence or two, and it’s nothing that would be sent at all if there weren’t a bigger purpose involved in using the mail system.

I used to love to write letters. One of my most prized possessions is a letter my father found last summer while going through his box of military papers. It was a letter I’d written to my grandmother postmarked Oct. 18, 1978 – just two weeks before she died tragically and unexpectedly in a store fire in Des Moines.

I remember writing a lot of letters. We moved around quite a bit when I was growing up, so letter-writing was a great way to keep in touch with friends I’d left behind. College, married life, children and life got moving too quickly and we soon lost touch, but thanks to the internet and (gasp!) Facebook I’ve reconnected with several friends from different areas we’ve lived.

Our first move – the first one after I learned to write, that is – was from Minneapolis to Anchorage. I had one friend I wrote to, Krissy, who was the daughter of my mom’s best friend. I think I wrote one letter. When we moved from Anchorage to a small Missouri town the middle of my seventh-grade year, there were more friends left behind and more letters written. I managed to maintain penpal status with a few of those friends until we went to college. We left Missouri for Carroll, Iowa, the summer before my senior year. You can bet I wrote a lot of letters to friends left behind as we all cursed my horrible, terrible, evil parents for making me move (I got over it). There were a few people I wrote from my one year in Carroll, but since I’d spent most of that year with a chip on my shoulder I didn’t get real close to a lot of people.

When I was in college my freshman year I got a surprise in the mail: a letter from my dad. I talked to Mom frequently, but since Dad spent most of his day at work on the phone, getting into an engaging telephone conversation at home was not something he wanted to do. On the rare weekends I went home – I loved college and didn’t love Carroll – Dad would pick me up and we’d spend the three-hour drive home talking non-stop about just about everything, but once we got home it was all about holidays or me being with some of the handful of friends I had there. The first letter was a surprise, but a welcome one; I wrote back and we started an occasional habit that continued all through my college career.

I think I wrote a few letters post-college: thank-you letters for gifts after the wedding and each of the kids’ births, a few letters to my grandparents in western Iowa, maybe a few to cousins and friends, but eventually the internet came along, cell phones became appendages and life just took off.

The letter went the way of the 8-track player and recording songs off the radio.

So now we have this challenge, and I intend to participate. I’m asking everyone to write just one letter – handwritten, with pen and paper – and send it to someone to make their day. Or to apologize for some long-ago misdeed. Or even to catch up with someone you chat with regularly.

Who knows? You may want to write two.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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