On this rainy, windy Monday morning, we can all give thanks to the District of Columbia--since today is Emancipation Day, a legal holiday in D.C., we all get one more day to finish our taxes. And once again, I could use that extra time.
As I wrote last month, my taxes are even more of a mess than usual--the two tax-prep programs I used couldn't even come up with the same number, and both of their estimates seemed to be way too high:
H&R Block's TaxCut says my wife and I owe the feds $18,000, but Intuit's TurboTax says our bill comes to $3,000 and change.
(Lest anybody think those numbers mean I'm getting rich off this journalism gig, I've always set my withholding allowances to ensure that I'll owe money at the end of the year: I don't like handing out interest-free loans. The nature of my freelance work only increases the odds of me writing a reasonably large check every April.)
Anyway, after entering some overlooked charitable donations, correcting a few numbers I'd entered twice--sometimes to our benefit, sometimes not--and factoring in the hit we take from the Alternative Minimum Tax, it looks like our bill will be closer to two grand and change. A few other observations as I continue to slave away at this:
* I am continually surprised at how easy it is to make little mistakes--typing a 6 instead of a 9 or putting a deductible expense in the wrong category--that nobody catches. For example, I just realized that I may have been deducting my car taxes under the wrong heading for the last couple of years.
* The interfaces of these programs can conspire to help you miss these mistakes--for instance, the screen in which you enter your charitable donations in TurboTax only displays three entries at a time.
* When your personal-finance program downloads account information from your bank, and your tax-prep application then imports this info into its own files, you can miss a lot of important details. For instance, Quicken only listed some donations we made online by the firm that processed the payment--which could have caused trouble if I'd left those entries as is, since PayPal.com is not a 501(c)3 charity.
* It seems that the odds of these mistakes increase if you don't get the tax ordeal over in one sitting; it's too easy to forget what you typed in a week ago.
Best of luck to all who are still crunching the numbers on their tax bills. When you're done, don't forget to add the time you spent on this--then send your representatives a bill for those hours, since they're the people most responsible for making the tax code the monstrosity that it is.
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