Welcome to the Poorhouse: Ah, Tax Time
Collectors for credit-card companies have the phone ringing off the hook, but the messages in the mailbox are worse. Other creditors, the ones not calling because they have miraculously been paid on time, inform that finance charges are being jacked up due to late payments to other creditors. Non-payment notices arrive from Edison, the water district and the county assessor, who reiterates that not only is the huge property tax bill late but so is the late charge on it, and--unless you're a senior citizen--no extension will be granted.
There was no relief earlier in the week when the quarterly statement showed the incredible, shrinking 401k won't serve as a stimulus plan, let alone a bail out. It can't even bail itself out. And how about that new mortgage applied for at these low, low, low interest rates everyone crows about? Denied!--due to . . . wait for it . . . high credit-card balances!
By the time you get to the last letter, the one above the Victoria's Secret catalog, it's almost comical. Almost. It's from the IRS. Uncle Sam wants $547 in less than 10 days lest penalties and interest start accruing. This lovely scenario is brought to you by my life. A misunderstanding on the 2007 return spurred the pay-now-or-else letter. Thankfully, a payment extension was later granted so once the 2008 refund arrives, it will pay off the 2007 misunderstanding.
Better news comes from the state taxman, neither by phone nor snail mail but email.
The California Franchise Tax Board (FTB) is offering free tax assistance both in-person and online through Wednesday, April 15. Help centers are located at more than 1,000 sites, with some offering services in Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean. Free information is available here.
The FTB in particular wants working families to check and see if they qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit. I know I didn't qualify on my '08 return, but apparently there are unallocated funds every year because people fail to claim it.
Something new the FTB is offering to everyone this year: guidance to those who got stung by Ponzi schemes or other investment swindles; follow the link above. Oh, and a warning: those businesses offering Refund Anticipation Loans may get you money quickly, but the FTB says it may end up costing you more in the long run.
Finally, for anyone who uses online tax preparation services: These are free for federal returns, but you have to pay $30-$40 or so if you want to use the same program for state returns, which is all the easier because the service imports all your fed info and matches it to the correct state forms. However, what I learned this tax season is you can e-file on the state site at no additional charge. In fact, for certain income levels, the forms are already filled out once the state site identifies your. You'll be done quicker than filling out the form by hand, and if you have direct deposit you'll get refunds even faster.
So, my advice is to do your federal taxes for free through an online service (the IRS links to them), when you are asked if you want the service to do your state return click "no" (you can always go back if you change your mind), and then do your state return for free at the FTB site.
Of course, keep in mind this advice is coming from someone who received a letter from the IRS demanding $547.
Previously in Welcome to the Poorhouse: