No small business owner likes to receive a letter from the Internal Revenue Service – trust me. Such letters inspire dread. Though they occasionally include a good surprise, such as a refund of an over payment, more often they are “not good.” Melissa and I recently received such a letter informing us that, because we failed to file the corporate income tax return for one of our companies, we were being assessed an $840.00 penalty. The thing is, we filed the return not only on time, but early! As with all letters from the IRS, the type font is antiquated courier or worse. And, the language is ominous and intimidating. There was no explanation of how to handle this, other than to call the “number listed above.” So, after arming myself with my filed copy of the return, I placed the call, followed the prompts and pressed all the necessary numbers only to hear “Due to the high call volume we cannot handle your call at this time, goodbye.” I tried again, same thing. I tried the next morning, same thing. I got creative, changed my prompt selection and got through to a message that allowed me to request a call back. I did, and to their credit, my phone rang at the appointed time. The surly agent listened to my story, looked up the case and told me we needed to prove we filed the return. I have long used good ol’ certified U.S.P.S. mail when filing tax returns. I’ve had to train employees about how to use it, and it usually seems unnecessary to them. But, this time the $8 or $9 spent on the return receipt requested certified mail option saved us $840!!! The agent was abrupt and dismissive of the certified postcard and receipt I sent her because it wasn’t stamped in the post office and she was unaware that these 2 items (postcard and receipt) work together to create a tracking option. I was impressed she was able, probably working remotely, to have me fax copies of those items to her, and then, after I explained there is a 16 digit tracking number, to look it up and verify that the return had indeed been filed timely. I will note that the return postcard was dated after the due date, which indicated that the I.R.S. is behind in their processing. That worried me a bit, but thankfully, the U.S.P.S. tracking system showed that the mail was sent when I said it was. Taking care to use the extra steps of certified mail reinforced how critical it is to cross “t”s and dot “i”s. There may be better ways to do this, but I breathed a sigh of relief when I realized all I wasted was an hour of my time correcting the I.R.S.’s mistake. Of course, the fallacy of any tracking system is that one still can’t prove what was in the envelope received on the other end. Thus, I was glad not to have to fight that battle. Operating a small business requires watching out and preparing for rude surprises. CYA is critical. Old tech wins one!
There must be some nice, friendly, helpful people who are employed by the IRS. Statistically speaking, there has to be some percentage of IRS employees who are customer oriented. It just isn’t possible for everyone who works at the IRS, or even the majority, to be rude, condescending, and generally speaking, unhelpful to its clients, we taxpayers. When David described his recent IRS encounter to me, I remarked that I was pleasantly surprised to find out the woman who was helping him asked for documentation and upon receiving it, immediately resolved the dispute. It is interesting, however, that she could have resolved the dispute by doing everything the same with one major exception: she could have been nice about it. The end result would be the same without “the attitude” that went along with it. I will conclude by saying this is a good life lesson. Often, the same things can be accomplished with a smile or with a frown. As for me, I will choose a smile. How about you?