Columnists

IRS; You Are Not

My friend is having trouble with the Internal Revenue Service. We’ll call him Mr. Farmer, be-cause — one; it’s the IRS, and two; well, they already know his real name. They know it far too well, as far as he’s concerned.

First, a little background. Mr. Farmer is known among friends and strangers alike as the epitome of honesty and integrity. He and his wife own a small family farm down the road from me, and aside from the occasional help he gets to vaccinate his small herd of cattle in the Spring, he op-erates the farm on his own.

He buys his farm implements used, and makes any repairs himself. The last piece of new equip-ment he purchased was a 1990 Holland hay bine, and the only reason he bought that new was because it was the only model that fit the power takeoff of his forty-year-old 1979 John Deere 4440.

In this age of high-tech agribusiness, the most sophisticated piece of technology he owns is his smart phone. He owned a flip phone until 2019, when his wife made him upgrade, because the hinges on the phone broke off, causing him to “pocket dial” her accidentally throughout the day.

He goes to church every Sunday.

He is generous with his treasure. I personally have seen him seek out a local landlord in order to pay — anonymously, of course –– the back rent for a single mother of two. He had heard she was having trouble paying her rent, running the risk of eviction. Heck, he even loaned me a siz-able chunk of money long ago, of which I’m making payments –– once a decade or so. He never says a word about it when I see him.

He does let a curse word fly every once-in-awhile, when he cracks his knuckles on something he’s working on, but even then it seems appropriate for the occasion. The last time he blurted one out in public, his 96-year-old mother, who still lives with the Farmers, sent him to bed with-out supper.

By all accounts, he is the salt of the earth he farms … and the IRS hates him.

Seven months ago, out of the blue, he received a letter from the IRS, demanding that he pay $23,129, because –– they claimed –– he failed to pay his taxes in 2019. He had ten days to make good … or else.

Now, you have to understand that the last time Mr. Farmer was so much as late with a tax pay-ment was when President Nixon resigned office in 1974. Mr. Farmer believed there was a good chance that the government might not even exist by the time his check got there.

Sure enough, a quick examination of his personal records, revealed that all was paid. He even had the canceled checks, endorsed by the IRS proving receipt. Problem solved, he thought.

He called the toll free IRS number listed on the demand notice for appeals and disputes, and the automated phone system explained that “because of significant staffing shortages” his call would be answered in FOUR HOURS!

Well, since $23,129 divided by four hours is still a considerably large sum of money, Mr. Farmer stuck it out. He was assigned a case number and a case manager –– Mrs. Sims — beginning a relationship outlasting many marriages.

Mrs. Sims, evidently unaware that some people do pay their taxes on time, had difficulty under-standing Mr. Farmer’s complaint. Finally, Mrs. Sims grasped the issue.

“Yes, now I do see that you made the payment, Mr. Farmer,” she assured him. “I will take care of that here. We are always here to help you.”

Two weeks later, Mr. Farmer received notice in the mailbox that if he didn’t pay $23,129 in ten days the IRS has the authority to remove the amount from his bank account without announce-ment or further indication.

For Mr. Farmer, few things are more immoral than touching another man’s money. He was quickly on the phone, enduring another four hour wait to talk to Mrs. Sims.

“Don’t forget, we are always here to help you,” she said. This time she directed Mr. Farmer to send copies of the canceled checks to an IRS address, and that would solve the issue for good.

Two weeks later, Mr. Farmer received notice that his account was paid. However, the letter ex-plained, he was still responsible for the $5,344 he owed in interest and penalties –– on taxes he didn’t owe!

Mr. Farmer was furious, and was on the horn again to Mrs. Sims. This time the wait was seven hours, but if he liked, he could call when the IRS opened in the morning at 7:30 AM.

At 7:33 AM Mr. Farmer called, and the automated phone system explained that there were only 356,345 callers ahead of him in the phone queue!

Two hours later, Mrs. Sims –– who Mr. Farmer describes in his notes documenting his calls as “stupid, with a willingness to help” –– confirmed that the canceled checks were indeed received and in the system. She assured Mr. Farmer that she would personally transfer monies manually, thereby crediting his account properly.

“We are always here to help you,” she echoed.

Two weeks later, Mr. Farmer received another IRS notice in the mail. This time the letter de-manded that he pay $32,493, because he failed to pay his 2020 taxes! Somehow, Mr. Farmer figures, in discharging his 2019 taxes, the IRS transferred monies assigned to his 2020 taxes.

Wednesday, Mr. Farmer called the Taxpayer Advocate Service. The independent unit of the IRS was established by Congress in 1979 to advocate for taxpayers who run afoul of the IRS bu-reaucracy. Mr. Farmer didn’t like playing tough, but this was getting ridiculous.

After waiting two hours on the phone, a familiar voice came on the line. “This is Mrs. Sims. I’m away from my desk, and won’t be back until Monday. We are always here to help you.”

John O. Marlowe is an award-winning columnist for Sagamore News Media.