James Howarth, a Detroit attorney, is totally confused. And who can blame him? He’s having to deal with the IRS who, naturally, is made up almost entirely of lawyers.
Last November Howarth received a letter saying that he owed the IRS money and that he should pay promptly to avoid penalties and interest. The amount he owed? A whooping five cents.
He then received a second letter telling him that the government owed him, get this, FOUR cents, but because it was under one dollar he would have to request the refund.
Howarth called the 1800 number for the IRS but gave up after what he felt was an unreasonable amount of time on hold although he snickered a bit about the idea of making an IRS agent get this file and go through this problem.
Still, for Howarth, this really is a problem. He states that he can’t merely write a check for five cents; apparently this is Howarth’s business that the IRS is claiming owes the money. Howarth claims it will cost him several hundred over the initial nickle to resolve this matter because he’ll have to use his own time, apparently worth several hundred an hour, his secretary, his stamps, his envelope, his checks, and his accountant. While this reporter is sympathetic to Howarth, me thinks we smell an exaggeration.
As virtually anyone who has dealt with a government agency knows, your first step of recourse in a situation such as this is through your Congressman. Granted, it may be that there have been some changes on that front in Howarth’s state since November. However, it seems unlikely that both Senators and his Congressman were up for reelection and lost and won’t help him with this problem.
Even if that is the case, or if Howarth just hasn’t thought of going to his Congressman or Senator (perhaps he has annoyed them in other matters???) the fact remains that every professional person has to do things that he or she can’t bill for. That is one of the reasons why billings are high; an attorney bills at $100 an hour to make up for all those other times he or she couldn’t bill for.
This doesn’t mean I’m not sympathetic to Howarth or that I don’t think he shouldn’t have gone to the newspapers. Publicity is a great way to drum up business. But he should be careful that it doesn’t work against him. This man is supposed to be someone you would go to handle your problems. If he can’t handle his own, why would you go to him to handle yours?
Howarth should try to find some ingenious legal approach to dealing with the IRS. Those who conquer bureaucracy, and even more so the IRS, are epic heroes in modern society. But those who whine too much, well, Howarth has the chance here to use his legal skills to slay a dragon. Then again, he might just let the dragon slink away… or worse of all, he could continue voicing his accounting woes and come out of this as looking like the lawyer who doesn’t know how to write a check for a nickel.