Those of retirement age probably remember the classic line from the movie Love Story. “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” We slow danced to Brenda Lee’s hit record I’m Sorry (“…so sorry; please accept my apology.”) It should come as no surprise that the IRS adheres to Ali McGraw’s philosophy, not Brenda’s. Simply put, being the IRS means never having to say you’re sorry.
A few months ago the IRS sent notice that I owed $33,770 from 2010. They claimed I earned $75,000 consulting and that I reported no income from that. In fact, I earned $750 and did indeed report it. (FYI, I’ve changed the figures here to protect against identity theft, but the order of magnitude is the same.)
I picked myself up off the floor and checked my blood pressure to be sure I didn’t need to go to an ER. Then I spent several hours combing through files in my basement, looking for the relevant tax material. When I put my house on the market in summer 2011, I stored papers that used to be stacked neatly in places I remembered reflexively.
I eventually found what I needed. I wrote a detailed letter explaining that the IRS missed a decimal. Then I went to Staples to make copies of everything and to the main post office to mail all that to the IRS, certified. I spent close to a day on this in total.
A few weeks later, a form letter came from the IRS. They had received my mailing and said to do nothing until I heard from them again. Soon after, I went to the local IRS office with my husband on something of his that required him to go in person. Since I was there anyway, I checked the status of my own problem.
After some computer sleuthing, a young woman insisted that the IRS had not made a decimal error. The company had indeed told them I earned $75,000. Presenting the original 1099 they sent me showing $750 would not help, since I could have fabricated it. The company had to file a revised 1099. I was not a happy camper, but deep breathing kept my blood pressure in check.
Finding the contact info for that company was almost as difficult as finding my tax return, but eventually I reached their bookkeeper. She assured me they gave the IRS the same figure they gave me, but she offered to re-file. I had her hold off until I received an official written response. I figured if one IRS humanoid could lose a decimal, another could misinterpret her computer screen.
After a few more weeks, I received another form letter from the IRS stating simply (but in large print) “Amount due $ 0.00.” No apology. No acknowledgement that they did indeed lose a decimal. No “sorry for scaring you half to death and wasting hours of your time.” But in mice type: “If you receive other notices regarding this matter, please disregard them.” As if. I’d have to be certifiable to disregard anything sent by the IRS.
As a public service and in good citizenship, I’ve put together a check list of responses the government can send taxpayers to apologize for IRS screw ups. This list preserves their love for form letters and removes any need for someone to actually behave as a human being. They can robotically tick off the most appropriate item. Or any item, for that matter.
· We’re sorry we nearly gave you a coronary.
· Oops! It was our screw up!
· Lo siento! Our bad.
· We will try not to/hope we never do this to you again.
· We apologize for putting you at risk of having your Social Security docked because it looked like you earned way too much last year.
· We feel really bad that you worried about a lien on your house, especially since you have it on the market. It would be a real bummer trying to sell it with an IRS lien on record.
· Federal policy doesn’t allow you to bill us for the time you spent researching this problem and helping to correct our error. We’d compensate you if we could. Really we would. (Unless they took the money out of our own pay.)
As always, dear readers, I’m happy to be of service. I just wish the IRS felt the same.