Martin Miller: As ever, IRS bends over backward to be helpful

Published: Sunday, April 16 2006 12:00 a.m. MDT

TO: The American taxpayer

FROM: The Internal Revenue Service

The IRS stands ready to provide clear, simple answers to the public's tax-related questions. For better service, we encourage inquiries weekdays between 9:15 a.m. EST and 8:35 a.m. PST and between 11:10 a.m. MDT and 9:45 p.m. GMT. Don't hesitate to contact us, except on federal holidays and certain state commemorations. Also, Mondays aren't very good. Actually, Fridays aren't so hot either. Midweek can be hit-and-miss too, as staff ponders the cheerless, thankless remainder of the workweek.

Our toll-free taxpayer help-line number is a state secret. We can't be more specific unless you possess a government security clearance of 17 or higher. If you don't know what that means, it's probably best to forget the entire enterprise. However, if these conditions are satisfied, you will be placed in contact with the IRS representative who has the office coordinates.

We have prepared the following list of "Commonly Asked Questions." (This is distinct from our "Frequently Asked Questions," which, because of its popularity, has been made unavailable to the public until further notice.) The "CAQs" can be useful in clarifying the occasional bits of confusion that arise from 60,000 pages of federal tax code.

Remember, our motto is, "We're here to please." Our other motto is, "Questions come in two forms: stupid and very stupid, which one are you?" A final note — you are still responsible for preparing an accurate tax return to the penny. Failure to do so, out of ignorance, idiocy or some combination thereof, will result in the IRS permanently fixing your financial wagon.

Question: I am a private citizen filing a single return with no itemized deductions. My company automatically deducts federal taxes from my salary. When are my taxes due?

Answer: This is a complicated matter and can't be answered in the space provided.

Q: My New Orleans home was swept away by floods last summer, and I've been living in a soggy cardboard box ever since. I've already filed Form 4868 (Application for Automatic Extension of Time to File U.S. Income Tax Return), but I think I will need more time to track down financial records. I heard that in cases of "undue hardship," more time can be granted. Is that true?

A: We'd like to thank you for the silliest question we've ever received, and that's saying something. It will bring howls of laughter from our staff.

Q: Should I mail or e-mail my tax return?

A: You seem to be searching for a black-and-white answer. Wouldn't life be grand if everything were as simple as you made it seem? As an "either/or" personality, you should be more concerned with your unhealthy obsession for absolutes. Consult your personal physician for further details.

Q: I owe more in taxes than I earn in a year. I can't pay that much, and even if I could, how could this be? And what should I do about this egregious situation?

A: Your best bet is to think of a really good prison nickname, like "Mad Dog" or "Tinkerbell."

Q: I have a home office, but I also use it a couple times a year as a guestroom. Can I still take the home office deduction without being flagged for an audit?

A: Asking questions about the home office deduction automatically triggers an audit — and a full body-cavity search.

Q: I'm still waiting for my refund from 2004. Where is it?

A: The check is in the e-mail.

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