For me, doing my family's taxes is like solving a crossword puzzle. The process of entering the right answers in the right spots is challenging and sometimes frustrating. But when the forms are all filled out, when all the numbers and data are in the right spot, I get the same feeling of satisfaction that I get from completing an intricately designed brainteaser.
Which is why it bugged me so much this year that when I thought I had everything done perfectly, H&R Block's TaxCut--which I've been using for several years--told me I had made a mistake. Each time I ran TaxCut's "Error Check" tool on my New York state filing, I got a message (along with an accusatory red flag) that I hadn't entered a twelve-digit transaction ID code on Schedule F, Line 8E of form NYC-202. (FYI, that's the New York City Unincorporated Business Tax Return, filed for my wife, who is self-employed.)
This didn't make any sense: Not only was there no transaction for which to add a code--Line 8E covered payments accompanying extensions, which she didn't file--but also New York City's tax authorities stopped using these transaction codes two years ago. My outrage was equivalent to what I'd feel if I found a misspelling on 33-down preventing me from completing the Sunday crossword puzzle.
I was so outraged, in fact, that I chose to ignore that it really didn't matter if I got the error message or not; the red flag would be an obstacle to my filing only if I filed my state return electronically, which I was never planning to do. I logged onto TaxCut's online help service, and spent a frustrating half-hour in an instant-message chat with a customer service rep who (a) didn't understand my problem; (b) couldn't help me; and (c) took a painfully long time to figure out (a) and (b). Plus, despite the CSR's promise that someone at H&R Block would soon address my complaint, I never heard back from them. But after registering the same problem a week or so later, I received a phone call from a heroic CSR who was able to track me down even though someone had mis-entered my phone number in H&R Block's records. After maybe a half-hour on the phone, he was able to duplicate the error message under the same circumstances. In other words, there was indeed a problem with the program. The CSR said he'd pass along the issue to the people who could fix it, but because it was so close to April 15, it was unlikely H&R Block would clean it up before the filing deadline.
After I described the whole episode to my wife, she pointedly asked me whether I got anything from H&R Block in return for my work as an unpaid quality control employee. Did I get a refund, she asked, on what I had paid for TaxCut? Anything else of value for the unnecessary time and effort I'd put in? No, I admitted. But I did feel a sense of achievement about finding the error, along with some shock: My wife can't be the only freelancer in New York City using TaxCut; how come no one, apparently, had reported the problem to H&R Block before I did?
But mostly I felt smug satisfaction that I'd apparently gone where no one had before; pardon the pun, but it was like I was an entomologist who'd just discovered a new species of bug. And next year, when presumably no error message will show up on NYC-202, Schedule F, Line 8E, I'll feel good all over again.
How did you feel (or will you feel, if that's the case) upon finishing your taxes? Weigh in and let us know.