Auros (auros) wrote,

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Stupid people are stupid.

I made a call just now to attempt to resolve a couple of questions relating to my ongoing medical and dental benefits from Motorola, and got possibly the stupidest person I've ever talked to at the HR dep't that deals with such things (the "Rewards Administration Center"). She answered the first question readily enough (about deadlines and whether I should be choosing a fast mail service to avoid risk of missing one), but on the second, she couldn't even wrap her poor little brain around the question.

Background: one part of my medical benefits is a medical "Flexible Spending Account", which basically is sort of like the interest-bearing / investable "Health Savings Account", except that a) it doesn't have the interest/investment aspect (the money just sits there), b) it's a "use it or lose it" fund that disappears at the end of the year if you don't use it up, but c) it becomes entirely available at the start of the year, so you can spend it all in January, even though you pay into it through your monthly premium. It also has the additional advantage that it actually shileds money from FICA, not just the regular income tax -- and if you're at a low income level, as I expect to be in '08, FICA is often the majority of your tax burden.

When you're an employee, your employer just deducts your premium for the FSA from your paycheck, and correspondingly reduces your reported taxable wages (for all purposes -- income tax, SS, and Medicare). My question was: Given that I will now have to pay my medical premium out of my personal checkbook, is the FSA premium still deductible? Can I in some way report it in my itemized deductions, decreasing my taxable wages, and thus increase my tax refund?

The person at the RAC absolutely refused to understand this question.

Moron: Sir, you wouldn't be paying pre-tax dollars.
Me: Yes, I understand that; the question is whether the payment is still a tax deduction -- if I write a personal check to Habitat for Humanity, that comes out of my post-tax personal funds, but when I file a tax return, I say, "I wrote a check to Habitat, I have the receipt, my taxable income is lower, I get a bigger refund."
. . . blank silence . . .
Me: Hello?
Moron: Sir, you wouldn't be paying pre-tax dollars.
Me: *facepalm*

After a couple attempts to explain, I gave up, and before hanging up suggested that maybe the RAC should starrt training its employees about the tax issues connected to the benefits they administer, because I can't possibly be the only person who's ever had questions like this. To which she replied that healthcare has nothing to do with taxes. I had previously been just disappointed to get no answer, but that actually pissed me off. What country is she living in?! In the US, healthcare and taxes are, for better or worse (mostly worse), intimately intertwined. Makes me wonder if, despite the mid-western accent, she was at some foreign call center that just happens to have good voice coaches. :-P

It was particularly galling because I've actually always gotten good service from RAC, before.

After that I tried calling the IRS, which I figured might be an exercise in futility, but hey, they really ought to know... It took three transfers; the initial operator guessed wrong in sending me to the general "medical deductions" dep't, the person in medical sent me to COBRA, and the person in COBRA didn't know the answer but was able to send me to the guy that specializes in the complex of deductible medical accounts -- FSAs, HRAs, HSAs, etc. So, I ultimately did get the answer, which is: No, you can't deduct it; it might still be advantageous because you can spend all the money in January and pay it back over the year, but it doesn't have any tax benefit.

Despite the transfers, with substantial on-hold times, the total talk time was less than the conversation with the moron at RAC. And I was writing up this LJ post during the hold time. *g*

Everyone I spoke with quickly got the basic outline of what I was trying to ask about, and they were all much more friendly than the person at RAC, who sounded like she was pissed at having to think. I guess being off-script made her uncomfortable. (She must have been working from a script; either that, or her brain is a tape recorder; she used the same sentences several times, even with basically the same inflection.) So much for the superiority of the private sector over government bureaucrats.
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