Monday, February 25, 2013

Tax Returns Day Two


Sunday morning dawned gray and dreary, but as the morning passed the sun came out and the weather warmed into the 40s. There were definite signs of spring outside. It was a great day to breathe in the fresh almost-spring air.

But it was not to be experienced outdoors – at least not by us. Hub and I had more important things to do. The activity was not important to us, but of great importance to our creditors – the governments of the United States of America and the state of New Jersey. Do not pay what is owed by the due date and the consequences could be dire…monetary penalties…lots and lots of official-looking documents dropped at our door…legal fees…even the threat of or actual jail.

We do not have the time, energy, money, or patience to deal with any of those consequences. So we hunker down every year to the inevitable – filling out tax forms indicating whether or not we paid our taxes, and whether or not we owe more money or the government owes us money. The latter has not happened in years.

The inevitable day arrived. Tax Returns Day.

Tax Returns Day One was a failure. We spent the afternoon waiting for tech support to help us obtain a workable TurboTax program. We successfully got our program, but lost time. No forms filled out on Day One.

So now it was time. Again. Tax Returns Day Two.

Hub and I settled into semi-comfortable positions at the dining room table. Hub sat in front of Mac. A blue folder stuffed with W-2s, 1099s, and other tax-related documents rested on the table in front on me.

We began the slow, tedious process. I dictated while hub keyed in the data.

It was not very long before we got a shock – we owed New Jersey over $8,000.

How could that be?

State taxes were withheld from hub’s paycheck. We might owe a few bucks – but $8,000??

I know the state needs money. But we a not one percenters opening our wallets to bankroll causes of concern. Even if we opened our wallet the contents would be very disappointing. $8,000???

Hub was panicking. Break out the Scotch!

I was not freaking out. It had to be a mistake. After all we were victims in 2012 – Sandy had already taken a chunk of our cash. And this was state taxes. Jersey taxes are high, but this was ridiculous…

Let us not panic, I counseled. Let us finish the returns and see what happens. We have time to figure out the problem and make corrections. It is only February.

And so we continued. I ploughed through charity donation letters and receipts (so how much were those bags of clothes worth?), bank statements (the taxes due on our $10.06 in interest will be a bonanza to Uncle Sam), and the afternoon wore on…

And on…

Hub took a break and I slinked into his chair, determined to find the error resulting in a boon to Governor Christie but a bust for us. I reviewed the numbers keyed into the employment information, carefully read each screen and ensured the correct answer was marked, each time moving on to the next page.

And – voila!

It was a miracle!

Suddenly our debt to the state was reduced from $8,000 to just over $3,000. We were making progress!

The afternoon wore on, the sun began to fade, shadows appeared, a chill replaced the warmth, and a weariness began to descend upon the two humans toiling over a computer in a deserted island town next to shores recently devastated by Superstorm Sandy.

Am I getting too emotional? Dramatic? Depressing? Exhausted?

All of the above.

Thank goodness tax time comes only once a year.

We finally completed the federal and state forms.

TurboTax congratulated us!

We owe some money to Uncle Sam, but less than last year (Yeah!).

We still owe Governor Christie and the state of New Jersey too much money. I have to make a couple of phone calls tomorrow in an attempt to figure out the problem. Is it a quirk in the software, a data entry mistake, a secret plan by the state of New Jersey to bankrupt us, a Mac malicious prank, or another reason yet to be discovered?

There are 48 days until Tax Deadline Day, 48 days to determine the cause, fix the forms, and save our wallet.

It is not panic time – yet.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Tax Returns Day One


It was a gray, rainy, wet, cold Saturday afternoon. The sun was not going to shine. The rain would lessen from a steady downpour to a drizzle, but the dampness discouraged any outdoor entertainment.

It was a perfect couch potato day. Prepare a pot of coffee, cup of tea or mug of hot chocolate. Don sweats and warm, comfy socks. Relax with a book or computer. Maybe take a nap.

It would have been lovely. But it was not to be.

This was the afternoon hub and I designated Tax Return Day. We would do a preliminary return, make sure we had all necessary paperwork, run the numbers and dread the result.

We would then put aside the forms until closer to the April 15th filing deadline. There would be a final review before e-filing. The past few years we owed Uncle Sam a few bucks. We like to hold onto our cash as long as possible.

Our 2012 TurboTax (Deluxe edition) was purchased a couple of weeks ago at Staples. The CD sat upstairs, far from my laptop, alone and lonely, waiting and anxious to do its job.

Tax Return Time finally arrived.

I turned my computer on and it purred softly, waiting patiently.

I grabbed the CD box and immediately handed it to hub. It was encased in a transparent plastic shell sealed tightly around a thin, rectangular box. I found the seal impossible to open. Hub used his manly skills to free the CD.

I carefully removed the disk from its case and placed it in my Mac. Mac whirred, coughed – then ejected the disk.

I tried a second time. Again the disk was rejected and ejected.

We had a problem. Was it the disk or computer?

The next step was tech support - a scary, chancy, often frustrating experience.

I located the TurboTax web site and eventually found my way to the chat room. We were number 95 in the queue.

We watched the screen and waited. And waited.

Number 89.

It was going to be a long wait. Not one to waste time, I decided to begin preparing dinner while standing (just a quaint pre-computer figure of speech) in the queue line. I peeled and sliced three large potatoes and placed them in a pot to boil.

Number 75.

I peeled and placed garlic in my garlic roaster, and set it in the oven to bake.

Number 68.

Sliced and sautéed an onion.

Number 59.

Brussel sprouts were washed and sliced, mixed with olive oil, salt and pepper and spread on a flat baking sheet.

Number 54.

Prepared the flounder. Placed three portions of fish (my sister-in-law was coming to dinner) in a baking dish, poured white wine over the fish and sprinkled with paprika and pepper.

Number 47.

The potatoes were done. Drained and smashed them, mixed in the sautéed onion, an egg, low fat sour cream, roasted garlic and pepper. Poured the concoction into a baking dish.

Number 29. Now we were rolling…

Rinsed utensils, bowls and dishes and placed in dishwasher.

Number 22.

Put away spices and other ingredients.

Number 18.

Stared at the computer for a few minutes. Skimmed through the newspaper.

Number 10.

Hub was losing patience and getting testy. Experienced our first mini-fight of the 2012 tax season.

Number 7.

Hub broke out the Scotch and relished his first tax season drink.

Number 5.

Almost there…

Number 2.

It was OUR TURN!

NunbarKumba sends a message appearing in bright red print on my computer screen. Hurrah! (I am not sure of the spelling of Nunbar’s name. I am not even sure that is his name. It could be an Indian term for Customer Service Representative).

The computer conversation commenced.

Messages raced back and forth. Questions were asked and answered. Chat man was in India, where it was the middle of the night. Three a.m. to be exact. Hub and I were thousands of miles away on the East coast of the U.S., irritated by the delay and lamenting our tax woes before even starting to fill out the formidable IRS forms.

The outcome was, fortunately, a happy one. NunbarKumba did whatever was necessary behind the scenes that allowed a download of the latest version of TurboTax 2012 at no cost.

There were a couple of false starts. My computer briefly lost internet connection when attempting to see the TurboTax download web page. Then the first program downloaded (all the way from India!) was the Microsoft version of the program. The correct software was finally successfully transferred.

We were ready to begin the tough job of filling out our federal and state tax forms.

By now it was close to dinnertime. Neither hub nor I had the enthusiasm, energy, or motivation to begin the hard work ahead of us. It had been a trying afternoon.

We agreed to start our tax returns tomorrow.

Will the TurboTax program open and work without incident?

Will our marriage survive another year of tax return madness?

Will we owe $$ again this year?

Do we have all documents needed to complete our taxes?

What nourishment will we consume to sustain us through the ordeal?

Do we have enough Scotch?

Stay tuned for the next installment.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Two Strokes Down


Hub and I are experiencing the Mom (my mother-in-law) blues. Mom had a stroke – her second one – three weeks ago. It has been a whirlwind of one hospital visit and two rehabilitation facility sojourns ever since.

Mom is a feisty, independent woman adamant about doing things her way. You say turn right and she will turn left. She intuitively fights everything. The topic under discussion is irrelevant. Life is one contest and competition after another.

And of course Mom is always right. Whatever the conversation, the decision, or the problem, she states the answer or solution, and that is the end of it. Argument or disagreement is futile.

She is strong-willed and, for her age (87), physically strong. Medical personnel are amazed how strong she still is after her recent stroke.

Mom has not been doing well for quite awhile. We are currently wrestling with the problem of whether or not she will be able to return to her assisted living facility or if she should move into a nursing home.

Mom suffers from depression and has been in a funk for weeks. It is difficult to rouse her to do anything. The rehab staff finds it difficult to get her out of bed, dressed, and into therapy.

Sunday morning three weeks ago the assisted living staff called us, fearing Mom had a stroke or other medical situation. Her speech slurred and she was having difficulty responding to questions and instructions. She spent three days in the hospital, and then transferred to a rehabilitation facility.

Mom flunked out of rehab #1. Medicare pays for rehab but establishes strict guidelines. Patients must participate in three hours of therapy a day. Mom was not cooperative and spurned therapy (physical, occupational, and speech).

The next stop – her current temporary home – is what the medical community calls a sub-acute rehabilitation facility. Medicare pays, but guidelines are not as aggressive as in rehab #1. Patients are supposed to participate in two hours of therapy a day, but there is leeway. The important criterion is to demonstrate progress.

Physical therapy involves walking, moving hands and feet, sitting and standing, and safety issues. Mom lost peripheral vision in her left eye as a result of the stroke. Initially when walking (with a walker) she veered off to the right. Therapy helped her realize and compensate for the problem.

Occupational therapy works on ADL – activities of daily living. Getting dressed, eating, washing, showering, etc. The goal is to help the individual accomplish as much as possible independently.

It has been difficult stirring Mom to do anything except eat three meals a day, delivered bedside. Occasionally a persistent nurse, therapist or CNA gets her dressed, into a wheelchair and into the gym for a therapy session. But consistency and routine are alien behaviors for Mom.

“I went to therapy yesterday. Leave me alone,” is a common refrain.

She requested her glasses – large sunglasses she wears indoors – and pocketbook. I brought these items this morning. With the help of a therapist and a lot of pleading Mom sat up and got dressed. She was wheeled to therapy wearing sunglasses with her pocketbook on her lap. If it makes her feel better mentally and emotionally, great. Maybe she will want to improve enough to return to her apartment in the assisted living community – and work towards that goal.

Tomorrow is another day.

Will she refuse to open her eyes, acknowledge visitors and shoo us away, insisting on sleeping?

Or will she willingly get up, get dressed and participate in therapy – and life?

No one knows for sure.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Body Not So Beautiful Anymore Part Two


What? What? WHAT?

OK, I admit it. I do not hear everything anymore. (Not that I always heard everything - I never did - but that is beside the point.)

Age works against our ears. 30 percent of adults 65-74 experience some level of hearing loss. 47 percent of seniors 75 and older suffer a certain degree of hearing loss. 

I am not yet 65 and already a statistic.

Last week I walked into a classroom and sat down. A woman strolled in and took a seat in front of me, next to the instructor. She asked if I minded, and mentioned she recently purchased new hearing aids, were still adjusting them, and strained at times to hear what was going on.

Of course I did not mind.

I am her.

I realize hearing aids will not completely solve my hearing problems.

Hearing aids will not correct the fact that I am tone deaf. I still will be unable to sing one note correctly or hear music the way ‘normal’ people experience the sounds.

I will probably continue to get so engrossed in certain activities – reading, writing, watching TV, daydreaming, that everything else is tuned out and I do not hear people approach and talk to me.

My ‘selective hearing’, a problem that can probably be traced to childhood, will persist. It happens occasionally when asked to do something I am not motivated to do immediately. The words do not register or make it to the brain.

I do not yet have new hearing aids. I am thinking about it. Reading about devices. Planning the acquisition. Examining my checkbook. Everything but actually making a purchase.

The average price in the U.S. for digital hearing aids is $1,500; top-of-the-line devices can set a buyer back $3,000 to $5,000.

That is marginally more than coffee money. OK, it is a whole lot more than lots of Starbucks latte ventis.

The idea of spending so much money hurts.

Is there any way to dull the pain?

I am searching for cheap/reasonably priced hearing aids. Nowadays less expensive (less than $1,500) ones can be purchased online. Costco sells hearing aids. Are they comparable to more expensive ones or is the quality inferior? The data is unclear.

AARP even has a consumer guide to hearing aids. 

I am working on an alternative, looking for a foreign country to enjoy a great vacation and buy quality hearing aids at a reasonable price.

Travel for medical procedures is not unusual. India and other Asian countries are known for orthopedic work and bypass surgery. Costa Rica and Hungary are destinations for dental work. Hungary has more dentists per capita than any other country in the world. Brazil is well-known worldwide for cosmetic surgery. Other countries foreigners travel to for medical treatment include Malaysia, Mexico, Thailand, South Korea, Singapore, and Mexico. Most of these countries have Western-trained doctors fluent in English.

I have not yet found a place for hearing aids. But I am not ready to give up and head for my nearest Costco.

My quest for workable, reasonably priced, quality devices continues.

And so does what what WHAT?