• April 1, 2006
  • By Marshall Lager, founder and managing principal, Third Idea Consulting; contributor, CRM magazine

Taxing Your Patience

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I almost feel silly writing this for an April column, since most businesses pay their taxes quarterly, and their first due date is March 15, not April 15. Still, anybody who hasn't lived his or her entire life self-employed knows the sphincter-tightening angst that builds as Tax Day draws near. Besides, the only business I ever started didn't live long enough to pay taxes. The definition of tax humor is "something that happens to somebody else." However, this country, which spawned celebreality programming and "The Tyra Banks Show," lacks the perspective to laugh at its own fiduciary misfortunes. When asked to relate their funniest tax moments, friends, coworkers, and relatives alike responded with anything from a blank stare to a hackles-raised snarl. My uncle, who does the taxes for many members of a government agency, tittered nervously and offered to put me in touch with some witness protection program people (and not for the stories they could relate). So: Tax Day--the ultimate April Fool's joke. You spend all year bringing home money and not knowing if you even get to keep it. Which Founding Sadist thought that one up? It all comes down to individual prowess with filling out tax forms, saving receipts, and getting creative with your deductions. Or you can rely on somebody else's prowess. That's where the relevance to CRM comes in (you knew I'd get to it somehow): Some of the reasons tax season is such a stress inducer are the sales and marketing of tax preparers. Consider the little tax-prep kiosks that pop up in malls and abandoned storefronts every year starting in late January. Where are they the other nine months? When I see Fred's All-You-Can-Cheat Tax Emporium setting up shop where the local bodega used to be, I get a squirmy feeling where my billfold sits. I want to clue him in: "Fred, this wasn't a prime location for a business the first time. Something tells me you're here because the rent is cheap. This does not inspire confidence." They also have an interesting pitch to get you through the door--the instant refund. "Do your taxes with us," they say, "and we'll cut you a check for the value of your return." Their mass mailings tend not to emphasize that this is a loan. You receive an advance on your own money, based on the work of people in an office that will disappear in a few months. If they're wrong, you might even be liable for the difference. Thanks, but if I want that sort of loan, I'll talk to my local loan shark. At least he's established. If you go the do-it-yourself route, you may have to deal sooner and more closely with the IRS. This isn't necessarily a bad thing--however, there's this tax code thing they put out, a booklet of well over a thousand pages, seemingly written in cuneiform. So, you have to call the IRS customer service center. That's the scary part--you have no idea if you're speaking to an accountant, a college intern, or even somebody who failed out of hamburger-frying school. During the Clinton administration, there was some attempt to create a "kinder, gentler" IRS (a phrase borrowed from Bush Senior), complete with amnesties, easy payment plans, and credit counseling. Don't expect any more of that touchy-feely crap today; I can't confirm this, but I think the tax collector/executioner from "Hagar the Horrible" has been seen making the rounds in the Blue States. The kicker? Neither the agents nor the IRS guarantee the quality or accuracy of information you receive. Even the kid at the drive thru is responsible for getting your order right, so I can only assume the IRS helpdesk is staffed by people who can't take that sort of pressure. Let me just say in closing that I have no malice toward the IRS. (Hear me, fellas? Really, none...I swear.) I actually like to pay taxes, because it means I can afford to. Nor do I have any malice toward vigilante tax-prep stores. Something tells me, however, there's a rigid-sigmoidoscope audit in my future. Contact Senior Writer Marshall Lager at mlager@destinationCRM.com
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