Friday, January 25, 2013

"Don't wake the baby!"

We'd stayed up late to finish watching a movie on TCM and then the remote (which has a mind of its own) balked at shutting off both the TV monitor and the cable box, at least at the same time.

I made some innocuous remark about the #$%@! remote and Long Suffering Spouse began hissing at me: "Why are you shouting? Don't wake the baby!"

Never mind that the den of the Curmudgeon manse is as far away as it is possible to be from the baby's room and still be under the same roof. It was late and we were both tired. So I merely apologized, profusely and quietly.

But it got me thinking.

Our granddaughter, the baby-to-be-named-later, is about four months old now. She's really at the height of her portability. She's not yet teething and, truly, she sleeps like a rock.

They all do, at that age.

When they want to, of course. Sometimes, they have other bodily functions on their minds or, like any of us, they just don't feel well. When they get like that you can't get them to sleep, or keep them asleep, without risking intervention by Family Services.

Years ago, when our kids were small, my wife always left a radio on, or a television, or something when our babies were sleeping during the day. She didn't want them to develop an idea that total quiet was a prerequisite to slumber.

Good thing, too. By the time Youngest Son came along, 5th in the series, there was probably no hour of the day or night in which there was not noise somewhere in the house.

No, I had no chance late last night (early this morning) of waking up the baby. I could have started singing and tap dancing outside her door without rousing her.

And my wife, of all people, knows this.

But she hissed at me, I think, because of something that happened early yesterday morning.

We were getting ready to face the rigors of the day and my wife asked me whether I'd heard from an attorney that owes me a rather large sum of money. No, I snarled, I'd not heard from her -- although I'd called her first thing when I got in the office Wednesday.

We'd settled a PI case in December at a mediation. Insurance companies are never overly generous, but they will settle more cases at year-end than at other times for bookkeeping or tax purposes. There were issues to be resolved after the settlement -- medical insurance liens chief among these -- but, in all honesty, I was worried that the settlement would be concluded too far before the end of December.

I operate as a corporation for tax reasons. I don't know how it works with the Too-Big-To-Fails, but we Too-Small-To-Survives are expected to zero out our accounts at the end of the year, thereby showing no corporate income. Of course, with us little guys, that which is not corporate income is personal income, so Uncle Sam is sure to get his cut, one way or the other.

Uncle Sam takes his cut -- income tax, Social Security, Medicare and employer 'contributions' -- on the 15th of each month following the month in which income is earned. Basically, if I want to take home $1,000, I must deduct $1,500 from my checkbook. My wife and I can spend the $1,000 -- but the $500 stays behind to satisfy Uncle Sam on the 15th of the next month.

For 11 months out of 12, that works just fine (if you have income, that is) but it becomes dicey in December. Say you've had $4,000 in income in December. You have to leave behind $2,000 to keep Uncle Sam at bay. But the accountant sees that the $2,000 is, technically, still on the books at year end and says -- oops! -- you have corporate income and must pay corporate income tax on that tax money.

Confused? I was the first couple of years, too. I kept leaving money in because I'd already deducted it from my checkbook. But, you see, I had to 'add it back' on the 14th to make my tax payment on the 15th (these days you must schedule your payroll tax deposit the day before it is due).

To avoid this -- paying taxes on money earmarked for taxes seems excessive to me -- I eventually learned to write myself a check for that last $2,000 -- and earmark another $1,000 for payroll taxes on that. I'd just put that check aside until enough money trickled in at the beginning of the next year to allow me to actually deposit it in my personal account.

But if no money came in, then, on January 15, Uncle would expect me to pay payroll tax on $6,000, not $4,000 -- and I wouldn't have it.

Every year, it's been a close run thing, but I've managed to come up with the scratch.

Except that, in 2011, I made so little money in the 4th quarter, I somehow wound up owing corporate tax anyway.

Go figure that one: I did so badly I wound up owing a corporate tax. My son the accountant says that's right, but I'm darned if I can figure out why.

This year I had a good 4th quarter. I had to. I'd made darn near nothing at all in the first three. So there was a good chunk of change sitting in my checking account at year end, all earmarked for taxes, and I had to write myself another goodly check based on that... which left me with a hugely negative balance.

I thought that my accountants would simply beam at me with delight.

My only concern was that this last settlement, in December, not close until near enough to the end of the month so that I could justify depositing my fee check in January -- thereby restoring a positive balance in my checking account, allowing me to spend that last check, and allowing me to Render Unto Caesar on the 15th as the law requires.

When I'd heard nothing about the money from this settlement after the first of the year, I began to get anxious. I began calling my colleague. She told me the lienholder had yet to sign off on the proposed resolution of its claim. I offered to drive up to Wisconsin (where the lienholder's office is) and help the lienholder make the decision.

I broached the topic of my looming tax shortfall. Will I have the money by the 15th? I asked. "Probably," my colleague said. "I hope. Maybe. I'll call again today." I was not entirely mollified. I don't understand accounting, but I can count. I always insist on keeping a check in my client funds account for a week after deposit, just to avoid any unpleasantness (and, these days, a mandatory disciplinary proceeding) that might arise from a bounced check. (This actually happened to me once -- before it became a mandatory disciplinary matter -- where some bank questioned an allegedly missing endorsement and refused to honor the settlement check.) My discussion with my colleague confirmed that she did not yet have the settlement funds -- nor did I expect her to. Insurers don't send attorneys checks for large sums without sufficient assurance that they are insulated against lienholder claims. Counting on my fingers, I realized that, even if the scales fell from the lienholder's eyes that morning, my colleague would have zero chance of getting me my money by the 14th.

I went crazy then: I sent an email to my accountant, asking about my options in the circumstances.

I hated to ask my accountant a question. The answers are always so expensive. I mean, charging for each and every email or phone call -- who do they think they are... lawyers?

To make a long story at least a little shorter, I discovered that Uncle Sam will graciously accept partial payments on payroll tax deposits... and charge interest and penalties on the balance owed. Still, I had no choice.

Now, until I clear up this tax issue, I really can't proceed with my personal taxes. Maybe an accountant might think I can, but I'm not willing to risk it. Yet, I expect a refund -- and I'll need that refund to pay February bills, just like I needed this uncashed check in my drawer for bills this month. And I can't do my FAFSA (Youngest Son is still in school and we need all the aid we can get) until my taxes are done. (Again, technically, you could do your FAFSA on the basis of estimated tax obligations -- but I believe most colleges will likely ask for your returns anyway to confirm that your estimates were correct. Youngest Son's will ask for our returns regardless.)

So... there's a lot of steam built up in the boiler. And, accordingly, I probably did answer my wife's question yesterday morning rather loudly.

"You don't have to be so loud," she scolded. "Are you going to call the other attorney today?"

Of course I'm going to call! Again. And, I concede, I was shouting at this point, and probably close to apoplectic besides.

"I won't be talked to like that," my wife said.

"I'm not yelling at you, I'm just yelling!" I bellowed. I'm sure my wife heard me, though she'd already stormed out of the room. The neighbors probably heard me too. Younger Daughter later said that she heard me.

The baby, however, did not wake up.

Still... I'm pretty sure that this is why my wife hissed at me after the late movie last night.

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