Did you hear the one about the Internal Revenue Service, a trial lawyer, and loose pocket change? A true – and telling – story in today’s Detroit Free Press:
In mid-November, [Detroit criminal defense attorney James] Howarth received notice that his FICA account, even after an adjustment, was out of whack.
He owed the IRS a nickel. And the IRS was serious.
It advised him to act promptly “to avoid additional penalty and/or interest.”
Howarth started calculating how much that nickel was going to cost him.
As he figures it, there is the 5 cents plus the cost of a check — payment must be made by check or money order. Then there is his CPA’s fee, an envelope, his secretary’s time, his own time and a 42-cent stamp.
“The costs are several hundred percent over the nickel,” he said.
But then a second letter arrived. This one said Howarth had a refund coming.
The amount? Four cents. But to get it, Howarth would have to ask for it because it was less than $1.
“When I owe them a nickel, I must pay them,” he said. “It’s not optional. But when they owe me, I have to ask for it.”
When someone insists on a service being administered by a federal government bureaucracy, you have to question their sanity.
The lawyer is right and the standard ought to be the same, but who will fund litigation for four cents?
As a quick aside, my contracts professor was once on hold with Verizon for over an hour. She threatened to bill them her going hourly rate– $450 per hour– if they ever did it again. I would love to see that one played out.