So, I got this letter late last week from the IRS. The only thing worse would have been to hear Mike Wallace and the “60 Minutes” crew were filming on my front lawn. Come to think of it, even that may not be worse …
The letter was computer generated, thanking me for my recent correspondence with them. It said they had not responded yet as they had not finished preparing a “complete response” and that it would be forthcoming within 45 days. It reminded me the installment agreement I agreed to for payment of my taxes was still in effect and I should still make my scheduled payments. It even helpfully included an 800# I could call if I had any questions.
It was a polite, encouraging and downright personable piece of communication. But there was one teensy-weensy lil’ problem. I had not recently corresponded with them for any reason other than to mail a check on April 14 for the entire amount of the taxes they wanted from me. There was no installment agreement agreed to and no scheduled payments. Had this been a business like a credit card company saying I had not paid my bill, I wouldn’t worry. I’d just call their 800# and get this straightened out. Did I mention this letter was from the IRS?
Still, it was such a NICE letter and they had included an 800#. I called on Saturday but they were closed. To be fair, I don’t remember if they were closed because it was Saturday, allowing taxpayers across the country to breathe more easily, or if I just called after hours on Saturday. Regardless I didn’t speak to the nice folks at the IRS that day. I laid the letter in my inbox to call this week. Yesterday, I saw the letter and decided I had the time to spend on hold and to deal with any bureaucratic red tape. I dialed the phone.
After about 15 minutes on hold, a nice lady answered, giving me her name and ID#. I explained about the letter and that there was an important looking reference number at the very top which I felt sure linked to a file with all my details in it and we could get this taken care of quickly. The nice IRS lady told me, “No, I don’t need that. What’s your Social Security number?” I gave it to her and she explained we would have to do a quick Q&A to establish my identity. 5 minutes later we agreed that I was me.
She asked why I was calling. I explained about the letter and the 45 days and the installment agreement and that I didn’t recall doing any of those things. The nice IRS lady told me, “According to my screen, you’re right. You don’t owe any tax, we’ve released your stimulus package payment and there’s no installment agreement!” Relieved, I said, “Great! So you’ll take care of this for me?” She helpfully said, “I sure will. I’ll just send an email to the person who sent you the letter and have him call you. It will be sometime in the next 30 days. He’ll need to make sure this is not a mistake on our part. Where can he reach you?”
I asked to contact the person myself. I explained my concern that, if it took the full 30 days, and if the IRS decided I owed the money, there would be interest and penalties. Since, if I disputed the decision, I had to prove I didn’t owe it, and not the other way around, I’d probably just pay the money. When dealing with people who can padlock your home and business, freeze your accounts and generally make life inconvenient, it is often wiser to simply pay them. It’s called the “Let the Wookie win!” strategy.
The nice IRS lady assured me there was no cause for alarm. She could see on her screen I owed them nothing! When I again asked her why, if that was the case, could she not clear this up, she again told me it was to be sure that it was not a mistake on their part. I took this to mean the nice IRS lady was positive I didn’t owe any money but the person sending me the letter might feel differently. After all, the letter talked about payments and agreements and such.
I again expressed the desire to speak to the person who sent me the letter. The nice IRS lady said she could not give me that person’s name or contact information. She could not give me his ID#. She wasn’t even sure he was a he. She did have an IRS designator identifying exactly who he was but she couldn’t give me that, either. But I was not to worry, she would send that email and he would contact me within 30 days.
I surprised myself with boldness and asked why the IRS provided an 800# which connected to a department completely unable to help me. The nice IRS lady gently corrected me. “But I HAVE helped you!”, she said. Baffled, I asked, “You have?” “Yes”, she responded, “I sent an email to the person who will contact you!” As God is my witness, I actually waited for her to continue, “Just kidding! Just a little IRS humor!” After a long moment in which she did not, in fact, admit to pulling my leg, I asked, “Do you mean this is the extent of the assistance available to me at this number, which, I feel compelled to add, the IRS itself directed me to call if I had questions?” The nice IRS lady replied in the affirmative.
I noted that, as a small business owner, if a customer might need to speak to me I simply gave them MY number. It tended to expedite things. I allowed while it was possible I might miss his call and need to call back, I would not, in fact, set up an entire department whose sole purpose was to email me that someone I thought might need me, actually did, so I could add a call back to him to my calendar sometime in the next 30 days. There being little more to be said, I wished the nice IRS lady a good afternoon and we ended the call.
This sort of inefficiency, waste and duplication is typical of big government. And yet this is the plan we have for Health Care? For Energy Independence? For Education? For Retirement? For the most important things in life? Only in government could a person be of absolutely no assistance whatsoever and, at the same time, take pride in a job well done.
I really hope my installment payments aren’t too much …
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