Tuesday, January 27, 2009


Alears Agog is a creation of my fantasy. I used her in my tax book, Making Expression Less Taxing, a Freelancer's Tax Resource. She is what is known as a tax auditor at the Internal Revenue Service. Now, I'm not certain that's the terminology they still use for tax auditors today, because I've been retired for a couple of years.

I was with the Internal Revenue Service for over thirty years, and that is the terminology we used those years for people who audited individuals and small businesses in the offices of the Internal Revenue Service as opposed to audits conducted at taxpayers' places of business or residence. (The people who did the field audits were called revenue agents.)

Of course, during the term of George W. Bush, a lot of traditions went by the wayside.

I worked for a few years as a tax auditor myself, from about 1974 to 1979.

I chose Alears's name for a particular reason. Successful tax auditors are incredible listeners. They listen to what taxpayers say to them and take voluminous notes. They are all ears. Their ears are open, agog! I know that agog usually pertains to vision. Eyes, not ears, are usually said to be agog. Isn't that correct? Maybe not. In any event, agog means eager. A good tax auditor is eager. The auditor is full of keen anticipation. Why?

I guess there are a few reasons. They are trained to catch mistakes and errors. Isn't it fun to find out the mistakes of others and be able to do something about it? Well, for many people there is. Beyond that, they are always looking for crooks. There is a sense of self-righteousness and the same level of enthusiasm law enforcement workers often have in catching criminals. Perhaps, for some there is a degree of maliciousness in their machinations. However, my experience is that most tax auditors are simply conscientious workers trying to do the best work they can for their employer with a keen sense that they are civil servants.

Every taxpayer who claims tax benefits against their income must consider what their chances of being audited are. Why is that? Because not every claim you might make as a taxpayer comes clearly within the terms

Let me give an illustration. I spoke at a writers' workshop sometime ago. One of the blooming authors there asked me if he could deduct the books he purchased to read for both research and/or to make himself more proficient as a writer, following the admonitions of many experts on writing that he should read a lot. In other words, not all of the books that he had purchased were on writing or directly related to research for a project he might be working on. They might be just the normal books, magazines, and newspapers that anybody else might read just because they were popular

Could he deduct their costs? What do you think?

If he got audited, a good auditor like Alears Agog probably would question his deduction of some or all of those purchases. They're a couple of reasons, but the main one probably would be that the law doesn't allow an individual to deduct personal living expenses. It does allow a taxpayer to deduct ordinary and necessary business expenses. There is a good argument for saying the cost of the books is a personal expense and a good argument for saying the cost of the books is an ordinary and necessary business expense. There is ambiguity.

The subject writer's situation differs from somebody that works as the proprietor of a restaurant when it comes to deducting the costs of books. There is less ambiguity with respect to the restaurant operator and if such individual attempts to deduct the cost of his John Grisham books he or she will probably fail if audited. On the other hand, if a writer deducts deduct the cost of his books written by John Grisham he or she may well succeed. Or fail.

No comments:

Post a Comment