This will probably sound a little strange coming from someone who has reoccurring nightmares about having to retake high school calculus, but it’s the God’s honest truth. I believe in doing my own taxes.
I first did them six years ago, while living in New York City as an Americorps volunteer. It was my first full year out of college and the first time I couldn’t be claimed as a dependent. I was 23, a big girl living on her own in the big city, and my parents decided it was time to cut the leash.
I’d worked three different jobs in two states the previous year and had already been awarded one Americorps scholarship, which was considered income by the IRS. Hiring an accountant was out of the question – living on an Americorps stipend, I couldn’t even afford to go to the dentist. And at the time, I didn’t own a calculator, let alone a computer with Internet access.
This was going to be a challenge.
One of my favorite quotes is by Eleanor Roosevelt: “Do one thing every day that scares you.” Like many Americans, doing my taxes scared the crap out of me. I watch TV and movies and the news: Mess something up and I could go to jail, right? One decimal point out of place and forget ever becoming Secretary of State.
Summoning Eleanor’s ghost, I went to the public library that spring and picked up several copies of the required paperwork – the federal, state, and city booklets. I printed out the forms for Massachusetts, where I had worked for a few weeks between my Americorps terms. I collected all my W-2s and as many pencils with erasers as I could find. I set aside a weekend, I made myself a pot of coffee, and I did it.
And it wasn’t that bad. That’s not to say that I wasn’t intimidated by all the forms and little boxes and that I didn’t curse like a sailor along the way. I might even have cried a little when I realized that I owed the government the equivalent of a month’s salary. But I did it. Without going to jail.
I still do my taxes myself, though, as an Americorps alum, I now qualify for a free online service through H&R Block. I’m not married, I don’t have any kids, and I no longer work multiple jobs in multiple states, so the process is now pretty straightforward. Sure, some accountant probably could have found some additional deductions along the way, but I don’t really care. I took something that scared me and made it manageable. In fact, doing my taxes doesn’t scare me at all anymore. And I can rest assured that what I file every year is honest, accurate, and my own. So, if, by chance, the Obama administration comes knocking, asking me fill some cabinet post, the last thing I’ll have to worry about is going down in a career-ending tax scandal. I’ll be ready.