Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Taxes, Flat Tires, and the Joys of Outsourcing

I didn't go to work yesterday.

Nothing illegal, unethical, or defiant about that. As the Navy giveth, I'll taketh -- with 2.5 days a month being added to the till, coupled all the others stored up in the account, I'm staring down the barrel of a whole bunch of off days between now and September. I've thought about it quite a bit and determined that I'll get far more bang for my proverbial buck by spreading the days out in ones and twos than I would from storing them all up for a big month of nothing doing (experience teaches me that too many days off in a row is not always good).

Anyway, back to yesterday. One of my major, written goals for the day was knocking out that pesky tax return which had been looming over my head for some time. What normally wouldn't be all that complicated changed this year because: a) I became a homeowner, and b) I sold a bunch of the securities I picked up with deployment income in order to do it.

I thought it wouldn't be that bad -- just follow the prompts on TurboTax, and voila...right?

Turns out it wasn't really that simple. I wasn't sure what all the prompts were really asking, I didn't know which of the errors actually required validating, and I didn't know whether certain pieces of information were needed by the IRS or were just there for general reference.

After far too many minutes (hours?) on hold with the folks at TurboTax, Vanguard, and Bank of America trying to solve all the problems I was having with importing 1099s, I decided it was time to make a foray into the *Tax District* on Central Street (y'know, the area between the Canal and Jackson Street where all the tax help stores or shells thereof sit between the beauty salons or shells thereof).

I'm incredibly glad I did. The missus and I trudged down through the wintry mix, we encountered some friendly, helpful folks at H & R Block, and got down to work. I answered a bunch of questions, printed out a whole bunch of forms (thankfully the W-2 and all the 1099s and everything else were all online), and learned a lot from someone who does this for a living.

We wrapped everything up just before seven, and guess what? The refund they came up with was the same one that I generated with TurboTax, right down to the last digit.

Guess what else? That doesn't make the trip or the money spent a *waste.* In fact, far from it. By heading down there, meeting with a real person (if you remember my earlier post about this, I always hit zero as soon as I encounter a phone tree), I bought a huge amount of peace of mind that I won't be spending the next 5-10 years making license plates in Walpole. I learned about potential deductions to look out for next year, I found out about other quirks in the process, and I got what was essentially a *sanity check* (a term I always use when I want to run an idea or thought process past someone else for general calibration).

Bottom Line: I'm quite glad I went and I'll happily do the same next year. Any sense of pride of having *done it myself* or of conquering the byzantine U.S. Tax Code is far outweighed by the relief that I felt immediately upon leaving that office yesterday and heading back down Central and then Market back to home.

The last time I thought about how great it is to call the pros, it was pouring rain, it was near dark, my cell phone battery was near death, and I had a flat tire on 290 just east of Shrewsbury. Even with a good spare in the trunk I put a call into AAA.

Within less than 15 minutes, there was a big truck behind me with some nice big flashing lights. Even if I had had a jack (I didn't) and been able to do it myself, having that massive truck with the big flashing lights behind me took a potentially VERY dangerous situation (run the numbers on the danger of changing tires by the side of a busy highway...it's scary..for a local example look what happened to the girl on the Connector a couple years ago) and made it way safer. I could see car after car changing lanes to avoid the situation entirely, despite the rain, the overcast sky, and the rapid onset of darkness.

In both situations, I paid a nominal sum (I say *nominal* relative to the potential extreme cost of NOT using either service) to a trained professional and was able to turn a potentially vexing, stressful situation into a smooth ride home, literally and then figuratively.

As I like to say, all skills are great to have for when they're *really* needed (firing a weapon, driving a standard, changing a tire, etc.)

However, to the degree that I can help it, I'll save those examples for the real emergencies. Wherever else possible, I'll happily outsource.

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