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A few years back in preparing my own tax returns, I decided to take advantage of the limited New York pension exclusion. State tax law provides for anyone collecting a pension and over the age of 59 1/2 to deduct $20,000 from the pension money received. Imagine my surprise when months later, the State sent an official and menacing looking assessment, notifying me I did not qualify for the exclusion since they had "reason to believe you are not age 59 1/2."

Reasonably confident my parents did not hold back my age from me, I drafted a letter to said authorities explaining that I was indeed past the requisite age. For good measure, since I knew the tax authorities might be loathe to accept my word for it, I enclosed copies of my driver's license and passport, both of which clearly and unequivocally showed my correct age.

Another few months and another threatening letter arrived (this is all a true story), stating they had good reason to believe I was not 59 1/2, and this time assessing penalties.

My next letter began, "You can't possibly be this stupid..." I went on to explain that inasmuch as I was by the filing of the return over the age 60, that meant I had to be at least 59 1/2, even under principles of new math.

I understand not everyone is conversant with arithmetic, but wouldn't you think people taxed (pun intentional) with administering billions of dollars of income and sale tax could count past 59? Now we're not talking quadrilateral equations or irrational numbers, but irrationally speaking, apparently knowing whether 59 is greater or less than 60-plus is too complicated for the tax man.

To resolve this (and avoid the government levying my bank account, which their latest letter promised to do), I filed for a formal hearing. That took approximately a year to get assigned. Just before the hearing date, the attorney for the State assigned to the case called me and said, "I think we may have made an error here." You think, Einstein? She agreed to remove the assessment, but not before asking why I didn't inform the tax department of the mistake before requesting a formal tax hearing. My response may have been rather, indelicate, as they say.

A great illustration of your tax dollars at work--or not. I think of this anytime the government does something stupid which sadly is quite often and yes, my blood boils. But to calm myself, I take a deep breath--and count to 59, a service I can willingly provide to the New York state tax department.


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