The IRS and I

 

So I got this letter from the IRS and…

Okay, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “It has truly been the greatest pleasure and privilege in my life to read your posts on Ricochet and I’m so sorry that you won’t be writing any more of them. By the way, what are the visiting hours at Leavenworth?” Okay, not all of you are thinking that. Or, maybe only one of you is thinking that (Hi, Mom!).

Well, that’s not exactly what the letter indicated. The letter stated that I owe exactly seventeen dollars for social security taxes. To be honest, I didn’t know the IRS handled social security taxes, so that bit of knowledge won first prize in the “learn something new every day” competition. The letter itself was woefully lacking in any other information and the biggest piece of missing information was how in the world I could possibly owe seventeen dollars in social security taxes.

You see, I work for the Federal government and have worked for them for a really long time. Back when I started my Federal tenure, all new employees were put into something called the Civil Service Retirement System, which is basically a pension system that doesn’t pay into social security. A year after I started, they started a new system called the Federal Employees Retirement System that was tied to social security, but all employees that started with CSRS got to stay in CSRS if they chose to. I decided to stay with the old system.

Got all that? I understand that’s a lot of “inside baseball,” but the gist of the matter is that I haven’t paid anything into social security in over 40 years. Getting a bill for seventeen dollars for social security was quite a shock.

Well, some people would probably just think to themselves that the IRS surely wouldn’t make a mistake over such a trivial matter and, since seventeen dollars isn’t going to overdraw the checking account, it would be much easier and less risky to just pay the seventeen dollars and be done with it.

Some people would do that, but not me. They don’t call me Danger Man for nothing.

I noted from the letter that I had two months to figure it all out and, after sifting through the fine print, I found a phone number I could call. I called the number and had to press my way through three different option menus. My selection on the last option menu told me that all of their operators were dreadfully busy and I would be put on hold until an operator would become available. Then it helpfully suggested that perhaps I would be better served by contacting the IRS through their website. Then I was put on hold, which was fine since I was working on some paperwork in my home office. I decided to wait it out.

Except that’s not what happened. They kept me on hold listening to some horrid background music for half an hour (Girl for Ipanema or some such). Then, after exactly thirty minutes, I heard “click” and then silence. They hung up on me. So I tried again. And the exact same thing happened.

So I decided to take their advice and try the website. As it happens, the website is a confusing mess, a series of dark tunnels, all splaying out in every direction and all leading exactly nowhere. The website sends you to an FAQ page which is supposed to solve any problems that you might be interested in solving, except none of the listed questions have anything to do with social security taxes. The site is also completely lacking in contact information. No phone numbers other than the number I called earlier and very little in the way of other contact info. I searched for about a half hour and finally found what looked like a currently operational email address. I used the address to send a nice email describing my situation and asking for assistance. Then I waited. Two weeks later, I decided that the email had been carefully disposed of in the memory hole and I wouldn’t be hearing from the IRS through that avenue.

So I did a little more research online and found out that the IRS had an office in a nearby large city. The website suggested that I call this office and make an appointment. So I called and, after three more menu selections, I was again put on hold and once again, they hung up on me. This time they at least did me the favor of waiting only five minutes before disconnecting me.

The next day, I took a little time off from work and drove to their office. I had no illusions about getting my problem solved immediately. I figured I would find some nice office assistant there and make an appointment for another day. I found the doors locked. I checked my phone and determined that I was, in fact, there during normal business hours so surely the doors had been left locked accidentally. I knocked and after a couple of minutes, the doors finally swung open and out popped a rather large and unfriendly looking man in a police uniform. He was armed and he looked like I’d just awoken him from a nap so I thought about making a run for it, but as I said earlier, they don’t call me Danger Man for nothing. I asked him if I could see an agent. He told me that he couldn’t let me into the building unless I had an appointment. I told him I’d tried to get an appointment, but the phone system had refused to allow me to make one. His countenance changed from irritation to pity. He said that yes, the system was a mess, but that was the only way he would allow me in and I should try calling again, preferably very early in the morning.

Well, it was clear that I wasn’t getting in this way so I went back to work. The next day, I called at 7 a.m. and worked my way through the menus once again. This time, after about a ten-minute wait, I actually heard a real human voice. I told him my problem and he told me that he could get me an appointment, but it might be easier to handle this problem over the phone. He told me he would connect me to the right office. I asked him if this was a better way of handling the problem than just getting an appointment and he assured me it was. So he put me on hold. And I waited. And after thirty minutes, I heard “click.”

So, I tried again the next day, this time at 7:30. After working through the menus, I once again found myself talking to a person, a different person from the day before. And once again, I was put on hold, but this time someone answered. She seemed nice, for a change. I explained to her my problem and she asked for my social security number. I gave it to her and after about five minutes, she came back on the line and explained that she’d looked at my previous taxes and work history and could come up with no reason I would be charged seventeen dollars for social security taxes. She suggested that it was all a mistake and I should just ignore the notice. Then she said that her area of expertise really wasn’t in social security, so she’d connect me to a person in another office who was an expert. She put me on hold.

After thirty minutes, I heard “click.”

Last year, Congress authorized the hiring of 87,000 more IRS agents. These agents would be used in the enforcement branch of the agency to track down wealthy people who are trying to cheat the tax system. Republicans in the House of Representatives have promised to pull back funding for these agents, but I’m not holding my breath. Their majority is almost non-existent and Democrats control the Senate and the Presidency, making it unlikely they will succeed. I did some back-of-the-envelope calculations and estimate that hiring those 87,000 agents is going to cost just a little short of twenty billion dollars. If it’s going to cost that much, I’d be appreciative if they move a couple of those agents from enforcement to customer service.

In the meantime, my deadline for paying the seventeen dollars is past. The last thing I heard from a real IRS person was that it was probably a mistake, so I decided to let it slide without paying. If it’s not a mistake, maybe they’ll try to contact me for real and I can get an explanation for all of this. If I am in error, there will probably be some fine I’ll have to pay, which surely will not be all that much. I mean, we’re just talking about seventeen dollars here. Surely, it’s not that big a deal.

Visiting hours at Leavenworth are on Mondays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.

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There are 22 comments.

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  1. Mad Gerald Coolidge
    Mad Gerald
    @Jose

    We can take solace in the fact that you consumed more than $17 in IRS resources, even if you didn’t accomplish anything.  Of course your own time and effort expended don’t count.

    I suggest you pass this tale of woe to your congress critters.  It might make a minuscule difference in the coming fight over the 87,000 IRS agents.  They do indeed need to invest in customer service.

    • #1
  2. EDISONPARKS Member
    EDISONPARKS
    @user_54742

    The process is the punishment.

    The government makes it such a frustratingly  unpleasant experience to actually attempt to contest an issue that paying up is the least painful solution.

    About the 87,000 new IRS agents …. the accounting industry has a difficult time staffing with competent employees, how in the world do the Feds believe they will can stand up 87,000 new IRS agents …. either they will mostly be incompetents looking for the Federal pension …. or it will simply never happen in anywhere near the 87,000 numbers being reported.

    • #2
  3. navyjag Coolidge
    navyjag
    @navyjag

    DP wife a federal retiree and did the same thing. As luck would have it she also worked for the state and did make SS contributions so now gets two pensions plus (modest) SS benefits. Lucky me. But dealing with these guys is a real pain. Although I do prefer the IRS background music to that of the California tax folks. 

    • #3
  4. David Pettus Coolidge
    David Pettus
    @DavidPettus

    Mad Gerald (View Comment):

     

    I suggest you pass this tale of woe to your congress critters. It might make a minuscule difference in the coming fight over the 87,000 IRS agents. They do indeed need to invest in customer service.

    I went to school with Sen. Marshall.  Maybe I’ll drop him a note.

    • #4
  5. Flicker Coolidge
    Flicker
    @Flicker

    I just got my 2021 soc. sec. refund this past week.  Yippee!  All the years before it only took 2-3 months tops.

    • #5
  6. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    David Pettus: If I am in error, there will probably be some fine I’ll have to pay, which surely will not be all that much. I mean, we’re just talking about seventeen dollars here. Surely, it’s not that big a deal.

    It will be after the fines.

    • #6
  7. EODmom Coolidge
    EODmom
    @EODmom

    I’m pretty sure the IRS is not back to office hours, regardless of what you’ve been told. And the whole work from home thing isn’t doing a whole lot for actual work. Office agents weren’t known for their work ethic before 2020. Do I know where the budget really goes? Nope – but people do get hired and paid. It’s not for lack of money.

    Oddly – a similar process happened to me with our (national) bank. I got a notice that 3 transactions were cancelled because of suspected fraud but they would investigate for me. I’d not reported them nor saw any problem with them so tried to Call The Whole Thing Off.

    I called the Special Fraud Number cited in the letter. 4 times. Each time a Human Voice answered after a short (10 minute) wait. Each time they said – Golly, this office doesn’t handle that and I can transfer you to The Right Office – let me do that for you. But in case something happens, this is The Right Number.  Then: The voice who answered at The Right Number said: Sorry, you have the call the Special Fraud Number. So I called the Special Fraud Number again, explained what happened and was given a Different Right Number. Which was answered by a Human Voice, saying I’m so sorry. Not me.

    I think I talked to some 6-8 different Right Number Voices, none of whom could/would do a single thing. And there was never any note in the account record that there was a fraud report nor that I’d called before. All of the calls were answered something like This is Alice in Fremont/Tampa/Indianapolis. After the second Wrong Right Number I got a QC email asking me to rate the service. I did – all 1 (very poor.) I got a phone call voicemail the next business day following up asking me to call back. I did – no one was available to take my call. 6 weeks later I got a letter from the Special Fraud Office that told me they had investigated and there was no fraud.

    I think there is a whole lot of generalized indifferent incompetence going around.

    I called the 3 vendors for the transactions and told them I’d not cancelled their charges and they would be paid.

    • #7
  8. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    EDISONPARKS (View Comment):
    either they will mostly be incompetents looking for the Federal pension

    Maybe I should apply.

    • #8
  9. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    Incompetent is a sort of evil

    • #9
  10. Vance Richards Member
    Vance Richards
    @VanceRichards

    A few years ago I had an issue with social security taxes.  Phone and online were about as helpful as above, but there was a social security office about 20 miles away. Here you just took a number, no appointments, and the issue actually was resolved. 

    • #10
  11. Full Size Tabby Member
    Full Size Tabby
    @FullSizeTabby

    Probably not specifically a cause of your experience, but contrary to what the IRS says https://www.irs.gov/about-irs/irs-audit-rates-significantly-increase-as-income-rises , the IRS appears to be targeting lower income people at a higher rate than higher income people.

    https://www.dailywire.com/news/nearly-half-of-irs-audits-target-poorest-taxpayers-report-finds 

    https://www.cbsnews.com/news/irs-audit-eitc-five-times-as-likely-to-get-audited/ 

    David Pettus:

    Well, some people would probably just think to themselves that the IRS surely wouldn’t make a mistake over such a trivial matter and, since seventeen dollars isn’t going to overdraw the checking account, it would be much easier and less risky to just pay the seventeen dollars and be done with it.

    Some people would do that, but not me. They don’t call me Danger Man for nothing.

     

    That it takes someone with the persistence and the daring-do of Danger Man to question the IRS rather feeds the conspiracy theories that the IRS just makes stuff up to pad their coffers with money from those that don’t have Danger Man’s bravery. 

    • #11
  12. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male
    @MiffedWhiteMale

    Don’t worry, with penalties that $17 will only cost you a few thousand when they come after you later this year.

    • #12
  13. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    I just had a thought. Why would they suddenly think you owed for Social Security? Could it be that someone else is using your SSN? That happened to my brother. I’m not sure how you’d find out, unless they are reporting income from a different state or city. If you go to the SSA office as suggested above, maybe they will have records?

    You didn’t earn money in a side hustle, did you?

    • #13
  14. Mad Gerald Coolidge
    Mad Gerald
    @Jose

    Good news here:

    The House of Representatives is slated to vote on a bill Monday night that would cut more than $70 billion in Internal Revenue Service funding in an effort to prevent the agency from conducting new audits on Americans — fulfilling newly-elected House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s promise ahead of taking the gavel.

    [Rep. Adrian] Smith’s bill leaves in place funding for customer service and improvements to IT services at the IRS, but rescinds several categories of unobligated funding, including money that could be used to conduct any new audits on Americans. In total, it would claw back $72 billion of the funding Congress approved for the IRS last year.

    Doubtful this will make it to the oval office, but it demonstrates someone is thinking clearly.

    • #14
  15. Chowderhead Coolidge
    Chowderhead
    @Podunk

    Here’s one. I changed the designation of my company from one form to another two years ago! Well, that’s when I first filed this form 8832. They supposed to send a confirmation letter and never did. I filed it every six months hoping one form would go through. I made multiple phone calls and had the same experience.

    I received this letter four days ago.

    Employer Identification Number: xx-xxxxxxx

    Dear Taxpayer:

    Thank you for your Form 8832, Entity Classification Election.

    Unfortunately, we cannot accept your Form 8832, Entity Classification Election, because it was not received by the due of your initial tax return. You may resubmit a timely filed Form 8832 electing to change your classification for the next tax year.

    If you need Forms, schedules, or publications, to respond to this letter, you can obtain them by visiting the IRS website at http://www.irs.gov or calling 1-800-TAX-FORM (1-800-829-3676).

    • #15
  16. Basil Fawlty Member
    Basil Fawlty
    @BasilFawlty

    David Pettus: Got all that? I understand that’s a lot of “inside baseball,” but the gist of the matter is that I haven’t paid anything into social security in over 40 years. Getting a bill for seventeen dollars for social security was quite a shock.

    Perhaps it’s Medicare tax you owe?

    • #16
  17. Nanocelt TheContrarian Member
    Nanocelt TheContrarian
    @NanoceltTheContrarian

    I for one would like to know the visiting hours at Leavenworth, as, perhaps like yourself, I lie awake nights waiting for the swat team to appear at my door and burst in to my bedroom with rounds chambered, to haul me off to Leavenworth for something I understand about as well as Joseph K. understood the charges against him.

    To me, the IRS is the American version of the Spanish Inquisition. And no one expects the Spanish Inquisition. 

    So if you can pass along the visiting hours information I will keep it handy for my day of reckoning.  I’m sure it’s coming. Just don’t know when. Probably sooner rather than later, as I am a card carrying Deplorable. 

     

    • #17
  18. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    David Pettus: Visiting hours at Leavenworth are on Mondays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.

    Nanocelt TheContrarian (View Comment):
    So if you can pass along the visiting hours information I will keep it handy for my day of reckoning.

    Last paragraph in the original post.

    • #18
  19. Nanocelt TheContrarian Member
    Nanocelt TheContrarian
    @NanoceltTheContrarian

    Arahant (View Comment):

    David Pettus: Visiting hours at Leavenworth are on Mondays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.

    Nanocelt TheContrarian (View Comment):
    So if you can pass along the visiting hours information I will keep it handy for my day of reckoning.

    Last paragraph in the original post.

    Somehow I missed that last line. Too nervous thinking about it, I guess.

    • #19
  20. David Pettus Coolidge
    David Pettus
    @DavidPettus

    Arahant (View Comment):

     

    You didn’t earn money in a side hustle, did you?

    I make a small amount of money officiating high school football every year for the past 25 years.  I thought about this and even brought it up with the IRS person, who didn’t think it was important.  Seems weird that this is the first year this was a problem, but having thought about it some more, I’ll bet this is what it’s about.

    • #20
  21. EDISONPARKS Member
    EDISONPARKS
    @user_54742

    David Pettus (View Comment):

    Arahant (View Comment):

     

    You didn’t earn money in a side hustle, did you?

    I make a small amount of money officiating high school football every year for the past 25 years. I thought about this and even brought it up with the IRS person, who didn’t think it was important. Seems weird that this is the first year this was a problem, but having thought about it some more, I’ll bet this is what it’s about.

    The issue would be did you get a 1099 from whomever paid you for the officiating and did you report the 1099 income on your 1040.   

    To be honest $17 does not seem like an amount which would be associated with unreported income/unpaid Self Employment Tax, nor is $17 an amount the IRS should even bother with.

    • #21
  22. Rightfromthestart Coolidge
    Rightfromthestart
    @Rightfromthestart

    I made an error in submitting my 1040 electronically , I had to over pay several thousand dollars and then submit a 1040x to get it back. I submitted the 1040x the next day. Instructions say it could take up to 16 weeks. At about 10 weeks I started to try to call hoping to speak to a human. I went through the same thing , I never even got the promise and the hang up, I never spoke to a human, like you I went to the office and had a guard tell  me the same thing as you but mine said to call between 5 and 7 PM which of course was fruitless.  At 30 weeks I finally contacted my congressman’s office, they sent me a form to fill out, I returned the form but by pure coincidence before anyone could act on it the check was cut and arrived in the mail. 
    I never spoke to a human at IRS. 

    • #22
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