College Connect: Growing Up and Paying Taxes: Pricey welcome to the adult world

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By VICTORIA ISON, Ball State University

In the last month, I’ve had to make more adult financial decisions than ever before: three, to be exact. I paid taxes, prepared to buy a car and decided to live off campus.

These are things everyone goes through but are hard to appreciate until it’s your turn. For instance, I had heard people complain my whole life about paying taxes, but always considered myself above the crowd. I imagined that when the day came for me to embrace the inevitable, I would be a polished young professional who would handle her own finances, do taxes well ahead of the April deadline, and smile contentedly while filling out the forms, thinking of all the smooth sidewalks and clean libraries that would come from my doing my duty as a citizen in this country.

That is not what happened.

Did you know you have to pay income tax on school-sponsored room and board scholarships? Me either. I never handle that money, so I assumed it wouldn’t be considered mine or taxable. Plus, I figured I’d receive some kind of letter or postcard if I was eligible to be taxed, kind of like a governmental birthday card saying, “welcome to the real world now.”

They don’t send those anymore.

What happened was this: my grandma, who fears the IRS with an uncharacteristic paranoia, suddenly remembered I was 18. Starting in March, she nagged me about taxes.

I ignored this, bluntly changing the subject whenever she brought it up. I had not worked significantly in 2011, had never received aW-2 form, was bogged down in schoolwork, and had no idea how to enter the grown-up world of the IRS.

I decided to take up the idea of committing tax fraud.

Perhaps the IRS didn’t know I existed yet. If I never paid taxes, would they ever catch on? I could go my whole life, or at least all of college, under the radar. It seemed like a good plan.

Until I told my mom. After that, a lot of anxious emails ensued. When I finally decided it was time to turn into that professional young woman who took care of her finances and knew all about the tax system, I took one afternoon and tried to understand the IRS website.

Two hours later, I posted my first Facebook status complaining about taxes. I had joined the world of the whiners, and felt entirely justified.

Probably I don’t have to tell you the tax system is complicated. People told me plenty of times, but I never listened. Instead I insisted on believing I would be this extraordinary adult – an unrealistic expectation that only made me feel worse when I found myself cowering on the phone, four days before taxes were due, talking with my parent’s tax professional who’d graciously piggybacked me onto their plan.

When I signed away a thousand dollars of my savings to the federal and state governments, I didn’t feel grown-up, or glamorous, or like I was contributing to society. I just felt poorer.

But I felt real – as if even though I’m not an adult yet, I’m starting to get there.

That feeling is one I’ve tried to remember as I’ve been preparing to buy a car and deciding to live off campus to save money to pay for insurance for that car. I may look in the mirror and see the same face I’ve always seen, but the government and car dealers and apartment leasers see me as a grown-up girl.

I’ll trust them on this. In the tax and finance worlds, there’s no room for kidding around.

Victoria Ison is a Ball State University freshman majoring in magazine journalism and Spanish.

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