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Monday, March 14, 2011

Marriage and Taxes

Doing my taxes this year was a whole new experience. I've always been very self-sufficient on taxes, having filed my first return at 16. Now, 20 years later, I get to learn how to do it all over again - married. One little ticky box makes all the difference.

To be clear, my husband and I still have relatively separate financial lives. He owns a condo in Davis. I own our house. The household bills are pretty much all in my name. After watching what my mom and others went through getting divorced and trying to set up their own financial lives in their 30s for the first time, it's always been extremely important to be in charge of my financial welfare. I pay bills when they arrive, not when they're due. I have automatic payments scheduled for nearly everything that I can. I have a credit score over 800.

Luckily, my husband is also financially together. It's a big part of why I married him. Still, the idea of co-mingling our finances enough to file "married - filing jointly" gave me a pretty good case of the heebie jeebies. But we're married, so I kind of have to get over that to some degree, right?

Entering everything in as married, filing separately first gave me enough comfort wading in that I was ready to swim out to the deep end and do this together. Mostly. Kind of.

But then Turbo Tax got stupid. In the first few screens, it asks your basic info - name, address, and so on. Then it asked if there were any life changes. Yes, got married! Then it asks if you want to file jointly or separately. I said separately, figuring we could fix that later if we wanted (and honestly having no idea or guidance on which was appropriate for us). Then I spent weeks entering everything as it came in. By the first week of February, I had a good idea of what I'd get back and just needed to wait for Erik to set things up. He got things mostly entered by the beginning of March. He was going to owe a little and I was getting a nice refund. I went to the next step to look at reviewing my data and it said that since I lived in California, I could not e-file as married, filing separately, since it's a community property state. Wait - so you couldn't have mentioned that back in January when I started this and the first bits of information I gave was that I was newly married and lived in California??? Grr.

So I contacted Turbo Tax and asked after this misadventure. This takes a good chunk of time in March, so I waited for assistance on the chat window for 45 minutes. I almost missed the rep finally coming online since the waiting messages that pop up every 2 minutes are all in red and her statements were all in red as well. No ding, no change of color, just better be paying really close attention to something that has had you waiting for 45 minutes. Right.

Anyway, turns out that though we've both used Turbo Tax previously, though they have our SSNs and are already cross-linked in a few places (Erik had to itemize because I'd already done so), they could not import his information into mine when I change to filing jointly, nor could they give us both login access to the same return. Logins are done via email address, so if we wanted that, we'd need to set up a separate, joint email address, or I could give him access to my email.

Now let's pause here for a moment. We're married, but integrating your lives takes some time, but email is not something I think of as co-mingling, and certainly not by default. I don't answer Erik's cell phone nor read his email as a matter of course. Sure, if I notice it's his mom calling and he's brushing his teeth, I'll answer for him, but generally his phone is his. Same goes for our respective email accounts, but our tax prep software can no longer handle us as individuals, so this is the first push-point that requires us to form a group email account. I guess we add that to the post-nuptial checklist for modern geeks, but it certainly wasn't listed on any of the wedding checklists I looked at online. No, we left it up to Intuit to let us know this six months later. And yet no one has ever suggested that they can't handle us having separate phone numbers. Grumble. Moving on.

The woman from Turbo Tax offers us a free prepaid code for this year's submission if we want to use Turbo Tax. I say that it will likely keep us as customers this year, but that we'll be shopping. I post to Facebooks noting my displeasure and hoping for recommendations. We come back to the taxes project Sunday, March 13th armed and ready to tackle this one more time.

I make Erik read off his stuff to me because the thought of not getting those nice reassuring emails at each step of the submission process (or even having him forward them to me) makes me really uncomfortable. I know it's irrational, but that doesn't make it less real.

We get to the end of the reentry and find out that filing jointly, we're going to get an extra chunk of money back, so that's good for my general anxiety level surrounding the whole co-mingling thing.

But after having this initial kerfuffle with Turbo Tax, I figure it's likely best for us to cross-check all of this using another tool. Other friends recommended Tax Act, so we now went to reenter everything a third time using another tool. Erik set up Tax Act while I was finishing in Turbo Tax. It had the same single-address issue, but at least it allowed for a username that didn't feel like I was immediately excluded. It asked if we wanted to import from last year's PDF return, and Erik uploaded his. However, we found out later that it couldn't upload both, so it took his last year's info only. We entered everything again finding it very similar, if perhaps a tad less welcoming and helpful, to Turbo Tax. We got very similar numbers, with Tax Act giving us just a smidgen more back. Since we'd been copying everything over rather than working from original documents, I suspected this was perhaps just a little transcription error, or the lack of my tax info from last year. Still, no sense in leaving free money on the table, so I started to go through the wrap-up and completion process with Tax Act. Then it said that to give us our refund options, it needed the consent of the taxpayer by typing the taxpayer's name: Erik D Woodbury.

The taxpayer.

The taxpayer. Not his spouse. The taxpayer.

Erik tried to diffuse this. It's just because he started the account. It's just the way it does it. It's just...

Yeah, not okay. We're two people, and if anyone is The Taxpayer in this family, it's me. I currently (earn and) pay far more than he does. But really, we're both taxpayers and should be addressed as such, whether or not we're married.

So I flip back to the Turbo Tax window. On the quite similar screen, it refers to both taxpayers. Both of us have to give consent. I flip back to the Tax Act window. After flipping back and forth several times, I realize that for about a hundred bucks, I can't really let that one go. Likely it would be different if the money was bigger, but with more confidence in my Turbo Tax entries anyway, this was the deal breaker with Tax Act.

I contacted them to let them know, hoping that they could improve this detail before next year as I'd like to use their software next time.

I don't think of myself as some extreme feminist, but for the first time since being married, I felt marginalized as the wife. Filing taxes made me feel like I'd lost part of my identity rather than gained a lot of privileges. Too often, I'm amazed at how many doors using the phrase "my husband" opens. I've been able to sign for things or get access or lots of other privileges for me or my husband at a word, just by virtue of being married. Feeling like I'm losing control of my taxes, even the tiniest bit, has been the first time since actually taking the leap that I've really gotten squicked out by what the world expects me to turn over as a married person. Hopefully, a few minor programmatic changes can help assuage that for me, and they've got a year to get it right. In the meantime, it looks like Erik and I need to get a group email account that forwards to both of us. We also need a joint bank account to deal with our first really truly common money - the extra we get back by filing our taxes as married, filing jointly.


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