The belly of the beast

If there’s anything The Man likes to do, it has to be taxing the hell out of lower-income bracket wage earners and students.

If there’s anything The Man likes to do, it has to be taxing the hell out of lower-income bracket wage earners and students. It seems like it would make more sense to go after big fish, right? Unfortunately, wrong. The federal government makes billions each year nickel-and-diming poor people to death (or at least to financial ruin) because rich guys are simply more likely to have rich-guy attorneys protecting their big, fat assets. So, like a cougar settling for small meals and dragging off a toddler at a time instead of risking a potentially nasty fight with a delicious, big, fat guy; the Fed is coming for you and me. Lucky for you, I used to be one of them. An IRS employee, not a cougar (one joke and I have a friend audit you all). There are a few simple things that will help you immensely. Straight from the cougar’s mouth (happy?).

1. DO NOT do it yourself. And DO NOT go to H&R Block.

You are most likely a broke student. You do not need the wacky fees and insane hokey-pokey that goes on in that place. They overcharge, they are overworked, and they are inconsistently reliable. Use Bottom line. They are incredibly cheap (free for federal, 14.95 for state is average), incredibly easy to use and they save all your information to make the next year even easier. They offer the same audit guarantee as more expensive places, and if you recommend a few friends, they often will do the whole deal for free. You don’t get the instant check like at H&R, but you need every penny of your money. Buy one less case of Pabst a month and wait a couple weeks for your money. The IRS recommends them and I even used them while in the employ of the Beast. It’s worth it.

2. Choose the simplest form for


If you use a website, they will help you choose, but almost certainly you’ll use the 1040EZ. It’s what you use if your taxable income is below $100,000 and/or your filing status is Single or Married Filing Jointly, and/or you and your spouse—if married—are under age 65 and not blind,?and/or you are not claiming any dependents,?and/or your interest income is $1,500 or less.

3. There are some instances when you may want to file a tax return even though you are not required to do so. Even if you don’t have to file, here are five reasons why you may want to:

Federal Income Tax Withheld:You should file to get money back if Federal Income Tax was withheld from your pay, you made estimated tax payments, or had a prior year overpayment applied to this year’s tax. ?

Making Work Pay Credit:You may be able to take this credit if you had earned income from work. The maximum credit for a married couple filing a joint return is $800 and $400 for other taxpayers. ?

Earned Income Tax Credit:You may qualify for EITC if you worked, but did not earn a lot of money. EITC is a refundable tax credit; which means you could qualify for a tax refund. ?

Additional Child Tax Credit:This refundable credit may be available to you if you have at least one qualifying child and you did not get the full amount of the Child Tax Credit.?

American Opportunity Credit:

The maximum credit per student is $2,500 and the first four years of postsecondary education qualify. ?

4. Don’t lie.

Just don’t. I shouldn’t even have to bring this up, but you live in Portland, so chances are already good that your momma didn’t raise you right. Don’t lie or try to hide income. The Fed will find out and they will come for you. IMPORTANT: If you failed to report income, they have no statute on finding you. I swear to God, I personally oversaw vast filing cabinets full of returns from the late 1980s that were still considered active and eligible for audit. Seriously.

5. If you screw up, admit it fast and CALL THE IRS.

I know it sounds totally insane, but yes. Sticking your head in the mouth of the Beast like a lion-tamer can be the best thing if you have royally biffed it. If they have to come find you, it looks like you’re hiding things. These particular lions are considered law enforcement agents and if there’s any sure way to get on their bite-y side, it’s lying. I have personally listened while agents have relieved taxpayers of hundreds of thousands of dollars in interest and penalties simply because they spoke on the phone and agreed to pay. And really, as fun as it is to demonize them, they are just people; and most of them honestly do want to help you out.  

    Taxes are a big, scary idea and they only get bigger and scarier if you don’t man up, grab that bullwhip and make your returns stand on that teeny stool for circus-goers (that was a stretch, but I felt like this whole piece had a nice big-cat thing going). It’s not as hard as it seems at first, there are people to help you out and the benefits are manifold. So file your taxes early and honestly and that’s one less cougar in Portland that you have to worry about.?