What are the two most stress-producing words in the english language? Venomous spider? Super volcano? Prostate exam? Small beans, all of them. If you want to pack the maximum amount of anxiety and aggravation into two words, you need only to say, "April 15th".
Say those words and people will scream and cringe like you've dragged your nails across a chalkboard. Why? Because it's not only the last day to file your income taxes, it's also the day your first quarter business taxes are due. This is my first year attempting to navigate the small business tax maze, and let me assure you, going through labor and giving birth was a substantially more pleasant process.
Terrorists and the demons who run hell alike look with admiration at our federal and state tax system. It's time consuming, it makes you feel stupid, and best of all, there are frequent, despair-inducing warnings about the horrific penalties they're ready to slap on your slightest misstep.
"Congratulations on starting your own business!" the State Franchise Tax Board website says. "Prepare to kiss your assets goodbye! Most small businesses fail in a humiliating fashion. In order to help ensure you fail more efficiently, we've provided incomprehensible tax forms online with instructions written by someone who regularly drops acid and is only fluent in Sanskrit."
All I was able to glean from the FTB website was that as a small business owner, I am expected to guess what I will owe in taxes next year and then pay that in four equal amounts during the course of the year. If I do not pay on time, I will be penalized. If I guess too low and don't pay enough, I will be penalized. If I dot my i's with tiny hearts when I fill out the form, I will be penalized. Severely.
Whimpering, I went in search of more information.
Reference librarians who have been delighted to research the burial procedures of Silk Road mummies and/or explain to me brain surgery refused to answer questions related to my impending first quarter taxes. City and county officials winced and went to lunch. Everywhere I went, all I heard was, "No way. We don't do tax advice."
I ventured into the lair of the IRS, brightening at the cheerful posters on the walls saying, "Yes! We can answer your tax questions and help you fill out forms!" But when I uttered the words, "California Franchise Tax Board" the IRS agent hissed at me and slammed her window shut in my face.
A sign posted on the IRS tax form library said that you could get the quarterly State tax forms at the office of Senator Denham, downtown. I drove in standard military search patterns around the address they gave for forty-five minutes, ignoring drug dealers and ladies-of-the-what-the-heck-so-it's-mid-afternoon, looking for Senator Denham's office. I found neither a senator, nor the forms.
"Well, you can get em online, hon," said an overly made-up forty-year-old in a miniskirt when I stopped to ask for directions.
"Easily?" I asked skeptically.
"Sure, that's how I do it. That way I don't have to worry about the penalties for filing my quarterlies late."
"Can you help me figure it out? This is my first time!" I gushed, only to have her step away from my car and make a gesture to ward off evil.
"No way, hon. I don't do tax advice."
In despair, I bought a Sanskrit-to-English dictionary and stared at the website for another week. The deadline was looming. Finally I broke down and crawled into a reputable tax assistance agency.
"Help me! Pleeeease!" I sobbed. "I'll pay you anything! Just don't let the State hurt meee!"
Several lesser tax preparation specialists cringed and ran, but one bold tax professional strode out from the back of the building. The rest cowered around him, throwing rose petals and chanting his name. He took a seat and gestured for me to hand him my financial information. I waited in trembling silence for his wisdom.
"Kid," he looked up from my papers and tossed them back at me. "Come back when you make some real money."
So that was it. I don't need to pay quarterly taxes yet after all. I was mocked by a tax guru, but at least he was nice enough to mock me for free. And I'd tell you the when's and how's and why's that he related to me, except...
I don't do tax advice.
Comments in Sanskrit to Alex.Queen@gmail.com.
This article first appeared in the Manteca (Calif.) Bulletin.