Spring Forward, Fall Back

Ah, spring. [Cue the music from Beethoven's Pastorale.] The snow is melting, the birds are chirping and [cue the horrible sound of a symphony grinding to a halt] your taxes are due.

Here in Canada, we are being inundated with cheery television advertisements showing us how easy and fun (fun!) it is to file our taxes. According to these ads, all you need to be able to complete your return is:

1) A shiny new computer, which you will not be allowed to deduct.

2) A super fast Internet connection to the government web site, which, if you live outside metro Toronto, you won't have until the government uses some of your tax money to provide one for you.

3) A cute 9-year-old daughter who will sit on your lap to demonstrate both family values in Canadian society and also explain the Internet to you.
Okay, really, for most people, filing taxes is fairly easy, mainly because their employers do most of the work. Deductions are taken off your paycheck all year 'round, and then at the end of the year you take the papers the employer hands you to an accountant and they figure out the rest.

For the self-employed though, there is just one word that accurately describes the tax process, and it is: AARGH!

This is because it is one of those immutable laws of the universe that tax law can never be simple. Historically, any country that has ever attempted to enact a simple “tell us what you made and send us X percent” rule was immediately invaded and stomped out of existence by hordes of marauding tax specialists bearing WMD (weapons of mass deduction).

Indeed, speaking of laws of the universe, there are an astonishing number of similarities between tax laws and our theories of how the universe began. (Which means that theoretical astrophysicists are just tax specialists gone horribly wrong.) Consider:

Big Bang: What we think our universe started with. Also the noise your brain makes when you find out how much you owe the government.

Inflationary theory: Theorists believe that our universe is expanding, and that the stars and planets are moving farther and farther apart. Your tax bill typically expands, when the government denies that deduction for the wild toga party, and your target retirement age will seem farther and farther away.

Big Crunch: Some theorists speculate that the universe will end in a big crunch, when everything collapses in on itself. Your tax bill will also lead to a big crunch, as you attempt to pay it and your regular bills.

Assuming you have a rudimentary knowledge of quantum mechanics then, it is possible for the self-employed person to work out his or her own tax return. However, even following the letter of the tax law precisely can get you into trouble.

For example, where I live, self-employed people have until June to file their return. However, your actual taxes are due in April. This means that the minute you work out what you owe, you're already two months late and now owe even more, thanks to a concept called “interest.” [Cue the big bang noise in the brain.] That is, the government takes a great deal of interest in someone who is late in paying their taxes.

Even worse, the government here has taken to sending out notices to self-employed people that say, “We notice you made X dollars last year, and that your current tax bill is Y. If you think you're going to make X again next year, you must also start paying Y again. Now.”

To which I always want to reply that I'm probably not going to make X next year, because I'm too busy trying to pay off Y. Unfortunately, it is one of those great cruelties of life that taxes are not, in fact, tax deductible.

Yes, they say that taxes are the price of civilization, and if that's the case, things are going to be very, very civilized here this year.

Mainly because we can't afford any more of those wild parties.

To read more of Chandra's work, visit www.ChandraKClarke.com.

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