My feeble financial past finally caught up with me while I was at John’s Deli buying a sweet potato and a can of tuna. Neither of them is strictly deli food, but I am not someone who does much by the book. Or does her books at all.
It was when the cashier informed me that my bank card was not accepted that 25 years of not even knowing what a T4 was caught up with me. As it turns out, my bank account had been frozen after several attempts to get me to file my taxes.
The lady at Revenue Canada informed me that they’d been sending notices to my address for more than three years, which led me to ask two questions:
- What address did they have?
- Who the hell had been taking care of this shit before now?
As it turned out, the answer to both those questions was the same: my parents.
They were also my temporary fix to my financial woes. With a quick call, they wired me some cash, and I was set until I could get the situation sorted out. And that took a lot longer than I anticipated.
In less than 24 hours – about five of those spent on the phone with the government – I learned that I was painfully ill-equipped to deal with the economics of being an adult.
There was the obvious fact that my parents had been doing my taxes until I graduated from university. There was also the fact that I actually didn’t know I had to do taxes. In fact, I was only vaguely aware of the fact anyone had to do taxes. The perverse rules of the world, it seemed, did not apply to me.
I can’t truly explain the depth of the ignorance of my assumption. One of the reasons the government had been hunting me down was that I had owned and operated a college painting franchise during my final year of university – and I’d done well for myself. And I’d not paid any taxes. Nothing. At all.
I had, however, given my painters sweet bonuses, because I seemed to have way more money left over after paying expenses than I thought.
What I’m trying to say is, I wasn’t trying to be greedy or deceitful. I was just stupid and mind-bogglingly ill-informed.
There was no course in school that taught me about taxes, and even if there had been, my parents had been claiming me under their taxes for what I now know were business reasons, so I’d never had to do them. Why they didn’t tell me there was a stack of government-issued correspondence for me at home is still beyond me. But I didn’t – and don’t – blame them for my situation.
Rumour had it I was an adult, and taking care of finances is an adult thing. Not long after my first run-in with the CRA, I also learned that no one was paying the credit card bills that arrived at my parents’ house. In short, my financial life was a craptacular sideshow of epic proportions.
I’d always thought that when I was an adult, and someone who chose to be a freelance writer for a living, I really wouldn’t have to do anything I didn’t want to do.
But the words of Bea Arthur as Dorothy Zbornak in a classic episode of “The Golden Girls” ring true: “You know, first of all, buddy boy, life is FULL of crappy stuff to do; it’s everywhere, so you better get used to it.”
I am. After a couple of years of trying to do my own taxes and always ending up owing thousands of dollars, I hired an accountant. I showed up to our appointment with some figures on a Post-It Note and my SIN number. She asked me for forms I had never heard of. She asked about the square footage of my home office, the amount I pay in property taxes, my car insurance, gas receipts, past assessments. I had no idea what she was talking about. I felt as if I was being interrogated for crimes against humanity.
It was my own personal Guantanamo.
I went home after that meeting and, for the first time in my life, cried out of sheer frustration. My accountant probably did the same.
My ignorance, it seems, was an expensive luxury, and I was going to pay for it.
It took more than three months for her to do my taxes, and during that time, I spent many hours on the phone with the CRA, trying to track down information.
It cost me more than $500 to do my taxes that year, a steep climb from doing them myself online, but I only owed the government $17 instead of $2000.
Shame and humiliation are apt teachers. The following year I came prepared with the necessary forms in a manila envelope and my expenses in an Excel spreadsheet. My accountant did my taxes in less than two hours and actually gave me a gold star sticker on my receipt.
I have it framed in my office. Welcome to adulthood.
About Hollay Ghadery