Readers: I’m thrilled to announce that the Chispa Project is partnering with the Honduran non-profit organization Niña (“girl” in Spanish) to install a library that focuses on literacy for girls! Find out how you can help on our website.


Now… on with this week’s column….


By Norris Burkes April 24 2022

“We apologize, but the processing of your 2021 tax return has been delayed beyond the normal timeframe.”

This is the message you’ll likely see on the IRS website if you’ve only just now filed your tax return. That’s because the confusing 2021 tax regulations may send your return to taxpayers’ purgatory.

No worries. If you had professional help filing your return, you’ll probably be OK.

Hopefully, you didn’t turn to your pastor for assistance, as did Phil, one of my church members from some years ago.

Phil was new to my church so I was anxious to assist him if he would agree to let me ask the tax questions while he recorded the actual figures.

He agreed to those terms, so on April 15, we sat down at his kitchen table to begin the interview. I gently asked the income questions and he read some high figures off his W-2. Unfortunately, the same form showed he’d withheld very little taxes during the previous year.

“Good news,” I said. “You’ve got some deductions to counteract that. You have a new home as well as child-care expenses.”

Those comforting words quickly proved premature.

“Write your childcare costs on this line,” I said.

Without looking at his personal records, he wrote what appeared to be a round estimate of a few thousand dollars.

“Write the name of the childcare facility here,” I said.

He wrote his mother-in-law’s name.

“Wow, you paid your children’s grandmother $2,000?”

“No, he admitted. “She watches them for free, but her services are easily worth two grand.”

“It doesn’t work that way,” I explained. “If you didn’t pay it, you can’t claim it.”

“How do they know what I paid her?” he asked.

“Let’s move on,” I suggested. “Let’s look at your contributions.”

“I’m in good shape there,” he said. “I give $100 a week. Again, his math sounded like an estimate. “You’ll need receipts from the church,” I warned.

He shrugged, claiming that he’d always thrown cash into the collection plate, never bothering to keep track of the amount. He insisted that he didn’t make his contributions for tax purposes – only for God.

Well, so much for keeping accurate records.

The story of this taxing friend brings to mind the truism I often hear from healthcare supervisors: “If you didn’t chart it, you didn’t do it.”

It’s an axiom that also applies when we claim to have integrity in our life. We can claim it, but at the end of the day, don’t be surprised if people challenge you for a measurement of that integrity.

Phil claimed integrity in the strongest of voices, but he did so with the declaration of entitlement. He was certain that everyone – including the IRS – should trust him just because he said so. By refusing to allow his integrity to be measured, he risked being labeled the thing he most detested: a cheat.

His claims reminded me of an old story about a woman who was offered $1,000 for illicit relations with a rich playboy. When the woman agreed too quickly, he stammered to adjust his price.

“Er, uh, I meant $100,” he countered.

“Absolutely not!” she said. What kind of woman do you think I am?”

“Madam,” he said, “We’ve already established what kind of woman you are. Now, we’re just haggling over the price.”

When I left Phil at his kitchen table, he was still haggling with his integrity. I’m not sure what he decided to put on his return. But I do wonder if he ever discovered that there are no deductions for integrity, only audits.

Wishing all my readers today, “Many happy returns!”

PS My favorite tax-deductible charity is Chispa Project. Chispa starts libraries in Honduran elementary schools. Make contributions online at or send checks to Chispa Project 10556 Combie Rd. Suite 6643 Auburn, Calif. 95602.