That’s what the government declared when they introduced this nefarious measure of which I speak. But I confess, I do not believe them. After all, it’s been with us for more than a hundred years, ever since they enacted it near the end of the First World War. That’s hardly temporary!
I’m talking about income tax, which has lingered on and on to become my living nightmare. Every April, late in the month, I sit down—just like thousands upon thousands of other citizens—to figure out how much I owe the government. Invariably, I spend several hours trying to complete the forms, but I just can’t seem to get it right.
The government used to call it an Income Tax and Benefit Return, but that made no sense to me because I could never ascertain what, if any, benefits accrued to me. And I never had any money returned!
By my calculations, prior to retiring I was working ‘til sometime in July every year before I would begin to earn dollars exempt from the taxes I had to pay. More than half my yearly income was subject to taxes! Not only that, I always ended up owing the government at the end of the year! What kind of a deal is that?
Over the years, prior to the advent of computers and tax software, I developed a number of avoidance mechanisms when income tax time rolled around; translated, that means I found several ways of putting it off until the very last minute—and sometimes well beyond. In fact, I became adept at fooling even myself!
For instance, early in April I would psych myself up to get at the job. I’d set aside a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, and be sure to get a good sleep the night before. Then, at the appointed hour, I’d seclude myself at my desk in the den, leaving instructions that I was not to be disturbed. At this point, I actually believed I could get ‘er done.
Unfortunately, however, and through no fault of my own, I was never able to get right to it. Inevitably, some significant problem would arise; for example, my pencil-sharpener would be broken, the bulb in my desk lamp burnt-out, or my calculator battery expired. By the time I could resolve these crises, I’d have exhausted, not only myself, but my determination to tackle the forms. So at that point, mentally drained, I would defer the job until I’d recovered sufficiently to try again.
In retrospect, though, that shouldn’t be surprising. The tax return, even the so-called simple form, is very confusing, perhaps intimidating, to the average person—which is who I am.
Having been a humble pensioner for several years now, I’m required to use the simplest forms, but every year they seem to change, with more and more information being asked for. The old printed guidebook, which increasingly resembled a novella in terms of its length, was almost impossible to read, and the digital version is no better. By the time I’ve tried to cross-reference all the sections and sub-sections it directs me to, I have umpteen screens open on my computer—which by then is whimpering piteously in the background.
The guidebook tells me some sections of the forms do not have to be completed by some taxpayers, in some circumstances. That leaves me trying to figure out which questions to ignore and which to worry about. One year recently, I ignored the entire section on Total Income; the government promptly made sure I didn’t make that mistake again! I’m sure they’re still watching me.
In truth, I don’t find the guidebook to be much help with any of it. I get mixed up when I read through the explanations in each section, even the uncomplicated ones. And it always seems to be the commonplace words and statements that trip me up.
A case in point is the statement that six basic steps “should be all you need to complete your tax return.” They never are for me!
One of my biggest problems came the year I read for the first time about the electronic filing process, where I could complete my return by phone. Elated at this discovery, I called the toll-free number to do that. Imagine my surprise when I discovered the government still expected me to do all the calculations before calling in! The agent was downright rude!
Online filing, when it burst upon the scene, was no better. No matter that I’ve tried using Ufile and e-file, it still always comes back to me-file, and the me is ever the weakest link there.
Perhaps my dilemma is that the instructions aren’t as simple as I am. Friends have been telling me forever that only a fool would still be trying to complete his own tax return, rather than having an expert tackle it. But, consultants I’ve spoken to have told me that the potential return for someone in my tax bracket isn’t complicated enough to justify the cost or bother of hiring a third party. I don’t know whether that makes me proud or embarrassed.
On occasion in the past, I’ve resorted to attending income tax seminars, hoping to pick up valuable tips about the whole process. Needless to say, they quickly became tutorials that were taxing my mental health, and the information inevitably went right over my head.
The best tax tip I ever got was from a friend who was probably as confused as I was. He told me to forget the computer and go back to using a pencil with an eraser on the end! I promptly told him about my broken pencil-sharpener.
Anyway, as the April deadline for filing my next return draws near, I’ll be faced with the whole, ugly scene again. Still befuddled, I’ll gather all my documents around me, those I can find, and try to muddle through. I know I’ll be overcome at times by despair, fettered by fits of panic, and burdened by the sure knowledge that, once again, I won’t do it right.
I agree with T. S. Eliot, who so memorably wrote in his epic poem, The Waste Land—April is the cruelest month…
Nevertheless, I’m determined to keep trying—not because I harbour any fantasies that I’ll suddenly see the light, or that the government would forgive me if I decided not to file. Faint hope for either of those!
No, my reason for persevering is that, underneath the heavy clouds of pessimism, there burns one shining, though increasingly-faint, ray of hope concerning income tax.
It’s only a temporary measure!