Ah, taxes. April 15: the day strikes terror into the hearts of almost everyone. When I was a kid (last year), I didn’t really understand why my dad was so stressed during tax season. I understood that he didn’t like paying money to the government, but is it really that big of a deal? If you know it’s coming, aren’t you prepared for it? Well, Dad, I would like to formally and publicly apologize for any resentment I may have felt toward you in your time of stress. What you needed was a massage and perhaps a spa treatment—not a bratty kid who whined because she didn’t have enough clothes.
As you may be guessing, I filed my own taxes this year. My dad used to do them before, but I told him that this year, I was going to try to be more independent and take care of myself. Well, he was gracious enough to still guide me and answer questions, but for the most part, I did all the work. And now I understand my dad’s reaction. Apparently, I learned, taxes are a major pain in the behind. I mean, they’re hard. They’re not so hard that you have to be a brain surgeon to do them, but they’re hard enough that I was glad for the help.
Here are a few of the basics I learned:
1. The internet is a wonderful thing. Websites like taxes.com and irs.gov answer almost any question you can imagine. Remember, whatever you want to know, someone else has already asked.
2. Filing is mostly a matter of following directions. The only catch is there are a lot of detailed, specific directions to follow, and the consequences for making a mistake are more forms to file and the IRS on your tale for a season.
3. Many companies offer free versions of their tax preparation software. If you go to irs.gov and click on “Free File,” it provides a list of companies and software that will help you file your taxes. Some have different requirements, so read the qualifiers carefully
But this experience taught me a lot more than just how to give all my money to Uncle Sam. First of all, tax season is not always a bad thing. Depending on your income and regular withholdings, you may actually get money back after you file, instead of having to pay in. If you’re eligible for a tax credit (like for buying a Prius or something), you can get literally thousands of dollars back.
Second, consider that even money back could be a bad thing. If all you’re getting back is what you paid in over the year, you have let Uncle Sam use your money for free. Adjust your W-2 form (go see your Human Resources department) and claim one more exemption than you currently claim. The goal is to try to pay exactly what you owe in taxes, and not a penny more, so that you keep the rest in your check. Unless you are one of those people who just can’t save for something unless your government does it for you—while you earn 0.0% interest on your money—you should not rejoice at getting your withholding back at tax time. Either way, though, don’t be afraid of taxes. Be informed and always be honest, but don’t be afraid.
The other thing I learned about taxes is not to hate them. The Bible mentions taxes as far back as Genesis, Ezra, and 1 Samuel. Joseph and Mary were en route to pay taxes when Jesus was born. Although tax collectors were unpopular even in Jesus’s life (think Zacchaeus), the author of the first gospel was also a tax collector (Matthew). Clearly, God expected us to pay taxes. I know it hurts every paycheck to see almost a quarter of your earnings go to fund programs that may not benefit you, but we do get to drive on nice highways and educate our children. (What’s that, you live in New York City and don’t drive? Ooh, out of luck!) Clearly, God condones taxes. Our attitudes in paying them, if not in filing, should reflect the joy of obedience.