A Brief Chat with a Person With Tax Season Affective Disorder

Vanessa hates tax season.

LOGAN: We’re approaching a very painful time of year for you.

VANESSA: I don’t like to talk about it.

Ha, I know. But you said that you would, with me, just this once.

To help people.

Right, to help people. Because it’s important that people not know they’re alone, in their fear of taxes.

It’s not a fear, it’s more like a natural reaction to one of the most terrible things invented by man. And I hate that word, please don’t say it.

Taxes?

Yes. That word.

Describe the feeling that you get when I say “taxes.”

Revulsion. Terror. Rage. My stomach drops, my heart beats faster. I taste bile.

Would you call it a “trigger word”?

Yes. Yes. It is a legitimate trigger word and I don’t understand how some people can just drop it into normal conversation. Totally inappropriate.

Well you know for some people, the t-word means a refund.

Well good for them, you know? But have a little respect, a little awareness that not everyone is as lucky as you in this world. People ask about how your filing is going like they’re asking about the weather. Disgusting.

What exactly is your relationship with the IRS? I’m sorry to ask this but I think it’s important.

We don’t have a litigious relationship yet but we may be headed there, I don’t know. That’s in their hands. I’ve been freelance for the past five years, which means my checks don’t come with taxes taken out, and I’m supposed to pay “estimated taxes” four times a year, which I have not ever done once because I don’t have enough money to do that. It’s not an option.

So have you just … never paid taxes?

The first couple years I didn’t make much money, I was living at home so it was okay, and I owed, I don’t know, a thousand dollars each year, and put it on a credit card. So that was fine. And then the third year I made more money and when I filed I owed several thousand dollars that I put on a payment plan. And then … I can’t tell you how much I hate talking about this or thinking about this or being reminded of this. This little chat has ruined my day.

Okay so you paid some taxes and then you haven’t paid some taxes, basically. You need to pay a lot of taxes.

Yeah so I pay a monthly payment towards the 2011 amount, and I’ve been ignoring all inquiries about when I’m going to pay my 2012 amount, and if I even think about my 2013 amount I’m going to owe, I’m going to have to get up from this table and find a receptacle to vomit in.

Do you have a plan?

Yeah the same plan everyone in dire financial straits has, to get a really good job or win the lottery and pay it all off and never think of it again.

I’m familiar with that plan.

I know you are, and frankly I don’t understand why you even wanted to have this conversation. I’ve seen you flinch when a TurboTax email alert pops up on your phone. You can’t delete that shit fast enough.

You are right. You’re right. But I’m glad to know we’re in this nightmare together. 

Yeah and the more of us there are, the slimmer our chances of being audited. At least that’s what helps me sleep at night.

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29 Comments / Post A Comment

j a y (#3,935)

I guess I’m kinda … You had warning signs with small amounts of income. You got more income, but didn’t use it to address the problem … you spent that additional income (maybe tempted to move away from home?)and made the problem worse!

That additional income was your “lottery”! It’s as if you won the lottery but spent it all without remitting taxes…

Sorry, I kind of hope you don’t read this and feel worse for reading it… That’s not my intention at all. It’s just when you get your next better job, and I hope you do, please consider setting aside taxes first.

Yogi (#2,872)

@j a y you’re not the only one who feels like this…..

@fo (#839)

@Yogi Third! Also, not intending to make her feel bad.

Brunhilde (#78)

@j a y Look at you! You have all your shit together! Congratulations! How wonderful!

t(-_-t) call me when you’re homeless.

No seriously. If we pool our cash maybe we can share a studio? And then I can be a responsible adult like you! I’ll teach you where all the local food banks are, even!

What was my point? Oh yes. Saying “I told you so” does nothing to help this situation. We’re all trying as hard as we can, and some of us admonish ourselves enough that, try as they might, the rest of the world can’t possibly tell us how much we’ve screwed up or how horrible we are as well as we can tell this to ourselves. We know. WE KNOW. You may not be intending to make us feel bad? Good, we can not possibly feel any worse. Maybe try some tips to assist, rather than detract.

azile (#6,014)

Very much with you. I am also still dealing with and/or avoiding stuff from 2011, and I don’t know if I’ll ever resolve it. There’s also one odd aspect of my situation that makes me feel like I can’t talk to friends about taxes – nothing big, don’t worry – and so I can’t really commiserate with people about the whole thing!!

Mlanterman (#6,065)

I work full time at a non-profit that pays me just enough to get by, and freelance to have a little extra money around. Last year only one company (A large, international hotel chain) I worked freelance for paid me enough for me to have to pay taxes on it. They haven’t sent me ANYTHING for my taxes, and won’t return my phone calls or emails. They gave me a similar run-around when I was seeking payment.

So, uh, what do I do here? Do I not file for this particular instance? Is there a separate form I can file? Are they really going to come after me for 800 dollars when there are tons of richer, more important people committing actual tax fraud?

Help.

Laurabean (#3,040)

@Mlanterman I think (and am not a tax professional, so this is in no way actual advice that you should take without double checking) that you can report things without getting the form, which is what I did when I freelanced and had projects where I made less than $500 or whatever the cut off is for them to issue a 10-whatever (see, do check with someone who knows what they are doing rather than taking my word for it). If I ever were to freelance again (not likely, see @PicNic’s comment below) then I would probably set aside ~300 dollars to take my taxes to an HR Block type place at the end of the year.

Or do you bank at a credit union? Sometimes they’re willing to give friendly advice about stuff like that.

@fo (#839)

@Laurabean “you can report things without getting the form”

[also not a tax pro] You *absolutely* can report without the form. Remember how they got Capone–tax evasion. Think he had a ‘form’?

The problem that may arise is that you report a lower number then the company does in its filed 1099s. Then you appear to be an evader. If you over-report, and eventually get the 1099, then you can submit an amended return.

@fo (#839)

@Mlanterman: “Are they really going to come after me for 800 dollars”

800 in tax owed, or 800 in income that you’re contemplating not reporting? The former, certainly possible–I’ve been dunned for about that amount before (twice–once unreported 1099 income, once for an erroneous credit (claimed by Tax Preparer, noted as prob that by me when the notice came, tax preparer said “no way, fight it!”–I was right), the latter, they are fairly unlikely to find out about. HOWEVER, if that 1099 does get filed, then it will get flagged, *IF* you report less than $800 in 1099 income (or less than the total of other 1099 income + 800).

Basically, if you have 1099s for $1200 of other work, and you got $800 from the folks who won’t send you a 1099, my advice would be to report $2,000. (if you have $0 in other 1099s, I’d report the 800). But I’m darn conservative on my income reporting practices, bc (1) penalties and interest are not my friend, and (2) misreporting *with knowledge* is a *FEDERAL CRIME*. So, even if there is only a 1% chance of getting audited, and from there, a 5% chance of being referred to the Criminal Investigation division, that is still 100% more of a chance of talking to the CI division than I am willing to take.

Mlanterman (#6,065)

@fo @Laurabean thanks for the advice! To be clear, $800 is the amount I think I will owe, but I pulled up the invoice and it will likely be closer to $1000. I’m going to swing by my old place later today and see if they mailed it to the wrong address. If not it seems like I have to use a 1040ez to report it? Any idea how to go about finding their tax id number?

Man, what a nightmare. Freelancing is really a lot of hassle for very little reward.

@fo (#839)

@Mlanterman “Any idea how to go about finding their tax id number?”

If a public company, a little google-fu should uncover it.

But I don’t know [again, not a tax pro] why you would need it–you fill out a 1040-C or a 1040-C-EZ, which doesn’t ask for EINs (read the instructions on the EZ version–you don’t need an EIN to use). I do know, for sure, that you can’t use a 1040-EZ with SE income.

@fo (#839)

@Mlanterman PS: note that you can assert up to $5,000 in expenses w/o needing to itemize them. Not that I am suggesting that you *in any way* lie or exaggerate your expenses, but you don’t have to have detailed records of all of your freelance expenses in order to claim a deduction.

Seriously, read thru the 1040-EZ and its instructions–here: http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/f1040sce.pdf Just the single form should be pretty helpful in organizing your thoughts about the income.

PicNic (#3,760)

If I worked freelance I don’t know if I’d have the willpower to set aside money for taxes so I totally respect your stress. I work a regular 9-5er so that’s all taken care of and I don’t need to think about it.

Considering how much stress this contributes to your life would transitioning to a more traditional career be an idea that you would explore? At what point do you have to compromise on freedom/dreams for mental stability and stress relief? If you’re really experiencing the physical symptoms of stress to the degree to which you mention, at some point this will take a toll on your health, which you may not be able to afford if you’re freelance and also skimping on health insurance etc

Lily Rowan (#70)

@PicNic Truth. This is why I could never freelance — I hate looking for work and also dealing with shit like paying my own taxes and finding my own insurance. Thanks, The Man, for taking care of all of that for me!

honey cowl (#1,510)

@PicNic To be fair, she probably doesn’t want to be freelance? I am right now, for the first time ever, and I loathe the whole tax shindig, but I did not have any.other.options. And my bosses hope to bring me on “officially” ASAP (as employee no. 1, it’s not like they have others & are screwing me).

@PicNic I fully support your comments, I also work a 9-5 job where my taxes are withheld from my take home pay so I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to have to calculate taxes and save them on my own. That being said, TAXES ARE A REALITY, and if you choose to be a freelancer than you are choosing to accept the responsibility of having to manage your own finances so that you can pay taxes when the time comes. I hope that the writer does find a great job so that she can pay her bills – to me this sounds like no way to live. And hard as it may be – working a regular day job and then writing in her free time sounds like a more reasonable option.

OllyOlly (#669)

@CasualElegance Yes, what really stuck out to me was when she said “I don’t have enough money to ever pay my taxes,” but what she should really be telling herself is “I don’t have enough money to live off freelancing,” or “for multiple years I have not had enough money to live off freelancing.”

Not trying to pile on to someone sharing their story, but I am rooting for you and I think this is really important to take to heart.

Laurabean (#3,040)

@OllyOlly Agreed, I have a lot of sympathy because I did freelance, and the tax situation really is more complicated, but that’s part of the trade-off. When I switched back to 9-5ing, I gave up flexible hours, working in my pjs, cash flush periods, etc. but gained easy to assemble taxes and stability.

It’s part of the job of a freelancer to put something aside: if your gross freelance income X .9 (or whatever would give you your gross income – taxes, depending on your marginal rate) does not equal enough to live on, then it’s vital to get at least a part-time job with a salary to supplement.

It’s hard to have your gross pay take something out of it yourself(especially before I developed a saving and budgeting habit: thanks Billfold! And YNAB!), but that’s what freelancers have to do to be successful.

cc (#1,069)

@CasualElegance not to be flip but it’s not difficult to set aside to the taxes, there’s no grand calculations I have do to. I’ve freelanced for nine years, and you just lop off the top 1/3 and put it in a savings account. if you’re making bank, start lopping off 1/2.
i also learned my lesson very very hard, i neglected to save for taxes on my best year ever and settled up to the tune of 5 figures owed. it took about 5 years to get rid of but it’s gone now and you bet i save 1/3 now.
i also pawn off my tax prep on my CPA, so i don’t deal with the paperwork. but as for mentally dealing with the money, it’s just how it runs and you get used to it.

related: i took on a gig that was through an employee status, i got a paycheck with the taxes and whatnot withheld and i was so confused. i was like… the full amount… where is it…. I MUST SET ASIDE 1/3 FOR TAXES @_@

anyway dont mean to harsh on OP. taxes suck and are hard, no denying that, but maybe it would be better to have a number for OP, than a nebulous amount? Like maybe if she settled up, it would be less than she would be imagining. Or more. But then it would be a concrete number, which is better than a spectre. Anyway if it’s a big chunk and you’re feeling queasy about it check out dave ramsey’s Total Money Makeover book. it’s got some religious overtones and pull quotes but the advice is ROCK SOLID and got me out of quite a hole i was digging myself into (that started by ignoring taxes).

anyway good luck to all the other freelancers out there this april :)

@fo (#839)

@cc ” if she settled up, it would be less than she would be imagining. Or more. But then it would be a concrete number, which is better than a spectre.”

No matter what, if she settles up now, it will be less than if she waits another year. The penalties (and interest) keep accruing.

scn231 (#1,705)

Aw, poor thing. Be sure you’re writing off everything you can (home office, any other business expenses). The first time I calculated my taxes after a year of freelancing I almost threw up too, but then I paid for the turbotax deluxe or whatever that walks you through all the deductions, and it brought my tax bill down to about zero. Good luck! Although I doubt you are reading this, given your feelings about the topic!

Brunhilde (#78)

Yeah, anyone know how hypothetically you could get your last 4 years of W-2s and 10-99s if companies you work for were sporadically taken over by other bigger, mean companies who serially laid you off, and hypothetically you were homeless and hypothetically suicidally depressed and decided that you would deal with that stress later because just getting out of bed at all was an insurmountable task? Hypothetically, of course.

@fo (#839)

@Brunhilde

They are supposed to (ie, ‘required’ by law) to keep all that for 4 years, so you should be able to contact the HR/employee benefits dept of the big mean company, and they’ll just send them, or give you a login to something for ex employees or whatever.

I would feel *completely* free to fib to the HR person and make up a moderate sob story about fire/flood/dog/vindictive ex, that destroyed your tax files, and etc. in an effort to get them to be slightly sympathetic. Just jot down the highlights, in case you talk to more than one person, so that they don’t decide you are a liar and get all nasty.

Brunhilde (#78)

@@fo This is helpful! And trust me, I don’t need to invent any details to make my situation seem worse. So I worked for one of the establishments that Chase took over during the financial crisis and I’ve been trying in my well periods to get my 2009 W2 but every email gets outsourced and the response is always “we can’t help you” with no additional info. I think I’ll just start getting in touch with any ex-coworker that managed to land there and pretend my house burned down.

cc (#1,069)

@Brunhilde can you call them up on the phone? i find it’s harder to be ignored by a company if i’m all up in their telephones breathing down their necks.

i wouldn’t mention any personal story if it were me, but thats me, i’d just say i misplaced some files and need to obtain replacements and can they find them and send them to me. Oh, i’ll just stay on the phone while you look. ;) Can’t find it today? OK I’ll check back. Next day… RRRINNGG

emails are so easy to ignore. phones with ringers and real people voices on the other ends carry a little more weight sometimes. idk, might help…

@fo (#839)

@cc Well, you don’t use the sob story on phone tree person–only when you get Steve–the admin to the HR/payroll VP–who might blow you off if he thinks you’re just a disorganized bozo.

Seems like the ‘basic’ number for getting a JPM w-2 is 1.877.576.2427. They may well blow you off, but it’s a starting point.

Can (apparently) also do the following (in some variation):

Contact the IRS If you do not receive your W-2 by February 14th, contact the IRS for assistance at 800-829-1040. When you call, you must provide your name, address, city and state, including zip code, Social Security number, phone number and have the following information:
Employer’s name, address, city and state, including zip code and phone number
Dates of employment
An estimate of the wages you earned, the federal income tax withheld, and when you worked for that employer during [year]. The estimate should be based on year-to-date information from your final pay stub or leave-and-earnings statement, if possible.

That may be almost as difficult for you, Hilde, but they is a 100% chance that the IRS has access to that W-2, so at least you know youre talking to someone who *could* find it.

Brunhilde (#78)

@@fo Holy Shit you are my hero.

MC (#6,082)

@Brunhilde Yeah, I had to do this after I got let go three years ago. I was the only employee and had to email my replacement – I just said I couldn’t find my W2, please send me a copy …. I didn’t go into detail because I already know how the judginess feels.

Right now I’m a volunteer tax preparer in Seattle. One person I helped came in with two years of W2 info that he got from the local IRS office – they printed it out for him, and we got him caught up on taxes!

You should be able to do the same if you don’t want to contact the companies involved. I don’t know if you have to make an appointment, but check it out! As a recovering depressed tax deadbeat, it feels good to get it settled.

Brunhilde (#78)

Tangientially related, I wonder if peak suicide hotline season coincides with tax season.

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