PETTY PONDERING - Foggy Writ or Wit


By Teresa Starcher

Ah, my friends, indulge me to enlighten your minds and hopefully your spirits by airing my thoughts upon a subject that both stand-up comics and CPAs alike thrive on. That being the one and only Uncle Sam. More specifically a branch of our great benefactor, the IRS.

These meager three letters have the power to make the frame within a custom design suit tremble in fear. A letter stamped by this famed purse-bearer can cause chill banes of apprehension through the extravagant or the most frugal of tax paying citizens. Especially those brave enough to grapple with the abstruse, written word of the governments' rules, bylaws, stipulations and regulations.

Yet, it is this same dense jungle of forms, schedules, exclusions, depreciations and modifications that incites the professional tax agent to rub their hands together in greedy glee. Why? Simply because to us, the unenlightened layman, the tax booklets and publications, that are meant to elucidate are rattling drivel.

So as we find ourselves amid that yearly conflict we may have with ourselves of toying with the idea of doing our own taxes or dragging our feet all the way to a professional only to begrudge the reflection of our dollar's signs in their eyes. Please heed this little anecdote and then "pay the piper". For you may find yourself trying to decipher the meticulous line by line of info in a tax publication that would surly make a college grad chew their pencil in perplexity. For assuredly chopping through mind clinging vines of the tax code's synonymous system is upsetting to say the least.

Why can't they call a spade a spade? Case in point. Let me quote from the beloved publication 334. No self-respecting small business should be without one. Its clarity is a shining beacon, to guide us safely away from offense upon the rocky shores of " Taxnation".

"Sale is a transfer of property for money or for a mortgage, note or other promise to pay. An exchange is a transfer of property for other property or service. An outright sale of property is the clearest example of a disposition. Another type of disposition occurs when you exchange or trade obsolete business assets for new ones." I had to read this exchange three times before it transferred anything to me. But then, my bulb doesn't always burn too bright.

Yet at the expense of sounding like Earl Pitt's America; let me speak my humble opinion of the alleged problem, because the majority of people won't openly admit there being a problem. For they wouldn't like the down the nose look from others more supposedly in the know who may see them as simply being dense, nuts, loony and loud mouthed.

Well, thank goodness that I know my civic duty and won't shy away from being censored. I know my faults, haven't I just listed them? Anyway, it is well known that H&R Block, as well as the IRS have a high rate of dispensing wrong advice and incorrect information. Now I am very sure that these agents aren't complete dolts, after all, how could one obtain such a position if ill adapted for it? On second thought, I suppose one might muddle through. For I truly believe that is all the average person can achieve when they endeavor to fully comprehend the tangled fish net of "tax dumb".

Is the problem our intellectual shortcomings? Or could the fault be laid at the door of those in charge of writing the publications? Let me illustrate from the simple instructions of tax Pub. 334. "You can claim the section 179 deduction on depreciable property that is section 1245 property. You use form 4562 to make the election and report any recapture of the section 179 deduction on form 4797". Now, that is as clear as a bell isn't it? However, it poses more questions for me. What section? Why different forms? Where to make the deduction? "Lions and tigers and bears oh my…" with liabilities, capital expense, net, gross, adjusted income, bases, amount realized, cost, elections and easements. It's all on your shoulders to make the right deductions, literally. The pressure can become intense. What if you are wrong or make a simple mistake? The long arm of the fierce IRS is gonna grab you for sure.

Even though the ambiguous writing style of the tax publications could be the pitfall. Why does it seem that they use as many as three names for the exact same thing? If they feel that they should persist in this, then why can't they make an exhaustive glossary for the dim-witted who think that one thing should always be called by one title, not a whole list of synonyms. Also at least try to make things less complicated with so many schedules and forms.

No, it can't be made too easy for us, for CPAs and tax agencies wouldn't much care for that. But they can rest assured that if the writers did try to make it simpler, with their track record we probably wouldn't understand it any clearer anyway and then whose fault could that be?

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