Ask Captain Codehead – Tax advice appropriate for an irrational world
Dear Captain Codehead,
I filed my 2020 tax return last June, and I still haven’t gotten my refund. I was counting on that money to expand my closet and buy some new shoes. My friend Miranda suggested I try Where’s My Refund? at IRS.gov, but its response was, “Somewhere. Probably.” Then I tried calling the IRS: is eight days a long time to spend on hold? I even called one of my Senators’ offices, but the staff person there laughed, then cried, then sobbed uncontrollably, then laughed again, and then I heard sirens in the background, so I hung up. What’s going on inside the IRS? Do you have any advice?
— Not Carrie Bradshaw
I feel your pain. Not your foot pain: Captain Codehead typically wears an old pair of running shoes, or – when he’s feeling fancy – a pair of loafers he got during the Reagan administration. Back to your point, an unusually high number of taxpayers have reported long delays in receiving their refunds over the past two years. The delays have been especially noticeable for taxpayers like you with larger refunds. The semi-good news is that IRS must pay taxpayers interest on refunds that are outstanding for more than 45 days. The bad news is that the interest rate they pay is similar to the rate of interest in Dave Matthews Band cover groups.
In terms of what’s going on inside the IRS, we discussed this question on a recent edition of my podcast, and my expert panel was evenly divided between several explanations: Covid-related staff shortages and turnover; insufficient budgetary funding from Congress; the replacement of IRS with an evil AI created by Russian hackers. Take your pick.
In terms of whether I have any advice, yes: this is, after all, an advice column. Ish. In your particular case, I’d advise buying less expensive shoes. But assuming that’s a non-starter, here are some other options.
IRS calling services. There are organizations out there that pay their employees to stay on hold with the IRS so you don’t have to. These services claim hold time reductions of up to 90%. Pro: this is a real thing (also real: interest on late refunds and my old loafers; most of the other facts herein are, well, alternative). Con: it might make you feel better to speak to a real person/Russian AI, but it won’t actually get you your refund any faster.
PPP. (Not that PPP.) Patience, persistence, and prayer. Have you considered that your delayed refund is the universe’s way of encouraging you to reevaluate your priorities? Taxpayers have reported getting relief from a wide variety of metaphysical practices. For example, many CPA firms maintain a shrine to St. Matthew, the patron saint of tax collectors and accountants. Some firms even burn draft copies of tax returns to Matthew, though IMHO, this practice is mostly about not having to pay for a paper shredding service. Captain Codehead recommends a more spiritual approach, which he attributes to the late Thich Nhat Hanh. Sit in a darkened cubicle, close your eyes. Inhale slowly while thinking, “Breathing in, I exclude my income.” Exhale, thinking, “Breathing out, I deduct.” Repeat until you get your refund – or enlightenment. Pro: lower blood pressure. Con: there’s no peer-reviewed research that associates faster refunds with prayer, meditation, or burnt offerings. Also, some midwestern CPAs have reported setting their toupees on fire (there’s always a silver lining, no?).
Direct public action. Sometimes, you just have to take to the streets for your voice to be heard. To that end, Captain Codehead is calling for a Day of Taxpayer Solidarity. Activities will include a mass sage burning (demon possession of IRS management being another popular explanation for slow refunds) and a march on the IRS national headquarters. Join us on May 1 (which gives Captain C time to finish filing his clients’ 1040s, do his billing, and enjoy a short vacation). If you’re unable to be there in person, I encourage you to support us on my Kickstarter page. Pro: at the $50 level, you get a very nice t-shirt. Con: Day of Taxpayer Solidarity speeches. Zzzzz.
Finally, NCB, I want to remind you that while you can’t always control what happens at the IRS, you can control how you look at it, so let’s practice some reframing. On a human timeframe, that refund is taking a long time. But on a geological timeframe, it’s so very much shorter than the Jurassic era. Put another way, the arc of the taxpayer universe is long, but it bends toward refund. Enjoy your shoes!
By Greg Yoder