As I’ve mentioned in other posts, my goal was to make just enough money doing freelance public relations until I “caught my break.” In 2017, one of my existing clients asked me if I wanted to go from a 1099 employee to a W-2 employee. Having my taxes directly taken out of my check seemed like a no brainer, so I signed up. What I didn’t realize at the time was I wouldn’t be able to pay my 2016 taxes because I wasn’t anticipating how much money was coming out of my checks. And I didn’t have enough freelance PR business to back fill the deficit. By the time April rolled around, I owed a nice chunk of change to the IRS. I explored my options – payment plan, extension or bite the bullet and put it on my credit card. I opted for the credit card.
Now $5,000 in debt, I started exploring other options to limit the damage. Side note – I realize $5,000 in debt doesn’t seem like a lot, but having spent a considerable amount of time paying off a gold card I carried through college and a student loan, I prefer being in the black than the red. I looked at taking a loan from my 401k, a life insurance policy, or a balance transfer credit card. I opted for a Discover card with an 18 month, 0% balance transfer. I thought, “I’ll file my taxes as soon as I possibly can in 2018 and I should be in the clear.”
Being in debt sucks. There was a period of time where I ate potatoes and peanut butter for lunch to cut costs. I didn’t go out on weekends. I drank Carlo Rossi Paisano wine ($9.99 for a 5 gallon jug at Rite Aid). I didn’t date. Debt more or less forced me to live a hermit lifestyle, which is particularly tough in Los Angeles because it’s easy to feel isolated if you don’t make the effort to see and spend time with your friends. And it’s particularly challenging to pursue an acting career when you’re living thin.
I filed my 2017 taxes on February 22, 2018. I looked forward to getting my refund and significantly reducing my stress. If only. In March, I received a letter from the IRS saying they were looking into my return. I called and spoke with an agent to get a sense of what was happening. They said call back in 60 days. I did. I called in early June. They put my return out for referral, which basically means someone has to review the return and make a decision to release the funds or determine what’s wrong with the return. No movement. I called back in mid-July. I found out the money my client reported did not match up with the social security number on my return. My client had made a clerical error on my W-2. My employee identification number, which I use for my 1099s, was in the W-2 box where my social security number should have been. F*ck.
I requested a corrected W-2 from my client and submitted it to the IRS just after Labor Day. I called to confirm receipt. Sixty more days. I called back in mid-November. They said the only way to expedite the return since it already went out to referral once was to claim financial hardship. Having watched my credit score fluctuate all year along with my debt was enough to have the release sent out for referral again.
Two weeks ago, I spoke with my referral agent. Per his recommendation, I requested a letter from my company confirming what they paid me and how much was taken out for taxes and faxed it to him. I asked him about the corrected W-2 I submitted and he said the office is so far behind, they won’t even get to that for another two to three YEARS. Hopefully, within the next two weeks, my return will be cleared and I will receive my refund.
In the meantime, I landed three new PR accounts in the last month, effectively doubling my income. I can’t wait to have the weight of debt lifted off my shoulders. And I’m already thinking about a much needed vacation. What’s a cost effective place to go?