July 23rd, 2019

gottabeshittinme

ANGELS AT THE IRS

Yesterday, I got an official-looking envelope in the mail. The return address was the IRS. "Uh oh," I thought, as I opened it, and I was right. I've been filing my US tax returns the exact same way for 20 years and for 2018 they changed everything. All the forms (bar one) were completely different, what they asked for was different, how they asked for it was different, and I struggled really hard to figure things out. I read all the instructions. I read them several times, but most of the time I couldn't figure out what exactly I was supposed to be doing.

And my taxes are EASY. I don't own any US property. I don't have a business. I don't have any income other than my Swedish salary, which is already taxed here, so for the past 20 years I've pretty much cut and pasted and sent things in with a whistle. Several years ago I paid an expat tax company to check what I was doing just to make sure I was doing things correctly and they gave me a gold star and a pat on the back and said carry on.

So, this year, when I couldn't carry on, I was flummoxed. (Isn't that a good word?) I was discombobulated. I was at A LOSS. I even tried to file online, but I was stymied there as well. Finally, I did my best to figure it out, and I put the numbers where I though the numbers should go, and I filled out the forms that I could figure out I needed, and I sent everything in. And then Karin and I did HER US taxes the exact same way. After we mailed hers, a few days later, I had one of those lightning bolt "oh shit" moments where I realized that on the form that asks how many days you spent of the year in the US, I had included ALL the days of our Christmas vacation, even though 4 of them were in 2019, so those numbers were actually off.

But not by much, and it didn't affect the outcome of the fact that my taxes are paid in Sweden and I don't have to pay any in the US and my income is excluded, etc.

When I opened the letter from the IRS yesterday, I didn't really know what to expect. I can't recall ever having gotten a letter from the IRS, though I understand such a letter is not something you want to get, since it usually means you did something wrong or they're auditing you, or you owe them something. In this case, they stated they were unable to finalize processing my return because one of the amounts I had entered on one of the lines required further documentation to explain it.

They asked for a list of documentation to be sent within 30 days of the date of the letter. The letter was dated June 20. Yesterday was July 22. So I was ALREADY late before I even started. I read the list of forms they wanted and started to wig out. They wanted a W2. I don't HAVE a W2. We don't GET those here. They wanted SIX other forms that I had never heard of, and have never provided before and upon reading their descriptions, realized that they didn't even apply to me.

AUGH, I cried internally, and then out loud. "Shit." I went out to the garage and told Anders that I might have to use up all our savings trying to fix this problem. Then I fired off an email to the expat tax agency I had used years before asking if they helped with this sort of things and what their fee might be, if so. Then I tried to call the number provided in the letter for international tax assistance. I got a busy signal.

I got repeated busy signals. No helpful menu. No hold queue. No "You are number 42 in line. Please hold; someone will be with you shortly." Just one busy signal after the other. On an international call that is not toll-free. GAH! I was sure that even if I did get through, that I would live on hold for the rest of my life and if I ever managed to talk to someone, they wouldn't be able to help me or wouldn't be able to figure out my issue because why would they? Americans abroad are used to their issues being dismissed or misunderstood.

I dialed and redialed a couple of dozen times and then LO! I got through to the hold queue. Where I was told the wait time was anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes. It was 24. Then I heard, instead of the rather jaunty, yet soothing muzak, "Please wait." And then the phone line went to static. "Hello?" I said. "Hello!?" I cried into the void. Static. cristle cristle shrrrz. I hung up and went and made dinner.

A response came from the expat tax company that sure! no problem! they could gladly help with my problem. They'd even be happy to call the IRS for me and get things straightened out. Their consultancy fee for such services is $250 per HALF hour. *boggle* I remembered that when I had written them asking for a quote on handling Martin's taxes, which I couldn't figure out either (what with student loans and Swedish government subsidies and working both here and in the US), they had quoted me $475 to do his federal return.

WTactualF? If you go to H&R Block or some other tax preparation company in the US for help with your taxes, how much do you pay?? For someone like me, it costs approximately $50 (which is not all that much more than I paid when I LIVED in the US). If I was working abroad on an expat contract and had a company that could help out with paying for tax preparation, perhaps that kind of money would be peanuts but for someone like me, who lives and works abroad, it's a shitload of money. So I thanked them for the reply and continued to freak out.

After dinner, I tried dialing the number again, figuring that talking to someone at the IRS about what was actually wrong would be my best bet. I dialed and redialed that number another dozen times and HURRAH got through to the hold queue again. After another 20-ish minutes, a woman's voice came on the line, giving her name and a very long ID number and asked me what she could help me with. By this time, I was nearly in tears. I explained the letter and the problem and she said, "Hang on, honey, it sounds like you need to talk to an international tax attorney. I'll put you right through." And she did.

And then a man's voice came on the line, giving his name (Mr. Hargrove) and a very long ID number and asked me what he could help me with. I started over, and told him. He had me read him the letter. He asked me what I had put on the line in question, and when I told him, he asked me why I had put that number. Not being able to figure out what they wanted on a line asking for what taxes had been withheld, I had written in the amount my Swedish employer had withheld HERE, after dutifully translating it to US dollars using the exchange rate provided on the IRS website.

And then he proceeded to walk me through the entire tax return and told me exactly what to do. What forms I needed, that I had been missing. What I should put on the lines in question. How I should check to make sure what info I was providing was what they were asking for. And when I got confused, he backed up and took me with him over it again. He didn't laugh at my obviously painful math issues or get frustrated by my confusion or questions (some of which I asked more than once). He just patiently repeated things and clearly and carefully told me what to do. I wrote frantic notes while he was talking and I printed out the forms I should have included that I hadn't realized I needed, and when I asked him if he could just move over here because he could make a LOT of money helping people like me, he just chuckled. I could have reached through the phone and kissed him, honestly. He made me feel so much better.

I spent the rest of the evening re-doing my tax return, correctly this time (including removing those four 2019 days from my US vacation) and writing a cover letter to explain the amendments and what I was sending them in explanation of the error. When I got to the office this morning, I had to go to the reception to FAX them (because the US still works in the early 1700s, apparently and I suspect if Pony Express were still an option, they'd be using it...in fact, that might be how they sent my letter in the first place), since I couldn't email them or upload them anywhere. The letter said not to mail a copy in the post as it would just confuse things, and also stated that they would not send any kind of confirmation of receipt of the fax either. So, now I guess I just wait and hope for the best.

And help Karin re-do her tax return too, while I'm at it.