Many people are ever suspicious of the private sector and fervently believe that government should control certain segments of our economy. This wishful (and delusional) thinking is most prevalent in the health care industry, where the left regrets not having passed a single-payer (government-controlled) system instead of ObamaCare. Having recently undergone a painful interaction with the federal government, I can only wonder what planet these people are from. The experience made me doubt why almost anything would be left in the hands of federal bureaucrats.
This story begins with something the government did that was good; but, as usual, they found a way to turn it into a disaster. As a tax preparer, I was required to put my social security number on tax returns. But in these times of rampant identity theft, I’m sure you can understand that having your social security number floating around on hundreds of documents is not particularly palatable. So in coordination with the community of CPAs and enrolled agents, the IRS implemented a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN) to solve the problem. We obtained our PTIN, started using it on tax returns, and life was beautiful. Predictably, however, the government could not leave well enough alone.
Flash forward a few years. For many good reasons, the IRS decided that they needed to register every tax preparer. There were people – generally not CPAs or enrolled agents – who were abusing the tax system, usually by fraudulently claiming an earned income tax credit (EITC). The EITC is known as a “refundable credit,” which means that a low-income worker can get money back from the government even without paying any withholding. Unfortunately, there has been a lot of cheating and abuse, including a large number of claims made by fictitious people.
For some unknown reason, one registration isn’t sufficient. In their infinite wisdom, the IRS decided that anyone holding a PTIN had to register every year, along with payment of a new $63 annual fee (which I’m confident will go up soon). One has to log onto the IRS web site, set up an account, and then make a credit card payment.
Most everyone has bought something online, and my favorite online shopping site is Amazon. It takes me about three minutes to search their web site, purchase what I want, and have it shipped to me. Not so fast with the IRS. Navigating the entire registration process takes a computer expert, and even then you may not achieve your objective. For example, the IRS requires a complicated password that would never be used anywhere else. Of course they claim that this is necessary for security reasons, but that would imply that Amazon, whose password criteria is far less demanding, doesn’t want to protect your account. Last year, I managed to get registered. This year was a nightmare.
I received an IRS email indicating that we could register as early as October 15th. Believing there’s no time like the present, I hopped on it the next day. When I couldn’t remember last year’s password, they sent me a temporary one – much like any other web site. I put it in. I put it in again. I cut and pasted it – all to no avail. I couldn’t get anywhere and (surprise!) no one answered the PTIN hotline. So I called a special number for tax practitioners. They told me to just print a certain form, fill it out, and send the check to the PTIN office in Waterloo, Iowa. That went into the mail October 20th. I should have conjured up my impending results based on the name of the city I was mailing it to.
If I had sent the check to a bank or my cable provider, it would have cleared my account by the end of October. Those companies actually care about collecting their money, but not the IRS. When my bank statement arrived at the end of November and the check hadn’t cleared, I started to get worried, so I got back on the phone to the Practitioners hotline. After a half hour wait, someone came on only to inform me that 40 days was not a long time for the form to be processed and not to be worried. Of course, that’s when I really started to worry.
When the check hadn’t cleared by the end of December, I became extremely concerned because the due date was December 31st. You may be aware that the IRS is big on penalties even if it’s their fault, and, frankly, I had no idea whether they had even received my letter. So back to the phone and being put on hold – again to no avail. This time I tried the PTIN hotline and actually got through. When a lady got on she was quite lovely. It was probably because she was from Waterloo, Iowa, and may have been giddy about all the money the Republicans had just dumped in the state.
She reviewed my records and found that they had received my application. She told me that I should have been notified that my form was not complete. I replied that not only had I not been contacted, but that I was quite sure I had filled out the form in its entirety. That’s when she revealed that the IRS had changed the form in November. Yes, folks, they actually changed the form after the submission period had begun. She then helped me complete my registration and informed me that they would now cash my check. She was very nice, but she never apologized. The IRS never apologizes.
As a longtime professional who regularly deals not only with the IRS, but with a plethora of other governmental agencies, I’m still baffled at the attitude and behavior of government employees and their unwillingness to admit they made a mistake. They are the last people on earth that I’d want to control my health care – and, trust me; you should never want them to do it either.