W Bruce Cameron: Tax season is to taxpayers what duck season is to ducks. A tax audit, though, is different – sort of like digging up the duck and shooting it again.

To avoid tax audits, we employ accountants, people who can read the tax code without sobbing. Their job is to ferret out little-known deductions, like “D-97Z11: Deduction for Ferrets.” Then you can have a conversation like this:



Accountant: Congratulations! You’ll be getting a tax refund for $1,112.02 this year because your ferret ate your sofa while Aunt Liddy was sitting on it.



You: Hooray!



Accountant: My bill for finding this deduction is $3,233. But I’ll put your returns into an attractive binder.



Eventually you’ll say to yourself, “Hey I’m as smart as any accountant and can do my own taxes,” which is probably true, as delusions go, but ignores one essential truth: The tax code was written by accountants. This is like playing football in a stadium where the referees are wearing the uniform of the opposing team.



Even the language has been hijacked. This year, for example, the tax forms have been “simplified,” as they have every year since taxes were collected by having your crops stolen by the sheriff of Nottingham. In this sense, simplified means that, compared with last year, you’ll find the new forms much, much easier to be impossible to figure out.



You basically have three choices for doing your taxes: (a) take the standard deductions, (b) itemize your deductions or (c) tie a cement block to your neck and jump in the river.



If you take the standard deductions, filing your return will go relatively quickly, but chances are good you’ll wind up owing more in taxes than you actually made. If you itemize your deductions, you’ll save lots of money, at a rate of about six additional hours for each dollar reclaimed.



If you don’t believe me, here are the first few questions on the new simplified 2005 tax form:



1. What is your current status? (a) Full-time resident. (b) Part of the time I live here, and part of the time I’m dead. (c) I have a note from my doctor.



2. IMPORTANT: If you have a family of six or more people living in your attic without your permission, you must complete form AQ-290-BELFRY.



3. In the movie To Kill a Mockingbird, who played the character Boo?



4. If you chew gum on the way to work, you may claim only the first 10 chews. (See Form 21-BBL.) If you chew two pieces at once, you may double this deduction (Form 21-DBL-BBL).



5. Do you qualify for a handicapped parking pass? If so, can we borrow it this weekend?



6. If your home was struck by a hurricane or a tornado, you may deduct the cost of rebuilding your dwelling in the same place so it will happen again. If you had a fire, whose fault is that? Not ours. Don’t try to pay us less just because you were careless.



7. Go back three spaces.



8. If you purchased a lotto ticket and then sat around fantasizing about all the stuff you would buy if you won, you must pay taxes on those items.



9. You must pay “X,” where “Z” divided by seven-eighths times pi is greater than or equal to “P” to the power of “N” times the square root of 35 plus “X” is equal to infinity.



10. Frankly, we’re sort of disappointed at your income. We have lots of programs to pay for, and the money for those comes from people just like you, only more successful. We also have significant expenses for fraud and waste. Do you think maybe you could try a little harder this year? It wouldn’t hurt you to lose a few pounds, either.



When you’ve answered these questions and the 175 others just like them, you can either (a) file your return electronically or (b) stuff your return in a bottle and toss it in the ocean. Neither method will give you the sense that your work will ever been seen by another living person.



But that’s OK. If your return is lost, you can always pay an accountant to file an extension.



Write to Bruce at [email protected]

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