It's time for my annual Tax Guide, which takes you step-by-step through the federal filing process, from obtaining the proper tax forms all the way to getting that desirable upper prison bunk.
I'll start with an important reminder: This year, April 15 falls on a Saturday, which means that, by law, your tax return is due on MARCH 15, which was several weeks ago. (This must be true, because it is being printed in a newspaper.) If you missed the deadline, the Internal Revenue Service says not to worry. ``This is a totally understandable error made by many taxpayers,'' states IRS Commissioner Charles O. Rossotti. ``They will be audited with meat hooks.''
Here's another important reminder: As a taxpayer, you are required to be fully in compliance with the United States Tax Code, which is currently the size and weight of the Budweiser Clydesdales. The Tax Code was written by Congress, although of course no member of Congress has ever actually read it; Congress has more important things to do, such as adding new regulations to the Tax Code. In fact, NOBODY has ever read all the way through the Tax Code. The last attempt to do so was made in 1987 by a squad of courageous volunteer Certified Public Accountants, accompanied by Sherpa guides. The last survivor made it as far as Section 2038-1239-0293.4220.127.116.11(b)(m), ``Guidelines Concerning the Fiduciary Depreciation of the Pituitary Exemption for Certain Elk Parts.'' According to the coroner, what was left of his brain ``looked like rancid mayonnaise.''
Just for fun, let's look at an actual sentence from the Tax Code that I am not making up, sent in by alert CPA Paul Mangum:
``Notwithstanding paragraph (b)(1) of this section, a partnership, S corporation, or personal service corporation is considered a member of a tiered structure if the partnership, S corporation, or personal service corporation, or related taxpayers have organized or reorganized their ownership structure or operations for the principal purpose of obtaining a significant unintended tax benefit from making or continuing a section 444 election.''
As a trained English major, I have read this sentence several times, and I THINK it's saying that if you deliberately try to obtain a benefit that you do not intend to obtain, then you belong in a ``tiered structure.'' I have no idea what a ``tiered structure'' is, but it doesn't sound good. I picture a pyramid-shaped iron cage deep in the bowels of the IRS building, populated by spiders the size of fox terriers.
Some people have suggested that our tax laws should be simplified so that the taxpayers could actually understand them. How could this be done? My friend John Dorschner proposes this system: Every year, on April 15, all members of Congress would be placed in individual prison cells with the necessary tax forms and a copy of the Tax Code. They would remain locked in the cells, without food or water, until they had completed their tax returns and successfully undergone a full IRS audit. Of course this system would probably result in a severe shortage of congresspersons. But there might also be some drawbacks.
For the time being, however, you must follow the current laws in preparing your return. So gather together your tax forms, your financial records, your calculator and your three to five quarts of gin, and get started! To guide you through the process, here are the answers to some common tax questions:
Q. What are ``capital gains?'' How can I tell if I have them?
A. This requires a urine test.
Q. Recently, without realizing what was happening, and through no fault of my own, I accidentally married a multi-millionaire on nationwide television. What are the tax implications of this?
A. You must file IRS Form 1092-348-498597-EZ, ``Declaration of Total Bases Reached on Nuptial Night.'' An IRS spokesperson stated that ``this kind of thing happens all the time'' and noted that ``generally all that happens is you lose your house.''
Q. Speaking of television, when a contestant on ``Who Wants To Be A Millionaire'' wins the top prize, how long is it before he is contacted by the IRS?
A. IRS guidelines call for the first dog to clamp onto his leg while he is still hugging Regis.
Q. I understand that I can now file my taxes electronically. How does that work?
A. It's easy! You simply fill out some forms on your computer, then log onto the Internet. Within seconds, all of your personal financial information is in the hands of a 17-year-old hacker known as The DataBooger.
GOT MORE QUESTIONS ABOUT THE TAX LAWS? The IRS urges you to contact your congressperson at home late at night, and stresses that ``you can fully deduct the cost of the ladder.''
Dave Barry is a humor columnist for the Miami Herald.