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How little would you have to owe to not pay taxes at all?

This is a good time to work on my records. I’ve resolved not to do anything crazy. (I still can’t understand why my dog isn’t considered a dependent. Nobody else is claiming him.)

That’s why we keep records, I suppose. My accounting isn’t very good, but I do try to keep everything straight. One of my biggest mistakes was the time I underpaid federal unemployment tax on my employee. A glitch in my computer worksheet caused me to under-report wages by about $200.

This led to an underpayment of federal unemployment in the amount of $1.94. When I found the error, I promptly sent the IRS a check for $1.94.

I wonder what it costs the government to process a check for $1.94? They probably thought I was fooling with them.

My error reminded me of the story a friend told me about an old codger he used to know. This fellow (we’ll call him Ralph) delighted in irritating the government. Ralph had a little plot of land that was pretty much worthless when he bought it. The property had no buildings, and the tax assessment was only 18 cents.

Over the years Ralph built his house out of some wood he found lying around. Then, he built a shop and began piling up scrap iron, just in case he might ever need it.

I should explain, those were the days when a man might build his own house without permits – and get away with it. If the house fell on him, everyone just chalked it up to education.

So, the county assessor might not have known Ralph had some improvements on his property. Or if the assessor knew, he may not have cared. The neighbors said it would take a pretty good stretch of imagination to call Ralph’s buildings improvements, anyway, so 18 cents was probably about right.

Either way, the taxes never went up or down. Each spring Ralph got a bill for property taxes in the outrageous amount of 18 cents.
The old rascal would pay his taxes right on time, but he never sent them 18 cents. He would always send a quarter, so the assessor’s office had to buy a 12-cent stamp to refund his overpayment of seven cents. That way the county received 18 cents, but it cost them 12 cents to collect it. They actually only got 6 cents out of the deal.

Pretty good, huh?

It was all part of the Sagebrush Rebellion, from Ralph’s point of view. He never could understand what the county was doing with all of that money, anyway.

I thought about Ralph when I wrote that check for $1.94 and sent it to the IRS. I can’t say that transaction made me feel any better, but I’ll bet it didn’t exactly make their day, either.

Readers with questions or comments for Roger Pond may write to him in care of this publication.

12/9/2009