are the times that try men’s souls,” pamphleteer
Thomas Paine proclaimed back in 1777 as he sought to
rally the American spirit of resistance during the
down days of Valley Forge and the British capture of
But his words can also be applied annually to the season that has been with us
all our lives and probably will continue forever. I’m referring to the
winter-long trauma that ends this April 15 when our fiscal dues to Uncle Sam
reach the deadline to become finally and totally payable.
This year, I had the opportunity of encountering a person who looks at the ordeal
of computing and putting a signature on a completed income tax return with a
rare, cheerful spirit. She is 79-year-old Martha Kukis of Citrus Heights, who
was attending an Elderhostel in Burlingame early this year with her companion,
Tedmon, long retired as an administrator for the State Printing Plant, recognized
me as a long-time customer during the years I was plying my own trade as a state
information officer. During the five-day Elderhostel, my wife and I enjoyed Les
and Martha’s company as we learned all about the Supreme Court, Andrew
Lloyd Weber and the wonders of medieval Italian art.
At one point, I happened to mention the upcoming tax season, and with that, Kukis’ face
“I enjoy the tax season,” she said, an unusual sentiment that became
clear when she went on to report that she and a partner operate a tax service
in Citrus Heights which is associated with the National Society of Tax Professionals.
“The tax season is when I come alive as a professional person,” Kukis
went on. “The rest of the year I’m truly retired, but not during
the tax season when I put in enough hours to keep me happy for all the rest of
Kukis said she had been an accountant for much of her working life but has switched
to tax preparation over the last 18 years.
“I’ve always loved numbers,” she said, “and when it comes
to preparing tax returns, I can’t wait to get started in the morning. Tax
returns are a real challenge. They’re like a crossword puzzle.”
Kukis conceded that many people–like me–are daunted by the annual
tax process. I find the arrival of the first Form 1099 around mid-January to
be a depressing reminder of what more is still to come. By the time all those
tax forms have been delivered by the mail carrier over the next few weeks, I’ve
come to realize that my own record keeping has been deficient and that a long
and painful effort lies ahead to get everything in order. And then I have to
go ahead and do it. So does everyone else, I suppose.
Kukis smiled as she heard my tale of woe. “Don’t let it get you down,” she
said. “Just get all the papers together, so at the end you will get everything
you’re entitled to But make sure to follow the rules.”
I never had any intention to do otherwise, but the rules are sometimes difficult
to get a handle on when you’re dealing with the way the Internal Revenue
Service does things. For example, Kukis notes that millions of would-be taxpayers
don’t have to file returns at all and don’t realize that. They may
not owe the U.S. anything.
Page 7 of the IRS’s guide for tax preparation – “Your Federal
Income Tax” tells you that if you’re over 65 and earned a gross income
during 2004 of less than $9,150, you don’t have to file a tax return and
you can stop worrying. Of course, if you withheld tax payments to the IRS during
the year, you’ll want to file anyway to get that money back.
And you may have to perform some research to learn just what “gross” income
means and exactly just when you passed the 65-year mark. The IRS’s manual
is over 300 pages long and is frequently couched in arcane language, so the answers
you need may not come too easily. And the problems you need to deal with can
surface anywhere in “Your Federal Income Tax.”
For many taxpayers, Kukis said, help is close at hand, and available without
charge. She recommended making an appointment with one of the AARP’s corps
of volunteer tax preparers, who are stationed at senior centers and other sites
around the Sacramento area. They are trained to do the paperwork for returns
that are not overly complex and can help make sure that you report everything
needed to complete your return and get whatever refunds are coming to you.
With tax deadline time – April 15 – just around the corner, Kukis
had a piece of advice for those who think their troubles are over when their
2004 return is in the mail or on the computer for internet payments. It’s
not too early, she said, for thinking about what will make next year’s
return easier to complete than this one’s.