The small nonprofit which I started 20 years ago for conservation-related publishing hasn’t had any inflow of money for years, but I maintain it in case I want to do such work again. Each year I file forms with the IRS saying “no income” and every so often they tell me not to bother filing, then they tell me to start filing again.
Now filing is via “E-postcard” and like many other nonprofits I got a mailing giving me directions, which I followed, last April. And I just got my third notice of failure to file, this one threatening penalties for unpaid tax.
The only proof I have of the e-postcard is a copy of the receipt they sent—via email of course. As I recall, the form was a series of fill-ins with no final complete page that I could have saved. So, unlike a paper form, the E-postcard leaves no tangible proof in the hands of the taxpayer.
The first two “You failed to file your e-postcard” letters asked me for proof that I filed, so I sent them a copy of the email receipt and a letter. This third notice is from the “enforcement division”, includes threats of property seizure and requests a phone number so they can call me.
Like many small nonprofits I have no paid employee who sits in an office waiting to answer the phone, so I have decided to try calling them. Right now I am on hold with the IRS, and have been for 30 minutes, waiting to talk to a trained employee who, if memory serves, cannot be cited as having told me anything. That is, if the advice I get is wrong, or the person fails to record her conversation with me correctly, it will not avail me to say “But Jane Smith of your office told me on July 30 at 8:42 am that she had found my e-postcard and everything was fine.” No, the IRS is not responsible for whatever its agents tell you. Maybe I should just send them a check for some random amount of money and see what happens. Oops, don’t do that: 20 years ago I saw another small nonprofit threatened with a fine for overpayment of taxes.
After 40 minutes a very nice woman has informed me that I called the wrong number; I looked at my printed-out receipt and called the assistance number on that, rather than the number on the forms just received from the IRS. We had a short but cordial conversation and now I am on hold again. The music is the same as on the previous call: loops of a lilting cheery tune of the sort that could be used to extract information from hardened terrorists, if it were played continuously, so I don’t know how long I can hold out before I decide to let them call me.
Cartoon © The New Yorker, Gahan Wilson, used with appreciation but no permission.
I did it! (Maybe) Another polite person (think of the abuse they must endure!) finally came on, and—speaking of the IRS as if he were not part of it, and maybe he isn’t, maybe he’s part of some outsourcing—after checking my information, told me that “This electronic filing is a new requirement that the IRS has instituted for some non-profits, and the IRS has told us that if people call in and tell us that their receipts for the year were less than $25,000 we should just cancel out their case, and tell them that they may file in the future but they don’t need to.” [His words but condensed a little]
We concluded our conversation on a cordial note, but having been through something like this before, I will not rely on his assurance that I need not file in the future. I will file any forms they tell me to file. And probably go through this whole thing again.
Then of course I may get another even more threatening notice next month, as if all this telephone time never happened.
Would it have been any better if I’d had a physical copy of a paper form, instead of an ethereal email receipt for an e-postcard? I can’t say, but at least I would have felt more secure. There’s a disconnect when you don’t know what the person on the other end is looking at, because it is not the original of the paper you hold, but some electronic compilation.
Wait until all our medical records have been digitized by low-wage workers in Nigerian cybercafes recruited by Chinese low-bid companies, that’s really going to be fun! “But our records show that you are dead/a drug abuser/not allergic to anything…”