Aaron R. Davis
I’ve always liked to get my taxes in early. I could give you a litany of responsible reasons why — efficiency, not letting it sit, the one time when I was younger when I forgot to do it until the day they were supposed to be in, my wife and I file jointly so I want to not drag her down like the creosote-soaked chicken fat anchor I am — but, really, I just want my refund as quickly as possible. Especially when it’s a few thousand dollars we’re getting back.
This year, true to form, I did our taxes in the last week of January, as soon as I had the necessary W2’s in hand. I even efile so that I can get them in that much faster (read as: “get mah monies sooner”). Nothing to do but sit back and wait for my refund to be direct deposited.
And … wait.
I’m supposed to get my refund in a few days, and a week later, I’m still waiting for this money to show up. So I decide to follow official procedure and go to the IRS website and get a few numbers to dial. The first is a recording. The second, which is supposedly a local customer service line, is a recording (but with a phone tree this time, which leads precisely nowhere). The third is a specific number you can use to check on your refund status. When I call it and put in the personal information it wants, it helpfully tells me that my refund was direct deposited on the date it was supposed to be, so I have it already. Which I don’t, otherwise it would be in my bank and I wouldn’t be spending my day trying futilely to get in touch with that most mythical of modern creatures, an IRS customer service operator.
This is all of the fun and frustration of the modern world. Computer says it’s there, so it must be there, and you’re just not looking hard enough, dumbass. (I picture computers as secretly being mouthy, hostile and judgmental. You just know they’re sitting there, the picture of smug, inanimate superiority, logging your mistakes and figuring out how they’re going to rise and kill us all. And it’ll be so easy for them to do it, too …)
So now I’m being told I have my refund, even though I demonstrably don’t.
Meanwhile, as this is going on, the retail company my wife works for files for Chapter 11 and announces the closing of 200 stores, one of which my wife is manager of. So that’s just great. Now we really, really need our tax refund to help provide a cushion during my wife’s upcoming unemployment. Thank you, fate. It almost seemed like things were going well there for a minute, even with this IRS crap to deal with.
In a fit of lucidity, I decide to call my bank and ask if the IRS has even tried to deposit my refund. The guy I talk to is unusually helpful, something I no longer expect from my crappy, crooked, almost purposely confusing bank. He says there hasn’t been a single attempt to deposit anything from the IRS, although my state refund posted earlier that morning. We’re now about two weeks out from when the ironically-named refund helpline tells me my refund should’ve been in the bank and ready to become a series of rent checks.
So I finally decide that it’s time to force the IRS to talk to me. I am not getting off my phone until I reach a living, breathing person to talk to me on the phone and tell me what the deal is with my refund. I call a number: recording. I call another number: recording that tells me not to bother trying to leave a message because this site doesn’t take messages. I call the refund helpline: only the one option, which tells me I already have my refund. I finally just call the main IRS number: it’s a menu, with no option to talk to a real person (unless I know an extension), but it will be happy to connect me to the refund helpline.
I just press 0.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t get the number you dialed. Please pick from the following options…”
I press 0 again.
Different voice: “Please select an option from the main menu…”
I make a groan of frustration and press 0 a third time.
New voice: “Please hold for a customer service representative. Your call will be answered in the order it was received. Current wait time is 43 minutes.”
Triumph! I’m finally in line! I finally got through to the few humans that populate Daedalus’ IRS phone labyrinth! I’m starting to wonder if I get some sort of a reward for even getting to this point …
But first, I have to wait through nearly an hour of easy listening and repeated assurances that my call is important and that it may be monitored. And why do operators always answer the phone the moment you’ve gotten carried away by boredom and are really starting to groove to “All Out of Love” by Air Supply?
Well, at least someone picks up. This surly woman who sounds like my call is really friggin’ important to her aggressively demands to know if I’ve entered the correct bank account and routing numbers on my 1040, and then wonders aloud why I didn’t just check them myself. It’s only nine in the morning and she’s already talked to way too many people today; I’m just one more asshole begging for the money he’s been promised, and the inviting and warm muttering under her breath really doesn’t make me feel at all like a jerk for daring to ask about your mistake.
Oh, and it is their mistake, actually. They’ve tried to deposit into my bank account, they’ve just got two of the numbers backward. So the surly woman suddenly changes into the apologetic woman and tells me I’ve just got to wait four weeks from the original date of deposit for a check to come in the mail, which is SOP for refused deposits.
And let me tell you, this thing takes the four weeks. The entire four weeks, down to the last possible damn day. But at least it comes, and with the wife laid off, we’re going to need it.
And all of this, everything I’ve told you, has been prelude to the final twist ending. The cherry on top of this big shortcake of irritant.
Just a couple of days ago, on Saturday, I got a letter from the IRS in the mail. A letter marked “official business.” And I’m a little nervous, I admit, because no one wants to get a letter from the IRS marked “official business.” I can see all of my previous tax returns flashing before my eyes as I open the envelope …
And inside, there’s a letter telling me that there was an error in my direct deposit and that my refund would be coming in the mail instead.
You mean Bruce Willis was dead the whole time?!
Well gee, thanks! You know, if you’d just sent me that letter in the first place, and not a week after my refund arrived, you could have saved me a lot of annoyance, IRS.
It’s this sort of thing that really instills confidence in the ability of government institutions to weather something much bigger, you know?
Aaron R. Davis lives in a cave at the bottom of the ocean with his eyes shut tight and his fingers in his ears. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.