Thoughts on the Intimacy of Tax Preparation - Reprise

It's Valentine's Day, and the heart of the tax preparation season. I am coordinating a VITA Program free tax clinic at work again this year, and have prepared taxes for a few dozen people so far. These are lower income people, and I am hearing hard stories about the struggles of making ends meet.

I am strongly committed to this program for several reasons. It's a way I can give back to the community for its support of the agency. It's a way I can help people with my particular set of professional skills. And, it's a way for me to connect with people, a nice change from my usual workday of feeding the computer.

We are all told there are three things you do not talk about in polite company: politics, sex, and money. The first two are much more likely to creep into party conversations than the third. Many people enjoy debating politics, and almost everyone likes to talk about other people's sex lives (and sometimes to leave hints about their own). But money - that is not discussed, unless someone is bragging about all the cool stuff he or she owns. It's not really polite even to mention how much you paid for something. If you do that too often, the comment will be made, "oh, she always talks about money."

When I sit down with you and prepare your taxes, though, you have to be open and honest with me, and I learn a lot about the part of your life that is defined by money. I know how much you make. I know whether or not you have anything in savings, or if you are investing in mutual funds. I know whether or not you have a retirement plan. I know about the financial arrangements you have made with an ex-spouse for alimony, and the division of the spoils of the kids' tax exemptions and associated tax credits.

It is very intimate, sitting next to you and filling out the forms. And for that short period, we feel close to each other. You tell me things you don't talk about with anyone other than your partner, if you have one. I am taking care of you, helping you with a task that you dread. And when I have good news for you, for a few minutes I become one of your best friends.

Let me get a little closer. I want to show you something here...

Note: First two paragraphs added to a piece I published 2/10/2008.

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