Sunday, May 15, 2022

We Were Just Trying to Pay Our Taxes

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published May 16, 2022] ©2022

Olof and I don’t have a complicated financial life, so he is fully capable of doing our taxes on TurboTax every year. Somehow this year, instead of getting money back from both the state and the feds, we owed them a bunch of money. As in low-five figures. But as we do with our quarterly estimated taxes, I wrote each entity a check, stuck it in the envelope with the payment stub and deposited it (obviously not certified) in the mailbox outside the Pacific Beach Post Office.

The federal check was cashed within a week.  The state check is still at large.

I have no idea where the U.S. Postal Service or the Franchise Tax Board (FTB) is at fault.  But a wayward tax check can cost you a bunch of money in penalties and late fees if it is not received by the deadline. 

Fortunately, I had sent both checks more than a month in advance.  When the one check didn’t clear, I started to panic.  The Franchise Tax Board’s chat line human said there was nothing she could do in less we had a cancelled check.  But, we said, that is precisely the point.  You haven’t processed our check.  Wait a little longer, she said. We’re not exactly balls of fire 

We tried setting up accounts but to do that, your identity has to be verified by Transunion, one of the credit reporting agencies.  We have never ever been able to get our identities verified for any on-line site through Transunion, despite multiple efforts to correct inaccuracies over the years, because they insist we have lived at places we never lived or had phone numbers that are so ancient that we no longer recognize them.  So the only way to get these accounts set up was to have the FTB send us pin numbers in the mail in “3-5 days”.  Olof’s took 12, mine 18. But both arrived long past the tax deadline.

Meanwhile, the federal and state Estimated Tax payment checks I’d sent a week after our  tax return checks immediately cleared.

The idea of cancelling a check to any government tax institution was almost too terrifying to contemplate.  But as the April 18 deadline fast approached, I finally stopped payment on the first check.

I then bit the bullet and called the Franchise Tax Board’s customer service line. The endless recording, of course, advised setting up an “easy” (hah!) account rather than wait for what they predicted would be AT LEAST three hours in hold time. And believe me, it was.

But I finally got a human who said he would investigate the situation for me.  He asked for my call-back number in case we were disconnected before putting me on a “brief hold”. Whereupon we were disconnected. He never called back despite the fact that I clutched my phone in my desperate little hands for the next four hours hoping he might.

So, now at the 11th hour, with the Franchise Tax Board’s automated line continuing to profess no payment from us, I went on to their link to pay them directly through our bank account routing and account number.  This went well until I tried to actually input the amount of payment.  I tried it 15 different ways – commas, decimal points etc. etc. – but no luck.  Finally I dragged Olof over to my computer to consult.  It has been my experience that machinery, particularly computer-related machinery, is afraid of Olof and will cooperate in ways with him that they won’t with me.  And sure enough, Olof typed in the amount using the numerical keypad on the right side of the keyboard and voilà.  It’s entered.  I was using the numbers along the top of the keyboard. 

And this leads me to why I prefer to write checks instead of setting up on-line accounts to pay things.  There is always some stupid glitch.  I swear agencies like Transunion and the DMV and the Franchise Tax Board only hire people who have flunked out of computer school and have never once tested their websites on an actual person before inflicting them on the populace.  Certainly the Covid vaccine scheduling sites were a classic example.

Setting up on-line accounts usually requires – as did – picking three security questions from ten utterly inane options like: “What is the one course you regret not taking?” Whatever happened to “city where you were married”?

So even before you get to the idiotic questions whose answers you’d never remember, there’s still the whole dual authentication thing where they send a code to your phone (usually my phone which is very annoying to Olof in case I’m not home), and deciphering the sometimes indecipherable I’m-not-a-robot stuff, and resetting the password that you had to set up with a capital letter and special characters and at least eight numbers that expires every six months and can’t be re-used.

Believe me, a check is five times faster.  Well, assuming it gets there.


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