Sometimes I get a little overexcited. In the good way (which my coworker commented on earlier when I earnestly told another coworker that the law of diminishing comedic returns did, in my opinion, apply to the number of Bigfoot mentions per episode in The Newsroom), but also in a bad way. Sometimes I let my emotions (and my anxiety, and the feelings of helplessness and hopelessness that lurk in the back of a depressive mind) run away with me until all I can think is “I can’t do this. I can’t do this.”
Let me back up.
At my internship I’m paid as an independent contractor, which means my employer doesn’t take out my taxes; I do it myself. I also pay both the employer and employee taxes (and because of this I get a deduction). Independent contractors have the choice to pay their income tax in small amounts four times a year (quarterly) or in one big amount on April 15th with everyone else.
This is a totally valid method of payment, especially for a temporary employee like an intern. Unfortunately it makes life a little complicated.
When I lived in Los Angeles I worked part-time as a personal assistant’s assistant (only in LA, let me tell you), where I was also paid as an independent contractor. This kind of bit me in the ass in the spring because I foolishly disregarded my mother’s advice to set aside a percentage of every paycheck to, you know, pay my taxes, so I owed the government a lot more than I was expecting. So this time around, I decided that I was going to be an adult and set aside the tax so I wouldn’t blow it all on books and soda or whatever I spend my money on (pretty much just those two things).
Here’s the thing about being an adult: it’s kind of stupid. And I don’t even have a house or a husband or a kid or anything, so God only knows how I’m going to survive the next 70 to 80 years of my life. My problem was that I a) didn’t really understand how the estimated taxes worked, no matter how often my dad tried to explain them to me and b) whenever I tried to figure it out it would trigger a panic attack. So there I was, trying to be all responsible and simultaneously annoying my parents (who know as much about quarterly taxes and 1099s as I do) and making myself sick while I was doing it.
But tonight was a Friday, and I had a pretty solid week, and I was excited about seeing some friends tomorrow and I had good news to tell my therapist, so I figured… why not tackle my taxes tonight? So I did.
The first thing I learned is that the next quarterly payment is due in 10 days. The next thing I learned is that even if you take the lines one at a time there will always be a section of weirdly worded legalese that will trip you up. There were a couple isolated crying moments, a lot of swearing when my (borrowed) internet crapped out, one full-fledged panic attack, a half-written stream-of-consciousness email to my dad (I wanted to call him, but it’s late in Massachusetts, so I treated a blank message in my mail client like my father to try to work through some confusion. It was… actually surprisingly helpful). Then came a moment of pure joy when I realized that my mother is in Oregon with my sister (and thus in a time zone where it’s 7:30 pm!) so I called her.
To her credit, she was a great help. Especially for someone who has never filed estimated or quarterly taxes. She listened to me sob and choke out my issues and then she calmly said, “Laura. It’s estimated.”
“I KNOW,” I wailed. “But is it what I’ve been paid so far or what I’m probably going to get paid by the end of the year?”
“Just do what you’ve been paid so far.”
“But they want to know my required annual payment based on last year’s tax and I looked it up online and it said it would give me step by step instructions but all it gave me was an example and there were so many numbers and it really confused me!”
At this point I stopped to take a (deep, shuddering) breath, trying to stave off another panic attack, and my mom’s calm (slightly frustrated voice) broke through everything.
“Laura, it doesn’t matter how much you pay them. Either you pay them too much now and they’ll give you a deduction or you’ll pay too little and you’ll owe some more in April.”
It sounded way too easy. After all there was the work sheet! And the forms! And line 10 subtracted from line 8 and multiplied by 92.35%! My mother calmly assured me that the worksheet was just a worksheet, and that the IRS had no use for it.
You guys, it was like a light went on in my mind. I could give them five bucks (I won’t) and they would just credit it to my tax account and then in April they would just send me a bill (so to speak) for 295 bucks (or whatever I owed based on my 1099).
The IRS didn’t want rocket science. They just wanted money. Like a deposit.
So the moral of the story is that sometimes you just need to take a step back (or five) and call your mom (which is the moral of every story) and that when you get down to it all the IRS wants is money–the paperwork is just a side bonus.