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Taxes and Bureaucratic Rules

Working at a tax agency at times makes me feel like I am “K” in Franz Kafka’s unfinished novel The Castle.

Most of my confusion and frustration in dealing with taxes stems from my obviously naïve assumption that the government is trying to help those who need and deserve help. Of course as an INTP I keep trying to find some logical structure behind the tax system. The only logical explanation is that two parties who had very different goals wrote the code.

For every person I find who seems to be helped by the system, I find another two who get little or no help because they don’t “fit the rules.” For instance, there was a young man who was raising his son alone while working a job and going to school who got a nice return that would help him continue schooling. The EIC helped him raise his child, the Education credit gave him a chance to improve his life, and the childcare helped him provide a good place for his child while he was working and going to school.

However, a young woman I was helping turned out not to be eligible for the child care she needed in order to work because she lived with her sister who paid most of the bills for the house they lived in. Because she wasn’t considered “head of household” she could not claim the childcare credit. Why should you have to live by yourself in order to claim childcare? Because her sister allowed her to share a house, was the sister also expected to take care of the client’s daughter for free, even though she had to work herself to pay for the house?

Another young woman who had been separated from her husband for three years but did not have a formal divorce was living with her mother. Because the mother was considered the “head of household” the daughter could not claim childcare or even the EIC because if you’re not head of household, you must file as Married Filing Separate, and cannot claim the EIC even though you could claim if you were single. Now this rule does makes sense because it prevents some married couples from filing as Married, Filing Separate in order to qualify for the EIC. But that didn’t make me feel any better when I told the woman that she wouldn’t be eligible for these programs.

I have to force myself to remember that I took this job to make money, not to help people. Still, it’s hard to break old habits. After all, I spent thirty years as teacher trying to help students make a better life for themselves.