Nothing is certain but

I've been doing taxes for a little over a decade now. In doing so, I'm always torn between my desire to be frugal (cheap) and a fear of the IRS. When my taxes were uncomplicated (i.e., I had one part time job and was my parents dependent), I could handle a 1040EZ myself and even filed over the phone for a few years. But since I've moved out on my own, gotten a real job, and bought a house, I began to seriously doubt my ability get all the details right, and yet I also balked at the thought of paying someone a hundred bucks to do it for me, since it didn't seem quite that complicated.

The result? I have filed my taxes online for the last several years. Online, I think you get the best mix of low-cost, ease of use, and accuracy. (This year, I filed my Federal and state taxes online $25 dollars in about two hours.) What's more, you get your tax return in less than 2 weeks, and the web-site you use to file your taxes will retain your records from year to year, greatly simplifying next year's return.

I'm not going to tell you which site I use, since I don't want this to be a big ad, but I will say it is one of the top two or three tax preparers in the country. I have been quite pleased, and I would imagine that the other top companies have websites that are just as easy to use.

A few other tax time tips:
  • File for free! If your adjusted gross income is less than 54,000 dollars, then you are entitled to file over the internet for FREE! Check out the IRS website for details: http://www.irs.gov/efile/article/0,,id=118986,00.html.
  • If you file in Utah and don't itemize, there is NO NEED to pay extra money to e-file your state tax return. Utah already has a very easy to use website at https://secure.utah.gov/taxexpress/taxexpressweb. All you have to do is take 2 numbers from your federal tax return, fill them in on the Utah Tax website, and then you can easily file your taxes and get your return electronically deposited in just a few days.
  • Despite what you may think, you DO NOT want a huge tax return in April. If you have a huge tax return, that means that your company has been withholding a lot more of your earnings than are needed. This frequently happens to those that make large charitable contributions (like Church members) or first time home buyers (mortgage interest is a deduction) . The way to reduce your withholding is to file a new W-4 with your employer. The IRS has a convenient calculator that you can use to fill out a W-4 that will safely allow you to minimize your federal tax withholding. The calculator takes into account charitable contributions you plan on making, interest you'll pay on your house, 401k contributions, how much you're going to earn for the rest of the year, and how much in taxes you've already paid.
  • Know when to use a professional. If you own your own business, have lots of deductible expenses, inherited a large amount of money, or do a lot of investing, taxes can get very complicated very fast, and a professional is most certainly worth the money. My parents filed their own taxes for years, and the very first year they went to an accountant, they saved several thousand dollars; not just for the current year, but for previous years as well.
  • Plan for future taxes. Your tax liability will always be changing, but you can make decisions now to reduce your tax liability in the future. For example, if you're single with a high paying job, then you might consider contributing heavily to pre-tax retirement accounts, or buying a home instead of renting -- as these will effectively reduce your taxable income.
I suppose I should close this post with the obligatory quote about death and taxes, but I'll refrain.



I thought these Valetines posted on Woot.com last week were hilarious! I even handed them out at a ward activity. They were actually a huge hit! Only one person accused me of being bitter. Since when is tongue-in-cheek being bitter?


People are like...

People are like:
  • ants. We spend most of our lives making piles of things, building places to keep our piles, and then moving those piles around. Example: We make piles of dirty laundry. We move the piles downstairs to wash them. When clean, we pile the folded clothes back into the dresser. When our piles get to big for the house, we get a bigger house.
  • hamsters. Put us on a wheel, and we'll run for hours, going absolutely nowhere, and for no apparent reason. We even drink out of plastic water bottles, though they are rarely affixed the side of gym by old bread bag twist ties.
  • dogs. We look like we're listening intently, but the moment you turn your back, we'll probably go do the exact opposite of what you told us to do. We also chase our tails and love people who might be mean to us.
  • cats. We love to be petted when it suits us, but pretty much want to be left alone the rest of the time. We tolerate your presence only because you feed us.
  • goats. We'll eat anything.
  • pigeons. Scatter around an incentive, and we'll flock together in a chaotic frenzy. When it's all over, we don't care where the poop lands.



This house above belonged to my great great grandfather. (Specifically: my mother's father's mother's father.) He was a dry farmer in southeast Idaho. My grandpa spent his childhood summers at this house. Every year, soon after Salt Lake schools let out, grandpa's dad would take the whole family up, and they would spend the summer living there on the farm.

It's hard to imagine what it looked like back in those days. Grandpa reports that It was probably 20 feet by 30 feet altogether. They stayed up in the attic, which was divided into two rooms by blankets hung from a line: boys on one side, girls on the other. They played in the creek, despite the admonitions of their aunt. They searched for lost cows and occasionally milked some. They rode the plow team with long willow switches at the ready to keep the team working together.

Sounds idyllic, doesn't it? Though I dearly love my modern amenities: plumbing, electricity, internet, a big part of me yearns to have spent my summers on a farm like that.

The very real irony for me is that I've driven past this house hundreds and hundreds of times, barely cognizant of its existence. My extended family mostly resides in Salt Lake, while I grew up and consider myself from southeast Idaho. Every single time I've made the trip from Idaho to Salt Lake and back (and in my adult years, the reverse trip), I've passed that house at 75 miles an hour without any thought.

I suppose that intellectually I was aware of its presence, as my mom told me about it on more than one trip while I was engrossed in my GameBoy or some book. It wasn't until I actually sat down with Grandpa and saw this picture that I really thought about the connection of this land to my own life. Driving past it now, you'd think it was unremarkable; the farmland lies fallow and desolate along perhaps the straightest 30 mile section of interstate you've ever seen. And yet, this very land kept my grandpa entertained for months on end.

You can never overestimate the value of knowing where you come from.


Phone ... Bill?

When I first moved into my new house back in June, I did my best to anticipate all the little things that would need to be taken care of. I filed change of address forms, updated my driver's license, and made sure that the power and gas utilities were changed to my name.

It was no small surprise, then, that while I was traveling on business in California that I received a phone call from my panicked roommate. There was a notice on the door that the water was going to be shut off for the unpaid water bill. I had assumed, erroneously, it turned out, that the city would just send me a bill, at which point I would pay it and go on my merry way. Not so...

Trying to make sure that this most essential of utilities would not be deactivated, I called city hall:

Me: "I got a notice that you're going to shut off my water."

Lady: (after some clicking on a keyboard) "Yes, we're going to shut it off on Friday if you don't pay the outstanding bill before then."

Me: "I had no idea I had an outstanding bill. You haven't sent me anything."

Lady: "You don't get a bill until you come in and sign up."

Me: "Can't you send the bill to the house? You guys obviously know where I live."

Lady: (simply) "That's not how it works."

Me: (honestly perplexed) "Okay... If you'd like, I can fax or e-mail you the sign up form and pay the bill over the phone."

Lady: "Um... I don't think we can do that."

Me: "Well, I'm in California right now for work. I can't be there until Tuesday."

Lady: "But, we're going to shut off the water on Friday if you don't pay it."

Me: "Can you just NOT shut off my water until I can get there to pay it?"

Lady: (impatiently) "... you're using water that no one is paying for..."

Me: "I understand that. I'm not trying to steal the water, I just don't know how this works. I'm more than happy to pay the bill right now. Do you take VISA?"

Lady: "Uh, we only take checks."

Me: "Then you're going to have to wait until Tuesday. Until then, can you tell your water guy to NOT shut off the water?"


Finally, she relents and decides to leave the water on. She does, however, take my name over the phone. On Tuesday, I go in, sign the form, pay a deposit, the outstanding bill, and fully legitimize my use of the city's water. At least, I thought I had everything legit until I got my first bill. The name on my first bill? "Don Viffer."