Another Bewildering Encounter with the I.R.S.

I got another letter from the IRS .

Why We Are Sending You This Notice

We are writing to you because there is an error on your Federal Income Tax Return. We will explain why we made the change and what you need to do.

Okay. I’m listening.

Why We Made The Change

We changed the refund amount on line 74a or the amount you owe on Line 76 of your Form 1040 because the amount entered on your tax return was computed incorrectly.

Really? How so?

If I turn the page over, there’s a table that shows my figures adjacent to their figures, so we can see where I went wrong:

Line Item On Your ReturnYour FiguresIRS Figures
Adjusted Gross Income$14,823.00$14,823.00
Taxable Income$6,073.00$9,473.00
Total Tax$3,695.00$3,695.00

That difference in Taxable Income comes to $3,400 — the amount of the personal exemption. Apparently the IRS thinks I don’t qualify for it. Maybe someone else tried to claim me as a dependent on their return, or for some other reason the IRS thinks I’m not entitled. Kind of weird, but okay. I’m sure we can clear up this misunderstanding.

What You Should Do If You Disagree With The Change

If you disagree with the change we made or you have additional information that corrects the error we found, please call us at 1‒800‒829‒8374 to discuss your account.

Our representative will explain the change we made. You can explain why you disagree with the change and provide the representative with any corrective information you have. We will correct any mistakes on your account.

It would be more accurate to say “please call us to listen to several minutes of The Nutcracker Suite interrupted by helpful reminders to stay on the line, after which you will be interrogated at length by an IRS employee who will end up knowing nothing about your problem and be unable to help you.”

Because I did call, and did listen to long sections of Nutcracker, until a Mr. Waters answered, and asked me a few questions to verify my identity, and then, casually, as if it were just another “can you verify your zip code” sort of thing, he asked “and where is your primary bank?” Sneaky!

“Look,” said I, “I didn’t expect some kind of Spanish Inquisition. I’d like to talk about this letter I got in the mail today.” And I gave him the story as I’ve given it here to you, up to the Nutcracker part anyway, and Mr. Waters agreed with me that there was a discrepancy. He was unable, however, to tell me why the IRS had done what it had done, or to do anything to correct the problem. He suggested I file a 1040X (“Amended U.S. Individual Income Tax Return”) that simply restates the numbers on my original return.

I’m not sure that it matters all that much, since the “Total Tax” bit is the same and it doesn’t change what I “owe” or anything materially important like that. But I can’t help but feel that it’s the sort of thing that could bite in some difficult-to-foresee way further down the line if I don’t bother myself now with fixing it. Of course, they may just fix it back and continue to refuse to tell me why.

Also, because I didn’t pay any of that “Total Tax” there was also included in the letter the usual blah blah blah about penalties and interest (as of the middle of next month, for what I didn’t pay on , these amount to $18.47 and $3.64), a copy of Form 2210 (“Underpayment of Estimated Tax by Individuals, Estates, and Trusts”) and its instruction manual, and the ever-useful Notice 1212 urging me to check out their fabulous automated telephone service.