Let Inga Tell You: We just wanted to pay our taxes

Inga finds making payments by check less of a hassle than setting up online accounts — provided the check gets there.
Inga finds making payments by check less of a hassle than setting up online accounts — provided the check gets there.

Olof and I don’t have a complicated financial life, so he is fully capable of doing our taxes on TurboTax every year. Somehow this year, instead of getting money back from both the state and the feds, we owed them a bunch of money. As in low five figures. But as we do with our quarterly estimated taxes, I wrote each entity a check, stuck it in the envelope with the payment stub and deposited it (obviously not certified) in the mailbox outside the Pacific Beach post office.

The federal check was cashed within a week. The state check is still at large.

I have no idea where the U.S. Postal Service or the Franchise Tax Board is at fault. But a wayward tax check can cost you a bunch of money in penalties and late fees if it is not received by the deadline.

Fortunately, I had sent both checks more than a month in advance. When the one check didn’t clear, I started to panic. The Franchise Tax Board’s chat-line human said there was nothing she could do unless we had a canceled check. But, we said, that is precisely the point. You haven’t processed our check. Wait a little longer, she said. We’re not exactly balls of fire.

We tried setting up MyFTB accounts, but to do that, your identity has to be verified by Transunion, one of the credit reporting agencies. We have never, ever been able to get our identities verified for any online site through Transunion — despite multiple efforts to correct inaccuracies over the years — because it insists we have lived at places we never lived or had phone numbers that are so ancient that we no longer recognize them. So the only way to get these accounts set up was to have the FTB send us PINs in the mail in “three to five days.” Olof’s took 12 days, mine 18. Both arrived long past the tax deadline.

Meanwhile, the federal and state estimated tax payment checks I sent, a week after our tax return checks, cleared immediately.

The idea of canceling a check to any government tax institution was almost too terrifying to contemplate. But as the April 18 deadline fast approached, I finally stopped payment on the first FTB check.

I then bit the bullet and called the Franchise Tax Board’s customer service line. The endless recording, of course, advised setting up an “easy” (hah!) MyFTB account rather than wait for what they predicted would be at least three hours in hold time. And believe me, it was.

But I finally got a human who said he would investigate the situation for me. He asked for my call-back number in case we were disconnected, then put me on “brief hold.” Whereupon we were disconnected. He never called back despite the fact that I clutched my phone in my desperate little hands for the next four hours hoping he might.

So, now at the 11th hour, with the FTB’s automated line continuing to profess no payment from us, I went on their link to pay them directly through our bank account. This went well until I tried to input the amount of payment. I tried it 15 different ways — commas, decimal points, etc., etc. — but no luck.

Finally, I dragged Olof over to my computer to consult. It has been my experience that machinery, particularly computer-related machinery, is afraid of Olof and will cooperate with him in ways that it won’t with me. And sure enough, Olof typed in the amount using the numerical keypad on the right side of the keyboard, and voilà. It’s entered. I was using the numbers along the top of the keyboard.

This leads me to why I prefer to write checks instead of setting up online accounts to pay things. There is always some stupid glitch. I swear agencies like Transunion and the DMV and the Franchise Tax Board only hire people who have flunked out of computer school and have never once tested their websites on an actual person before inflicting them on the populace. Certainly the COVID vaccination scheduling sites were a classic example.

Setting up online accounts usually requires — as did MyFTB — picking three security questions from 10 utterly inane options like “What is the one course you regret not taking?” Whatever happened to “city where you were married”?

So even before you get to the idiotic questions whose answers you’d never remember, there’s still the whole dual authentication thing where they send a code to your phone (usually my phone, which is very annoying to Olof in case I’m not home), and deciphering the sometimes indecipherable I’m-not-a-robot stuff, and resetting the password that you had to set up with a capital letter and special characters and at least eight numbers that expires every six months and can’t be reused.

Believe me, a check is five times faster. Well, assuming it gets there.

Inga’s lighthearted looks at life appear regularly in the La Jolla Light. Reach her at ◆