Tax Insight: For Tax Year 2014 and Beyond, 3rd ed. Edition (2015)
Blackberries and Taxes: The Harvest Is Sweet
Picking wild blackberries is one of my family’s favorite pastimes. In fact, blackberry season was at its peak in our area when I first had the inspiration for this book. One morning we were up early, picking to our hearts’ content in a large blackberry patch near our home. As I was picking, I realized that the reason I love harvesting blackberries is very similar to the reason I love tax planning. Laugh if you will, but I think the same part of my brain is intrigued by both activities. For those who are not seasoned berry pickers, let me describe the experience.
Wild blackberries are brambly, thorny plants. They emerge from long canes that reach in every direction and mesh together in a thorny maze. The thorns are sharp and curved, and they’re particularly good at digging into your clothing and flesh as you try to pull away from them. In sharp contrast to the plant, however, the berries are heavenly. There is nothing more delicious than a ripe, juicy blackberry melting in your mouth.
The berries grow in clusters that are hidden throughout the blackberry bush. In fact, each bush conceals significantly more berries than those you see at first glance. Finding the hidden clusters of berries, without getting hurt by the thorns, is both challenging and rewarding. It is in that challenge that you find both the art and the intrigue of berry picking.
The casual berry picker often finds a few tasty treats easily within his reach on every berry bush. However, the taste of one sour berry, or a good jab from a thorn, is usually enough to deter the casual picker from making further efforts. He is not willing to deal with the thorns, the tearing of flesh and clothes, and other obstacles in the way of obtaining berries deeper in the bush. He is content to just get a little taste and then move on.
In contrast, the serious berry picker is not deterred by such obstacles. In fact, she develops a method through years of practice that inevitably yields larger, juicier fruits—as well as much greater quantities of berries. Here is how she does it.
She begins with a berry bush that has several nice-looking berries hanging right out on the edge of the plant. No berry picker would ever pass these up. As she picks all the ripe fruit from the clumps within reach, she begins to notice other clusters (better than the ones before) that are just out of reach. So, the serious picker presses into the thorny bush and reaches in as far as she can, careful to avoid the thorns. As she reaches in deep and picks the juicy delights, her arm brushes against other branches, which then reveal a treasure trove of once-hidden berries.
Seeing her efforts rewarded, she won’t be stopped as she digs her way right into the middle of the bush. Thorns threaten at every move, but the reward is too great for these obstacles to deter her. She makes her way through the brambles and fills her baskets to overflowing. As she looks around for more berries, it appears that she has picked all of the ripe fruit. As she works her way back out of the bush she sees a berry she had missed and squats down to pick it up. From her new perspective she sees a dozen other clusters that she couldn’t see before. She’ll soon be back with more baskets to continue her harvest.
In this way the serious berry picker harvests the larger, sweeter berries, and in much greater quantity than the casual picker. The experienced picker knows that berries are hiding everywhere. Every bush must be explored from every angle—each thorny branch moved to reveal what lies beneath.
Picking berries is similar to preparing taxes. Certain “berries” (deductions and credits) are visible to nearly everyone. Many people take advantage of these and taste the sweet reward of saving a few tax dollars. However, most people are unwilling to trudge deeper into the thorny world of taxes to discover additional unseen yet juicy fruits. The confusing bramble of the tax code discourages them from entering. The ever-present, always looming thorns of IRS audits and penalties elicit too much fear of pain to justify reaching for the berries—especially among people who are inexperienced in avoiding those thorns. Even for those few who are willing to make the effort, many “clusters” of berries are certain to be missed, and thorns are certain to be felt, without the help of more experienced eyes.
The good news for casual pickers is that there are people who have a passion for “taxberry” picking. They are unafraid to trudge into the brambles to find every hidden berry. Better still, these passionate pickers are willing to be hired to pick your taxberry bush for you, or write how-to books like this one.
As you read this book, you will find me digging deep into the brambles of your taxberry bush, holding up the branches and showing you the fruit. I will also point out the thorns. I will teach you how to nurture and fertilize the plant. As you follow my lead you will reap the rewards of a plentiful harvest.
This book contains numerous stories and examples that are based on real people and situations that the author has dealt with during his career. To protect the privacy of individuals, all names and other potentially identifying information, including numbers, have been changed. However, the nature of the descriptions remains true to the actual occurrences.
The tax code includes many quirks and nuances. This book offers general information for a variety of taxpayers and situations, is not all-inclusive, and might not apply to your specific situation. Tax laws and interpretations of those laws can change at any time. Any tax advice contained in this book is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, for the purpose of avoiding penalties under the Internal Revenue Code or for promoting, marketing, or recommending to another party any matters addressed herein. The information contained herein is not a substitute for legal, tax, investment, or other professional advice specific to your situation; nor should it be construed as advice or relied upon in such a manner. Always consult a Certified Public Accountant (CPA), attorney, or other professional tax advisor before implementing any tax strategy or making other significant financial decisions. The author shall not be liable for any loss or damages that may arise from reliance on information contained in this book and disclaims any accuracy of the text or misuse or misunderstanding on the part of any reader; nor is the author liable for the positions taken by the reader in particular situations.