WILLIAMSTOWN — More than 123 million tax returns were electronically filed in 2015, according to the Internal Revenue Service.

Perhaps I am a glutton for punishment. I prepare my state and federal income tax returns in the old-fashioned way, putting pen to paper forms.

Accuracy is my primary goal as mistakes can trigger big trouble.

My friend Lucy, who lives in New York, unwittingly reversed some digits in her Social Security number when filling out her tax return. A month or so after Lucy mailed her tax return, the IRS informed her that based on the documents they possessed she owed almost a thousand dollars more in taxes than she had calculated. As it turned out, the Social Security number on those documents was not Lucy's, but the one she had mistakenly written on her tax return.

The year I discovered my Social Security number was incorrect on a 1099-R I had received from "C" company, I called them."Listen carefully our menu has changed," a recorded voice told me.

Listening carefully proved to be of no use. None of the seven options I was offered — Press 1 for .. Press 2 ... were relevant to my situation. I pressed O, wanting to reach an operator, but I was punished for trying to escape the automated maze. " That is not a valid entry,"' a recorded voice said, and then my call was dropped.

I had no choice but to persevere and finally spoke to a representative who helped me obtain a corrected 1099-R.


I can't say I enjoy doing my tax returns, but I do prefer preparing them manually, at no cost, in the comfort of my home when it is convenient to the alternatives: hiring an accountant or tax professional, making at least two trips to their office and giving them the information they need, or e-filing my tax return, which entails putting my Social Security number and other personal information online.

It usually takes me six hours to complete my tax returns.

I take the standard deduction for it is larger than my itemized deduction would be.

I don't own any stock — I sold it after my husband, Bill died. Bill liked owning stock, I did not: the possibility of losing any of our hard-earned money never sat well with me.

When I sold the stock, I had to report on my income tax return the date and price when it was purchased, and digging for that information was a hassle. But, at least, I knew I would never need to do it again.

Figuring out how much self-employment tax I owe as a freelance writer collecting fees tests my mathematical skills. Multiply by 92.35 then multiply the product by 15.3 percent, subtract ... is typical of instructions for calculating that tax.

Mathematician John Von Neumann (1903-1957 ) was considered a genius and received many accolades, yet he said, "In mathematics you don't understand things, you just get used to doing them."

What I don't understand is why Bay Staters are required to use black ink on their state tax returns. The blue ballpoint pens I always have on hand are good enough for the federal government; why must Massachusetts be different?

And what about those ovals taxpayers need to fill in on the state tax returns? Oh, well, not mine to question why, but just do, lest I incur the wrath of the powers that be.

Bill used to tease me because I re-checked and re-checked tax returns I had completed before mailing them. "Don't worry," he would say, "If the IRS finds a mistake and you end up in jail, I'll bring you a cake with a file in it."

Now that Bill is gone I tell my daughter, Jennifer, it is up to her to get me out of jail. "Oh, Momma," she says with a laugh. "YOU in jail."

Phyllis McGuire writes from her home in Williamstown.