When The Man comes around

Last updated 15:21 05/04/2013

I've been off my game a little since I've been back in the USA; whether it be battling an epic, 43-hour Sunday hangover, jetlag, insomnia or a nasty cold, I've stumbled through the past 10 days awkwardly, a little like Stella trying to get her groove back in that movie with Whoopi Goldberg in it.

This slight wonkiness inflamed itself into full-blown misery this week, as I walked head first into a little immovable concrete institution commonly referred to as the IRS.

oldmoneyIt is tax season in America. Every person in the country has to file a tax return by April 15. I was able to get my 2012 return settled up easily. But somewhere in the mix of doing that, I realised something that I subconsciously knew, but should've taken much closer stock of.

In January, I switched over from being in the USA on a nonresident student visa to being a permanent resident. As a now self-employed person with foreign income and a new legal relationship with America, I have had to contend with a world of head-scratching new tax responsibilities.

My visa experience prepared me firsthand for just how much America enjoys a complicated bureaucratic setup. The IRS has still proven a doozy in this regard. There have been some obscenely complex new regulations to get my head around. I have to make estimated quarterly tax payments except that one quarter of the year only contains two months and another one has four. Why? Who knows! For the fun of it, would be my guess.

There's a self-employment tax too, which is levied on me (quite rightly) so I cover my Social Security and Medicare obligations. Working this out, I multiply my estimated annual adjusted growth income by 92.35 per cent, multiply that again by 13.3 percent, divide that figure in two and deduct half off my adjusted gross income. I get an American tax credit from the foreign tax I'm already paying. This tax credit has a limit, which I calculate by multiplying my US tax liability by a fraction, comprising of my foreign income over my total international income.

Ergh. I thought maths was supposed to be a useless skill. I haven't kept those skills fresh.

My general life flailing and tax confusion came to a ridiculous denouement yesterday afternoon that I think has shaken me back into sanity.

blockadePresident Obama came for a visit.

I left the house yesterday for both coffee and to stop by an H&R Block (a sort of low-rent accountancy company). The woman at H&R Block was extremely rude, perturbed by both my confusion and my accent and I skulked away, tersely.

As I approached my house, a little before 2pm, I was startled to see that a security blockade had been set up a dozen or so houses down from where I live. I needed identification with my address on it to proceed, due to a "very special guest" who was going to be in the neighbourhood that evening. I didn't have any. LP's aunt was 20 minutes away, so I had little option but to sit on the footpath and wait. Some investigation revealed that Obama was coming to town to attend a dinner close by. I kind of enjoyed watching the security blockade turn cars away and the faces drivers made as they turned around.

Eventually I made it through, and a walk about the sealed-off area revealed cops on every corner, and a particular street leading down to a swanky beachfront property a hop and a skip from us was blocked off. Unmarked security vehicles were pouring through the streets.

The kicker was that the neighbourhood was going to be on total lockdown between 4.30pm and 8pm. No one would be allowed outside. 

Presidential security is fascinating. This seemed a brief, yet rare glimpse at the manpower, the advanced planning, the meticulous everyone-is-a-risk-worst-case-scenario mindset needed to protect the president.

I had to be somewhere at 7pm for dinner, but I now had to be out of the house by 4.30pm. I had about two hours to wrap up my workday. I called three accountants. Two of them couldn't help, the other had negligible English and the conversation ended with him telling me that if I wanted to file a New Zealand tax return I should get a New Zealand accountant.

My stress level was rising, our apartment was in a bit of a state, I wasn't dressed for dinner and I pondered whether I might actually get trapped again, this time inside the house. Eventually, with moments to spare, I threw on a nice shirt, grabbed my things and left.

My patient and helpful wife in the interim had made calls and found me a sane accountant, who talked me down from the ledge, walked me through my situation, let me know what I needed to do to file my quarterly taxes and made a plan to meet with me in a few weeks, once tax season had ended.

LP's aunt rang an hour or two after that to let me know that a full presidential motorcade, which she had viewed by climbing up on her roof, had torn through the neighbourhood a little after 6pm and that the area swarmed with Secret Service. A while later he left a bit more quietly and the streets returned to normal.

The Man had, quite literally, come around yesterday, but as the blockades in the street were removed, I felt somehow as though I'd overcome a couple of personal barriers, too.

It was nice. 

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