Death by Audit

Posted on May 20, 2010

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Still better than death.

This week’s Newsweek has a really interesting articled entitled, “What Should You REALLY Be Afraid Of?” It lists common fears vs reality. For example, most people fear shark attacks (there were 28 last year) over dog bites ( 4.5 million). Most people fear fatal plane crashes (there were 321 people killed last year) over fatal car crashes (34,017). You get the idea. As Newsweek says, “Much of what we worry about today is based on hype rather than reality.” Every comparison on the list has two items in the same category. That is, until the last item: Americans fear being audited by the IRS (1.4 million) over death (US deaths 2.4 million).

This last category is interesting for several reasons, the chief of which is that Newsweek equates audit with death. The last time Life in the Boomer Lane looked, she didn’t notice that they were in the same category. Death is something that, with the exception of Elvis, happens to everyone. Whether you are good or bad, Democrat or Republican, let people with only one item in front of you in line or ignore them as you empty your full-to-capacity shopping cart onto the conveyor belt, you can be fairly sure that your life will eventually end. Audit, on the other hand, occurs to random people, especially totally innocent people who are busy minding their own business, volunteering, and stopping at red lights. Like me.

LBL’s friend Susan (infamous subject of LBL’s world-famous “Sex and the Sixty Year Old” posts) and and LBL sold a small speed dating company several years ago. They sold it for $35,000 and paid taxes on the sale. They were audited. During the following months that their audit process went on, they received endless correspondence from the IRS, filled out endless forms, and gathered endless information.

The IRS provided us with a lovely Personally Appointed Audit Specialist, who was about the age of our children. I suspected that under her jacket, she wore a tag that said “Be patient with me. I’m an IRS Trainee.” Most of our sessions consisted of her looking over our form with a Very Serious expression on her face that was no doubt taught to her in IRS School. Then she would ask us a simple question like, “Did you depreciate the folders you used?” and we would answer “Huh?” The climax of our interrogation came when a fire alarm went off and the entire building had to be evacuated. It took a long time for us to get back in. I spent most of that time looking around to see if anyone was in handcuffs and thinking about the possibility of escape.

During the entire time they were being audited, there were approximately a huge number of people making a lot of money and not paying any taxes at all and scoffing at the IRS. LBL has spoken with some of these people. One unfortunate person who actually eventually got caught was Walter Anderson, a telecommunications executive, hid 365 million from the IRS. And he totally avoided having to go through a fire drill. Another was everyone’s favorite shoe collector, next to Imelda Marcos: Leona Helmsley. Leona is famous for saying “We don’t pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes.” As LBL stands a towering 5;1″, Leona had a point, there.

Eventually, Susan and LBL received a letter from the IRS that had a lot of words on it, several of them actually found in dictionaries. The rough translation of this letter was “We have no idea what to do with you so you are now free to continue to go about your business. And, by the way, you don’t owe us any money and we are sorry about the fire drill.” LBL could have told them that they didn’t owe them anything and saved ourselves a lot of trouble. Then again, the lovely IRS Trainee wouldn’t have been able to practice her Concerned Knit Brow Look.

But the important thing here isn’t the audit. It’s that at no point in any of this did Susan or LBL ever think that the audit was the same as dying. Yet the Newsweek list started LBL wondering. Do people actually walk around thinking being audited is worse than death? The quote “Give me liberty or give me an audit” seems to fall a bit flat. A play entitled “Audit of A Salesman” might not have the same punch. Or “As I Lay Being Audited.”

LBL will stop here, before she attracts the attention of the IRS and is audited again.

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