As we approach that most awful time of year, April 15th, National Stress Over Your Finances Day here on this side of the pond. I would like to take some time to reminisce how easy the Pay As You Earn system was in the UK, where you were assigned an individualized code which could be adjusted as your circumstances changed, and you paid in each paycheck just as you do over here. But, and this is the important part, there is no need for the yearly ritual of deciding what to lie about, actually putting everything down on paper, doing some fairly complex mathematical acrobatics, and submitting everything in time for April 15th, an entirely arbitrary date.
There is a whole economy built up around this date, accountants and financial planners are wholly overwhelmed at this time of year with people who left everything until the last minute, advertising firms for those accountants come up with ever more awful adverts for their services, the media run all sorts of advice stories before April 15th on how to submit your taxes on time, then stories on April 15th about people who missed the deadline despite all their stories about filing on time. All of which could be easily avoided by some sort of system like they have in the UK, avoiding all this heartache, but apparently those accountants must like all the stress because they lobby against any attempt to reform it. Mind you, if the computer problems with the ACA roll-out are any indications, the US could not manage something so complex as PAYE anyway.
Governments have some very odd approaches to paperwork at times. Back in 19___ when we decided to emigrate to this side of the pond for various reasons, we were very surprised to find out that my wife should have been filing US taxes every year she was in England! Just in case she was making so much money she would actually be due US taxes as well as UK ones! Of course the Immigration and Naturalization Service, moving in concert with the Internal Revenue Service allowed us to only have to submit US tax forms for the last two years, what great Service!
So in a foreign economy where there is no need to file taxes, to keep pay records unless you are self-employed, we had to re-created two years of pay-stubs and tax information, and fill out the appropriate US tax filing forms. Now the good Mrs. H had left the US as a college student, her taxes had been filed by one of her parents as a dependent, so after having to obtain US tax documents in a foreign country, we realized neither of us had any idea how to fill them out. The forms amusingly come with little time estimates of how long it should take you to fill out each section, which is horrible, because you don’t know if the time estimate is for someone with a degree in accounting who does their own taxes as a matter of course, or if it is for someone with a reasonable familiarization with doing them every year, or is the time estimate for someone doing them for the very first time, with no help from friends, colleagues or parents in the years before internet searches!
By this time the immigration paperwork was appearing like sets of ever larger hurdles we had to scale, but I guess what we sent in made sense, at least it appeared to satisfy both the IRS and the INS, and we moved on to the the next hurdle, and eventually to where we are today.
Perhaps this would be a good opportunity to go back to the other set of paperwork at the other end of the equation. We had become engaged to be married in August 19__, and had some decisions to make. The good Mrs. H was not flourishing at college, whereas I was under the impression I was doing quite well, so we decided to head to old Blighty for me to finish college. So now it was time for the official bit. I can very clearly recall the trip we took down to New York to the British Consulate, all for the honor of speaking through a glass partition to a very rude lady who was more than happy to share the benefits of her wisdom.
We were trying to bring the future Mrs. H over my finance, with the intent of making her an honest woman sometime in the near future. Well, oh no, oh no no no no, as the official described in short sharp detail, you can’t just go over with a kiss, a promise and a little ring. We would need to have booked the church, apparently Registry Office weddings were frowned upon, and need to have sent invitations, apparently the Home Office Border Agency was going to be on our invitation list. All this before we would be able to submit the paperwork. Or alternatively, she said we could go get married here in the US, send in the paperwork which would get rubber stamped, and off we would go. So we did.
In less than a week we invited some friends and family, a trick in itself, got a friend to perform the ceremony, went down to the Town Office to get a marriage license, which was actually quite fun. We wrote our own vows and service, without any real experience of any. Then of course we actually went through with it, got married, had a rather short honeymoon and sent off our paperwork. Then of course my visa expired, so I had to leave without my new wife, and arrange to pick up my passport which had gone in with the paperwork at the Consulate. After I left came the waiting, everything had been so quick, one week we were engaged, the next we were married, and now here we were separated by paperwork and an ocean. of course just as the person at the consulate had said, the paperwork received it’s rubber stamp, and the new Mrs. H received her visa quite quickly and over she came.
So in the end, we got all our paperwork done right. No experiences like Gerald Depardieu in Green Card, although we met many people who had similar sorts of stories as the movie,we had no stories of confrontational interviews, no paperwork lost or delayed. Once we got the paperwork submitted, it seemed to go through the government channels remarkably easily. I suppose that is the issue, getting the government paperwork right, or for us, deciding which is the right paperwork to aim for, marriage rather than fiancee.
The whole thing was pretty stressful for us, coming back from that initial trip to the Consulate, where we had basically been told to go away and get married, the future Mrs. H had a migrane for the first time in years and had a horrible time in the bus on the way back north. I am pretty sure this was what started my hair turning grey.