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D.F. Krause
  D.F.'s Column Archive
January 18, 2006
It's All Fun and Games at Tax Time

During a recent stop at Subway, I got more than a footlong meatball sub for my $5.19. I got a scratch-off game card. Hey! All I had to do was scratch off the shiny metallic silvery stuff, and if it matched the other one, I could win . . . OK, I don’t remember what I could have won. Once I got a little of that scratch-off stuff under my fingernails, I decided I really just wanted to eat, and left the game card on the counter.


I don’t need a game card, and I certainly don’t need an exciting chance to win, when I buy food. I just need the food. But the competition in fast food – er, I mean, meal solutions – is fierce, and if Subway thinks an exciting chance to win will help them sell a few more Cold Cut Trios, fine by me. 


Apparently the competition is equally fierce in the tax preparation business, because the same people who want to keep you in good stead with the IRS also want to get shiny metallic stuff under your fingernails. This is the latest marketing strategy of H&R Block, which has a game card for you once you hand over those receipts and mortgage statements. Three squares. Start scratching. If two of the squares match, then that’s what you win – with two grand prize winners getting $50,000 each and 100 getting a doubling of their federal refunds up to $20,000.


OK. First of all, if anyone getting a $20,000 refund takes their tax returns to H&R Block, maybe I should switch from Tadrach the Tax Man. And what if you end up owing? In that case, you might want to leave your game card on the counter at Subway and slowly back away. Then again, the odds of winning are only one in 237,000 anyway, so there’s no sense losing sleep over it.


But even if you don’t get the 50 grand or your tax refund doubled, you can win anything from free tax preparation to free song downloads, which is where the whole thing about tax preparers giving out prizes starts to seem a little weird to this taxpayer.


My accountant is a dull guy. I can hardly think about him without yawning. And I like him that way. Anyone who has gone to the trouble of understanding the federal tax code has to be a little disturbed. The idea that an accountant even knows any songs is a little weird, let alone wanting to hook me up with them.


But this seems to be very much the way of business these days. It’s not enough just to give me excellent service at a fair price – or even to exceed my expectations at an exceptional price. There must also be the chance that I might – I just might! – get something for free. It might be something I would really like, like double my tax refund. It might be something like 10 free song downloads, which I can easily get online for $9.90 in half the time it would take to wash my hands after scratching off one of those dumb game cards.


And I might win something like a lifetime membership to Blockbuster, which is one of the prizes being offered by Subway. (I would rather go to Blockbuster and win a lifetime supply of Subway, but all they’re offering is an end to late fees except when they bring them back.)


Or I could get something truly useful, like $5,000 worth of Citgo gas (also being offered by Subway), which nets out to seven-and-a-half gallons after the portion I use driving to the Citgo station and back.


But to be honest, I don’t get jazzed about getting stuff for free. Stuff you get for free either comes with an expectation that you will buy something – usually lots of somethings – down the road, or it comes with the reasonable expectation that the company giving you the free stuff is recouping its costs in what it’s charging you for the not-free stuff (i.e., the stuff you actually need).


Still, I decided to ask Tadrach the Tax Man if he had any interest in starting a Tadrach Sweepstakes. Perhaps the winner could get the blinking neon sign over Tadrach’s desk (the one with the blinking “D”) or a gift certificate to the Chinese takeout place that was responsible for the aromatic decorating of Tadrach’s office.


He took the suggestion under advisement and informed me that I have a balance due, which would pretty well kill my enthusiasm for the double-your-refund prize in any event. I wonder if, next year, I could give away some free columns and then try to write that off. Scratch off the game card, and if two column subjects match, you get to read that column for free!


Or I could make it scratch and sniff. For those who think my columns stink.

© 2006 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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