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Fabulous Fed Fun…

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Sep 9, 2009 in Fail

One of my classmates in undergrad was a British exchange student, and he seemed to derive great pleasure in referring to me as a “queer bird” whenever we talked about politics (you have to imagine it being said in a thick British accent for full effect).

I’m a registered Republican, once-upon-a-time the youngest elected Vice Chairman in the history of the Wake County GOP… only to get thrown out of the party by the same folks 2 years later for being “too liberal,” then spending most of the years since electing / working for / working with Democrats with whom I agree on almost nothing.1  My political views would generally be considered libertarian — quasi-neocon on taxes, firearms and national defense, with a “leave me the @#$% alone” philosophy on social issues like gay marriage and abortion — but unlike most big-L Libertarians I’m totally comfortable with the government taking on certain obligations (e.g. education) and even have a positive opinion of most government agencies like the US Postal Service.

And, as irony would have it, the IRS.

It’s not that I particularly like them, but I recognize the jobs they do are necessary for any complex, functional nation-state.  And — having worked for a handful of state agencies myself — I know most of the positions are filled by individuals who are individually rational and competent, even if the bureaucratic mosaic they compose lends itself to some of the most profound idiocy imaginable.

So today really shouldn’t have been a surprise to me.  But oohhhh it was…

Let me first give you some background on me. I’ve mentioned in a couple posts already that I’m a former college dropout:  I started as a freshman at N.C. State University in August 1998 and by June 2000 was essentially thrown out because I couldn’t pay off my bill.2

So there I am at 19, a bundle of freshly minted fail, loading trucks from 3am-8am at UPS to make ends meet.  I eventually get a low-paying gig as a file clerk at a law firm, which leads to a slightly less low-paying gig as a paralegal, and so on.  Over the next few years I compile a pretty banging résumé and some crazy war stories, but realize I make a laughable salary, my life isn’t really going anywhere sans college degree, and I’m basically just treading water.

But I owe N.C. State $16K+ before they’ll let me re-enroll.

Determined not to waste my life doing nothing, I decide to take a gamble:  I intentionally underpay my income taxes for the FY2003 and FY2004 tax years, and offer up the money “saved” as a down payment to N.C. State  to convince them to let me pay off the balance in $550/mo increments from when I came back until I graduated.  I still filled out my tax returns fully and on time, and expected to pay the taxes owed along with the applicable penalties and interest once I had a degree and started making real money — even with those penalties and interest, a few thousand dollars is nothing insurmountable.

In one of those res ipsa loquitur moments of my life, the plan worked.  I came back to NC State in August 2005, had the full $16K I owed them paid off just over a year later,3 set up a payment plan with the IRS to repay the back taxes, and graduated this past June with a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Science before heading off to the North Carolina Central University School of Law.  Things seemed to be going pretty doggone well compared to only a few years prior when I was working 60+ hour weeks between 2 jobs for a paycheck that barely covered the bills.

Fast forward to last Monday when I missed my classes.  I not only owe the IRS $0.00, but have ample documentation that I owe them $0.00 because I’m a packrat and generally don’t throw away financial records (I’ve even got bank statements from my first savings account my grandmother opened for me in the early 1990s.  I’m that bad.).  I check my PO Box in Raleigh — the staff there being one of the main reasons I like the Postal Service :) — and see a notice that the IRS is going to levy my bank account for $611.51.  I drive in-person to the IRS office in Durham to get the situation handled… only to find the office inexplicably closed until 1pm when its posted hours are 8am-5pm Monday-Friday.

So after missing Civil Procedure and spending the afternoon killing time, I go back around 12:30pm where a line is starting to queue up.  The office opens with an impressive -1- employee working in a space roughly the size of a few law school classrooms stacked together.  I wait about 2 hours before getting seen.  Explain my situation.  Get a cordial response.  The IRS agent is understanding and gives me 2 copies of a Form 668-D indicating the levy is released, telling me to keep a copy for myself and give the other to my bank.  I then drive straight to my local branch, see a customer service rep there, hand them the levy release, and they mail it off to the bank’s legal order processing folks in New York.

This is all 2 Mondays ago.  August 31st.  So I log into my account today to find… a $611.51 tax levy debited, with an extra $100.00 “legal processing fee” thrown in for the hell of it.

I call the bank, who tells me to call the IRS.

I call the IRS, who tells me to call the bank.

I call a different person at the bank, who forwards me to a 3rd person’s voicemail because she has no clue wtf is going on.  I’m sufficiently pissed off at this point that my ears burn and my face looks like a tomato.

After Torts, I drive in-person to the bank branch and politely ask them to contact the legal processing folks in New York to figure out the situation.  The people in NY have no record of the levy release, even though they got other mail from that same branch office mailed that same day.  Why no record of the release?  Because the IRS sent them the levy notice Friday 09/04/09 — aka an entire workweek after my in-person meeting with them — so when the bank’s people would have received my little piece of mail some time around the Wednesday or Thursday prior, there was no levy in their system for the release to affect.

I’ll sidestep my annoyance at the bank — yeah they should probably have done a better job at data entry, but they’ve been good to me on a host of issues for years now (including a crazy identity theft incident that turned into a total cluster@#$%).  But the IRS… the glorious and amazing IRS… somehow sent an erroneous levy notice days after the branch office gave me a release and documented in their little national database that I owed $0.00.

I could understand a screw-up of this magnitude back in the era when everything was documented on ledger sheets and networked computers didn’t exist.  But if I can access an account by my Social Security Number on IRS.gov, there’s no reason for less-than-realtime updates from a branch office — and at the very least that same branch office providing a release form should tip off whatever office is issuing levies that… well… there’s no grounds for the levy.

So now I get to wait 48 hours or so for the bank to credit my account the $611.51 the government essentially stole from me, and will likely have to fill out an IRS Form 8546 to get reimbursed at some point for the bank’s $100.00 legal order processing fee caused by the government’s incompetence.  Not to mention the hours wasted on the phone and in person trying to get things fixed when I probably should have been studying CivPro.

And bear in mind I’m pretty damn lucky in this situation — my tuition refund covers my expenses for the entire semester, so I can afford to be short $700 for a couple months.  Imagine if I was regular taxpayer providing for a family and living paycheck-to-paycheck…

Anyhow, sorry for the rant.  I had some legit law-related stuff to blog about but really just needed to get that off my chest.  Back to normal posting tomorrow :)

Have a great night everybody! :D

  1. Political types refer to it as “seeking retribution” ;) []
  2. The whole situation was a *lot* more convoluted and wtf-able than that, but I need a few drinks to retell it with adequate exasperation :) []
  3. Thanks to my already impoverished grandparents moving heaven and Earth to make sure I graduated — I <3 you Nan and Pops!! []

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