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Battling IRS' Bureaucratic 'Bafflegab'

September 05, 1985|DON G. CAMPBELL | Times Staff Writer

Question: After coping all of my adult life with the idiocies perpetrated by the Internal Revenue Service, I thought I had just about seen everything and was beginning to take heart in the apparent sincerity in Washington about simplifying the whole tax procedure. Hah!

That was before my accountant called me in mid-August to make sure that I had filed my Form 5500-C and my Schedule P.

I asked what on earth (cleaning up my language a bit) Form 5500-C and Schedule P are. These, it seems, are new reporting forms required for those of us who, years ago, were foolish enough to open a small Keogh Plan (HR-10) for the self-employed--a tax-deferred investment program comparable to the later Individual Retirement Account.

In my own case, this Keogh Plan was opened with a mutual fund about 20 years ago, and I have contributed very little to it in recent years--it has simply been sitting there accumulating reinvested dividends--and no "reporting" on it has ever been required. Now, suddenly, my wife and I (she has an HR-10 too) are being treated like General Motors reporting on the status of a retirement plan for thousands of employees.

Form 5500-C turns out to be a six-page horror containing questions like this: "Information about employees of employer at end of the plan year. (A) Does the plan satisfy the percentage test of Code section 410(b)(1)(A)? If 'No' complete only (b) below and see Specific Instructions."

Now, I ask you, what sort of layman is even going to know what this means, particularly as it applies to a single individual's one-time, simple mutual fund investment in a Keogh Plan? I also had to make a special trip to the Federal Building to pick this thing up.

Worse yet, the deadline for filing this mess was Aug. 30 and, failing there, a $25-a-day penalty will be extracted.

Also, it seems, only the "fiduciary" (in our case the two mutual funds involved) can supply us with this Schedule P, which they also have to sign. Frantic calls were made to both our accountant and the IRS, and long-distance calls to our mutual funds asking why we were never supplied with this essential information.

The accountant's advice: Apply for an extension to stave off the $25-a-day fine. This was done--more postage.

Obviously, no one--even the mutual funds involved--know what in the name of heaven the IRS wants: My wife's fund sent her a properly made-out Schedule P, but no instructions on how to fill out the Form 5500-C, without which it is totally incomprehensible. My mutual fund sent me some fragmentary instructions for filling out Form 5500-C, but no Schedule P. Another long-distance call: "Oh, we didn't know we were supposed to supply that!"

Meanwhile, our application for an extension was delayed, because both of us failed to provide our "employer identification number" (for 20 years this has simply been our respective Social Security numbers) and our "three-digit plan number." How to provide this information, of course, was only received when the two mutual funds provided it--and which we, obviously, didn't have when we applied for the extension and which is why we needed the extension in the first place.

This paper shuffling for the sake of paper shuffling is the sort of idiocy that has made the entire tax structure such a laughingstock. What on earth is all of this supposed to prove? Both Keogh plans are for individuals; the income accrued is tax-deferred and is none of the government's business until we begin to draw from it. This is the way Uncle Sam is supposed to be encouraging self-retirement to take some of the burden off Social Security?

I have had a needless trip to the Federal Building, the expense of at least three long-distance calls and have already spent about $3 on postage and I've missed the deadline. Is there any rational explanation for this nonsense?

The final irony is the tag line that appears under the heading "Application for Extension of Time," to wit: "For Paperwork Reduction Act Notice, see Instructions."--D.C.

Answer: Why does this remind us of the apocryphal story coming out of World War II about the sailor who was stationed for a one-year tour of duty on a lonely Pacific atoll tending a one-man weather station? Bored beyond belief, the sailor began sending monthly reports back to headquarters along this line:

Monthly Fly Report for March Flies exterminated with spray.........12,378

Flies exterminated by hand...............639

Flies exterminated otherwise (swatter) .1,252

Total .................................14,269

The reports were never acknowledged, and at the end of his year of duty, the sailor was given leave in Honolulu and his place was taken by another sailor.

After two months, the following, crackling, wire from headquarters was received by the baffled new man: "Explain fullest and soonest reason for missing fly reports for Jan-Feb."

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