Thursday, July 24, 2008

Even Expats Get Stimulated

There was (at least) one episode of Beavis & Butthead where Butthead attempts to read a sign but, being a semi-illiterate, well, butt-head, he can't read all of the words. When he reads, he sounds out a few words that he can manage and just says "words, words, (sounded out word), words, words, (sounded out word)." He tunes out anything which he can't be troubled to make out and reads only the parts he cares about.

When my CH and I got our passports full of many pages and only one that seemed to really matter (the front one with identification and photo), we essentially did a Butthead on the passport's contents. It was like "personal data, pages, pages, pages, visa, pages, pages." There are a lot of blank pages and some historical quotes and warnings that don't really amount to much in a U.S. passport. Like Butthead, we found the stuff we wanted to know and ignored the rest. Unfortunately, also like Butthead, we missed things we actually needed to know.

We missed the part in our passport which said that we have to file income tax returns to the U.S. government every year when we reside in a foreign country. You'd think that living and working in a foreign country would relieve you of the need to file an income tax form back home, but that's not the way it works. You have to file two returns, one in Japan and one for the U.S. government.

My CH and I didn't file for the first decade or so that we lived in Japan due to our lack of careful reading. A temporary coworker from the U.S. was the one who eventually clued us in on the fact that we should be filing and this sent us into a panic. In the end, everything was okay. The I.R.S. didn't hassle us or punish us. It probably helps that we have never made enough money in Japan to have to actually pay taxes back home. I'm guessing the reason for the exemption for expats is that they figure we're already forking over enough in Japan and double-taxing us on our entire income would seem rather unfair.

Because we don't actually pay any tax to the U.S., news of economic stimulus checks didn't really engage us. We didn't think that expatriates would qualify for such checks since they are not really in a position to do much stimulating of the U.S. economy. I did receive several letters from the U.S. government saying we were eligible, but I didn't take any of it seriously until the most recent announcement said we were going to actually get check. Even then, I wasn't really going to believe it until I saw it.

Obviously, I finally saw it. We received a check for $600.

I have somewhat mixed feelings about the money. I didn't pay into the tax system because I make too little money to have to do so, but I'm getting tax money as if I had been paying like everyone else. I'm also not a fan of the fact that this is essentially borrowing against the future to bribe voters for now. That being said, I'm not going to turn down money that is sent to me as doing so isn't going to change anything. If someone gave me the option to check a box on a form somewhere and say, "take this money and pay down the enormous deficit in America instead of sending it to me, I'd do it. That's not really an option (and I'd probably stand alone in making such a choice).

If it helps any, the very day this check arrived, my husband spend $630 at Costco buying almost all American-made or produced goods. The biggest ticket items were vast quantities of American-made Colby-Jack cheese (10 lbs. of cheese in all), 5 lbs. of Starbucks Espresso beans, 10 steaks from U.S. cattle, and California grapes. Of course, with or without the stimulus check, we'd have bought these things as we always do.

We can't actually do anything in Japan with the check itself as such things can't be cashed here as far as I know. If they can be, it's in an out of the way place and likely for an absurd fee. We'll be sending it back to our bank in America and putting it in our checking account where we'll use it to stimulate the U.S. economy next time my husband goes to California to visit his parents.


Anonymous said...

Oh wow....You got your check!...I've been wondering if mine would ever come. Since I filed my taxes online this year and had it direct deposited, I keep checking to see whether anything has been deposited to my account (before I close it in about another month or two). No such luck yet. If I ever DO get it, though, I'll probably immediately spend it on the Land's End online store, as you suggested, or Amazon (wait, does the U.S. version ship to Japan?). At least then it's going back into the U.S. economy....Isn't it? ;)

CMUwriter said...

I bought a Sony PSP. I love it.