Tax Agency Comes After My 12 Year Old Nephew

By Katie Allison Granju

(Babble) I am not one of those folks who complains all the time about paying taxes, or slags the IRS on a regular basis. Don’t get me wrong; I see the inefficiencies, as well as the occasional and sometimes major corruption of state and federal tax collection agencies. But I have plenty of things to complain about when it comes to political and social issues, and for whatever reason, tax agencies and their behavior just haven’t ever been the focus of my opinionated commentary.

Until now.

So every year, during the third weekend in October, in my hometown of Bell Buckle, Tennessee, population 502, the town hosts a big arts and crafts fair that draws thousands of visitors over two days. For folks who live in Bell Buckle, it’s a highlight of the year, and lots of fun, especially for kids. Although I now live in Knoxville, many of my family members still live in “the Buckle” as we fondly call our clan’s home base, and this includes my little brother Robert and his family.

This year during the festival, my 12 year old nephew Jones, Robert’s oldest, decided to set up a booth in his family’s yard during the event, knowing that many of the tourists in town that weekend would be passing by. He’s quite entrepreneurial – something his parents really encourage – so in advance of the festival, Jones bought a set of around 200 foreign coins from all over the world on Ebay to sell at his little booth in the yard. He paid $45 of his own money for the coins he planned to offer to buyers as they strolled past his house. His mother, my sister in law Nicole, also gave him some old hats she had bought at some point so that he could sell those at his booth as well.

During the weekend of the event, Jones and his seven year old brother Nicholas sat at their booth all day and attempted to convince everyone who walked by that they should buy a coin or a hat. Robert & his wife Nicole offer other vendors space in their yard during the festival each year, so Jones had seen how to set up his own little both, create signage, and talk with customers.

At one point during the weekend, a woman walked up to the booth and asked the boys if they were selling anything. Jones replied, explaining that he had the coins and hats for sale. At that point she handed my 12 year old nephew a form, explaining that she was from the Tennessee Department of Revenue, and she told Jones that he needed to be sure to fill the form out and send it, along with the appropriate tax amount in to the state following the festival. She then took down Jones’ name and address, and walked away.

Although Jones has had better success making money at the annual festival in years past, this time he didn’t have many sales at all. At the end of the weekend, he had only made approximately $14 total. However, even with this paltry amount in sales, my brother Robert made sure to fill out the state tax form that the woman had given Jones, and to send in the appropriate amount of tax in Jones’ name. It came to $1.42, and Robert wrote out a check for that amount, and mailed it off to the address on the form.

Three days ago, a letter addressed to Jones arrived at my brother’s house. It was from the taxation division of the Tennessee Department of Revenue, and it advised Jones that he had failed to send in the “Special Events Form,” and also that he owed an estimated $200 in sales tax to the state. The letter states that this is a “final demand,” even though Robert already sent in the form that the woman from the state Department of Revenue gave him, along with the correct sales tax amount, and even though this is the first time the agency has contacted Jones regarding sales tax payment – and remember, the festival at which Jones made his $14 in sales was only two weeks ago. And if my 12 year old nephew doesn’t send them a form he doesn’t have or a written statement explaining why he doesn’t owe $200, but instead owes an amount (that he already paid) based on his actual sales within ten days, he faces levy action against all his “monies,” property and rights to property.

Here’s the actual letter.

After reading this letter several times, and laughing hysterically, I found myself feeling irritated. How much time did it take for this state revenue agent to travel to Bell Buckle, and then walk around the craft fair that day, eyeballing certain vendors (there are hundreds of booths at the fair; there’s no way she talked to everyone selling things at the festival). And why in the world would she select a booth with two little boys selling a few hats and coins, taking down the 12 year old’s name and address in order to target him like this? Plus, my brother DID fill out the actual form that this revenue agent gave to Jones that day, and he DID send in the appropriate amount of sales tax, which came to $1.42, NOT $200.

Sheesh.

Surely the state’s taxpayer-funded revenue agents have better ways to spend their time than this. But I guess not. In the meantime, Robert is planning to take Jones to appear in person at the revenue agent’s office to discuss the issues raised in this letter, and Jones says he’s up for that. It will be interesting to see how the people who work in this particular branch of the state’s Department of Revenue react when a 12 year old walks in to meet with them.

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