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Published: Monday, 4/14/2008

Helpful advice deciphering the tax code for last-minute filers

I KNOW roughly half a dozen folks who read this column regularly. I'll chalk it up to a character flaw on their part, but I am grateful for their loyalty, which they fiercely display as long as I keep mailing them checks. There may be others; I have no way of knowing.

In recent days I have heard some of these folks gripe that once again, just like last year and the year before that, they are up against tomorrow's deadline for filing their income tax returns.

I took care of my own personal obligation in this regard, oh, several hours ago, so I am not the procrastinator they are. One of them, in fact, didn't even get a birthmark until he was 10 years old. But I sympathize, and I want to help.

So, I have devoted the last month to a careful, page-by-page analysis of the federal income tax Form 1040 instructions booklet. I'm not sure what I've learned, but I do have far less trouble falling asleep. As far as I can determine, what follows is the essence of the booklet's rather complex directions, condensed and paraphrased to the best of my ability to translate the ancient Greek:

"Dear Taxpayer (actually, what it says is "Yo, Fool," but I'm trying to ascribe a softer, gentler approach to the IRS):

"Yes, it's us. And it's that time of the year again. We know that many of you are addicted to Sudoku, cryptograms, hopelessly intricate puzzles, that sort of thing. So we have assembled a tax code, and this booklet, for your enjoyment.

"Let's begin. First, consult Form 29643-BS. Take note that it appears to have changed from last year - not that last year's form was a walk in the park. Form 29643-BS essentially asks you if you plan to cheat on your taxes. Why not tell us up front and spare your government years of costly investigation? At the same time you will eliminate the anguish and apprehension you would otherwise feel while waiting far into the future to see if you got away with it.

"By the way, if you've ever fibbed in the past on your 1040, your government wants you to know you are forgiven. But you must add $500 to what you owe or deduct $500 if you somehow wangle a refund. You also have the right, if you aren't the brightest crayon in the box, to give us everything you have. If you choose the latter, see Form 1040 Ridiculously EZ. All Americans are eligible to use this form. Just write a check for everything you own. Exception: if you keep coins in a jar, especially pennies, do not send them in. Please.

"Now then, do you now or have you ever tried to sell air conditioners in the Yukon? If you answered yes, reduce your exemptions by one. What were you thinking? On the other hand, if you actually sold one, attach the bill of sale, duly notarized, and ignore the rest of this section.

"Now we need you to add the distance between the sun and the moon at the vernal equinox, subtract the temperature at which water boils, and multiply by the number of letters in Elvis Presley's middle name. If the amount is smaller than zero, you cheated.

"Determine your latitude and longitude and add all the digits together. Subtract the number of the date of the month you were born. We know when that is, so don't lie to us.

"Enter this number on Form 628401 on Line 27 and on Form 848277, Line 63b. Neither of these forms is essential to your return, but they do test your knowledge of our state capitals, so they're kinda fun. Note: if you correctly guess the capital of South Dakota, you are penalized $50. Pierre? Too French. May you choke on your Freedom Fries.

"Speaking of which, did you eat fast food more than once in the last week? If so, increase your tax or reduce your refund by $100. While you were there, did you steal a fistful of paper napkins? That's another $100. We have friends at Burger King. If, however, you stole the napkins because they were wedged so tightly in the container that you could not extract just one, disregard this section, but try to eat better.

"Take three paces forward, check your pulse, make a rude noise of your choice, and pick a number between 27 and 82. Now scramble the last six letters in your maternal grandmother's maiden name. If you can form a gibberish word rhyming with Adirondack, you may defer your taxes until your death. However, you must submit an affidavit asserting that you were just kidding on that driver's license photo.

"Are you now or have you ever been a cross-dresser? It's irrelevant, really. We'd just like to know. (Privacy Act notice: We promise not to share this information with other federal agencies, although if your ensemble is from the J. Edgar Hoover collection, we'll be sorely tempted.)

"You're almost finished. Put your right foot in and then you shake it all about. Remember to carry the six, carry the groceries, Carrie the Nation, and, if you're a golfer, carry the green.

"STOP! If your Social Security number is 12 or below, you owe no taxes.

"Finally, make sure you have dated and signed your return. Have you affixed your address label? If not, see Booklet 2XG487, which basically says: If you have an address label, affix it.

"If you do not have an address label, Booklet 2XG487 also offers this helpful tip: Use a PEN, dummy!"

OK, that's it. I humbly hope this information, culled from weeks of blood, sweat, and tears on my part, eases the next 24 hours for those still wrestling with their returns. So, am I really a tax expert? No, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night.



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