a little something extra

Sunday, February 03, 2008

scraps of paper

I'm feeling better today. Not quite 100%, but definitely better than yesterday or Friday. So, after sleeping in and running a couple of errands, I decided to break out the Annual Storm of Scraps of Paper.

The Annual Storm is a crucial element of my tax preparation every year. There's a wonderful woman who used to be the director of finance for the theatre compay where I used to work (i.e., neither of us works there anymore). She runs a side business preparing tax returns for artists, based on her intimate knowledge of all the ins and outs that help the unorthodox earning lives of artists come out looking as good as possible against the IRS' expectations and systems.

I first hired her to prepare my taxes in 2003. In 2004, she saw me through the purchase of my house. In 2005, she saw me through the cross-country move to California, doing my federal and two state tax returns. In 2006, she saw me through the rental of my house in GA. This year doesn't bring any specific challenges, though it will be the first year that my taxes are affected by a full year's lease on the house.

One of the things she taught me to do was to save the receipts for all the theatre tickets I buy, meals or drinks I have over meetings with other artists, travel expenses to conferences or to see plays (like I did when I went to Ashland, OR this past year). My incredibly sophisticated system involves simply stashing all the receipts in a folder labeled "Receipts for 2007 Taxes."

Then, on some rainy afternoon like this one, early in the year, I open the folder and the Annual Storm commences. I sort, I label, I add up, I curse, I add up again, I wail, I add up a third time. I go diving into my House file for records of how much I paid in mortage interest, homeowner's insurance and county taxes, and into my Auto Registration file to see how much I paid for that this year ($40 less than last year, because last year my relocation caused a kerfuffle that meant my renewal bill didn't reach me until it was already past its due date). I add up the water bills for my rental property, and the total I spent on repairs and improvements (a whopper this year because of the expense of replacing the air conditioning system last summer). I detail my charitable contributions. And everything has its own scrap of paper.

The scraps of paper add up to a lot. A LOT. I boil them all down to a single sheet to send to my wonderful tax preparer, who has in recent years found me refunds that equated to something between two and four weeks' worth of my regular take-home pay. This year it will probably be less, because of the income from the rental property. We'll see how the numbers play out, and whether I need to adjust my 2008 withholding based on her findings.

Part of me is hoping for a small refund, meaning that I didn't give much of an unintentional, interest-free loan to the government this past year.

Another part of me is hoping for a larger refund, because I have two good things I could do with the extra money.

Either way, as the Annual Storm of Scraps of Paper settles, I have reason for hope. :-)


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