Saturday, February 21, 2004

Not So Painless
Today I got to take another step in my journey to discover the joys of adulthood. For the first time, I visited a tax professional. Oddly enough, this is entirely because last year I didn't have to pay taxes at all. The US, you see, has an agreement with Japan that if a US citizen earns income in Japan and is taxed in Japan, said citizen does not have to pay US tax on the same income. This would all be terribly convenient if it weren't for the fact that I paid the tax anyway, and then the IRS didn't sent me a refund. As near as I could tell, I followed all the relevant instructions. I filed for an extension, so I wouldn't actually be filing my return until after I had lived in Japan for more than 330 days, which is what it takes to establish proof of residency or whatever it's called. Then I sent my application for extension and my check for my estimated tax (which I shouldn't have done) off to the IRS back in the good ol' US of A. I got a cancelled check back from them after they deposited it, or cashed it to have a party to celebrate ignorant citizens who pay taxes they're not supposed to, or whatever it is they do with tax payments. When I got home in August, I filed my real return, and have never heard back from them since.

Hence, this year I decided to turn to the professionals. Good thing I did, too, because I still divide my years according to the school year, rather than the tax year, and I would have completely forgotten that half my income from 2003 was earned in Japan, and half here. Even the H&R Block man started to look confused as he pondered all the various forms he would need to fill out, not to mention how he was going to find out where my money from last year has gone. I'd feel sorry for him, except it's his job, and he'll be charging me money when he gets it all figured out. There's no possible way I'd be able to sort this all out myself. Which I suppose I've already conclusively proven, as the IRS has my $1000 from last year and I don't.

So let this be a lesson to any Americans out there reading this: if you go abroad, don't even try to do your own taxes when you come back. If you let someone else deal with it entirely, living and working abroad won't start to seem like it might have been more trouble that it was worth.

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