Gefilte Fish Out of Water


Accounting Woes

Some financial dramz the past two weeks.

First I got that crazy letter from the Israel Tax Authority, saying i owed 3900 shekels ($768) and that they were authorized to bust into my house and take whatever they wanted, approximating that value.  That was last month, and after changing my underwear I called my accountant, who explained to me he’d already dealt with the matter and there was nothing to worry about.

All income in Israel is subject to a 16% Value Added Tax.  But my main two clients are American, and income from them is exempt from this tax.  However, my accountant had failed to file paperwork with the Israel Tax Authority declaring this income.  Even if I don’t owe anything on it, I still have to report it.  Anyway, he dealt with it, and the problem was solved.  Or, so I thought.

The next weird thing to happen was I got two more receipt-type things in the mail.  I asked two separate Israeli friends to look at them for me, since of course they were all in Hebrew.  Both my friends were confused by them – because they said “amount paid,” “you do not owe anything at this time and “refund” on them.  We had no idea what they really were. 

Thinking they could be refunds from my 2009 Israeli taxes, I checked my bank account.  No, they were not refunds, as there were no corresponding deposits there.  But, I was surprised to find a 1,700 withrawl from my account, and a 55 shekel fee, since I didn’t have enough funds in my account to cover that check.

WTF

I called my account to fire ask him what this was about.  It seems his daughter, who was handling my account, had written a check on my behalf for that amount to pay three months of my national health insurance.  (She was able to do this, b/c she convinced me earlier to sign and send her three blank checks, so they could pay taxes and such for me with less delay.)

I wasn’t comfortable with the blank check thing, but grudingly gave her three (instead of the seven she’d asked for).  But, hello! – I expected her to call me and confirm that I had the funds in my account before she wrote any checks on my behalf.  She didn’t, and this is what caused the problem.

Then, I got a big fat check one from of my Israeli clients that I deposited into my account.  I checked a day or so later to make sure those funds were available in my account – and I was SHOCKED to see that while, yeah – they had been deposited, they had also been frozen by the government, who was trying to reclaim the 3900 shekels they said I owed from last month – that my accountant had said he had dealt with!

Double-You Tee Eff !!!

I changed my shorts again, and called my accountant back.  He explained how someone from his office would call the Israel Tax Authority later that day and clear it up for me.  His office called later the same day to say they had spoken with the Israeli Tax Authority and cleared up the matter.  The Authority had promised to contact my bank and get the funds  unfrozen.  But I had two big automatic withdrawls coming up in two days – for my cell phone and gym membership, and if it wasn’t cleared up by then, I was going to be overdrawn in my account again.  I went to the bank and asked them to delay these withdrawls for a few days, but they said they couldn’t help.  They recommended I call Isracard, which is sort of like a credit card company, but….well, if you don’t live here it’s sort of hard to explain.  But they’re sort of like a credit card company, who consolidates automatic-withdrawls and processing them together.  If anyone would have the power to delay this withdrawl it was them.  Only they said the best they could do was roll it into my April payment with interest (about 60 shekels interest).  Fine.  At least I wouldn’t be overdrawn now.  I was really proud of handling that part myself.

One day passed – funds still frozen.  Two days passed – funds still frozen.  After three days and the funds were still unfrozen, I called my accountant back.  He said he had called the Authority again and they said they would clear things up with my bank.  He also said he had now done everything he could, and if I wanted to use my energy more wisely, I would talk to my bank or the Israel Tax Authority directly.

Yikes.  I started with my bank.  They were nice, but also said they couldn’t help.  I told them my accountant said he had received a letter from the Israel Tax Authority saying I owed nothing and the funds should be unfrozen, and we could call him up and have it faxed right over.  My bank said they needed an original letter from the Authority, not a fax from my accountant.  Grrr.  

I decided to hightail it over to the Tax Authority.  It was around noon on Thursday.  A lot of times, government offices close around noon or 1pm, and they’re definitely not open on Fridays.  So, like, the window to deal with this before the weekend was crashing down on me hard.  I punched the addy into my BlackBerry’s Google Maps, took my dog home, mounted my bike, and rode like the wind.

One cool thing was – the more time I spend riding the city streets on my bicycle, the more I coming to learn Tel Aviv.  Like, here, I had arrived at my destination, which was somewhere I had been before.  But I arrived from a different direction, so I was able to sort of get a better sense of how this part of the city connects with that part of it, and so on.  Yay, me.  (You take your Yays where you can when dealing w/ Israeli beaurocracy.) 

I didn’t know if they’d be open or not, because this being Israel, no one was answering the main office number there, and the hours were not listed on the website.  But things went my way, because I found this place, and they were open, and they were nice, and they confirmed the problem was resolved and gave me an original letter to prove it that I could take back to the bank to unfreeze the funds.

Now, I had to peddle like a mofo to make it back to the bank to deliver the letter before they closed for the weekend.  And – I made it there in time, too!  So – with a lot of help from a lot of parties – I really showed up for myself and did my part to get this cleared up.  And my bank said that in less than a week, the funds should be available to me once again.  Just in time for my moving costs, etc.

Damn, boy, I am proud of myself!

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Pants Crap
February 13, 2010, 3:35 pm
Filed under: Official Immigrant Stuff | Tags: ,

I came home from a morning walk this week and found this notice in my mailbox.  I knew it was from a government office, but could tell it wasn’t from the office of Bituach Leumi (health insurance + social security), nor was it from my insurance company.  I pay rent directly to my landlord, so I knew it wasn’t that.  I guess it could’ve been Pete’s dog license from the city (which I never received), but I didn’t think it was that either.  I could recognize the sign for New Israeli Shekel followed buy the numbers 3874, though, and….let’s just say I didn’t have a good feeling about this.

I had no option but to type letter-by-letter, phrases from the notice into Google Translate, which was very cumbersome.  I confirmed that the 3874 was a BIG-ASS fine, which the government was saying I had to pay immediately.  Say it with me now, people:

WTF !!!

I brought it with me to the dog park, hoping my friend Oren would be there and could read it.  He wasn’t, but I wound up asking this nice dog walker I had seen before.  She took a look at it and explained to me – It’s from the Israeli IRS.  They say if you don’t pay them 3874 shekels [$1047!!!] immediately, they can break into your home and take whatever they want.

[there’s no bigger font, people – or I would double the size]

F ! ! !

Welcome to Israel, she said apologetically, and left with her dogs.

Then, Oren did show up.  I showed him the notice and told him what the dog walker said about it.  Ha! he scoffed.  I’m sure it doesn’t say they can break into your place and take whatever they want. I handed it to him, and he looked it over.  Yeah, it pretty much says they can break into your place and take whatever they want, Scott.

[Um, this is the part where I crapped my pants.]  No, I didn’t – not literally or figuratively.  I had a hunch what had caused this.  I am a freelancer in Israel.  I have two employers.  Both are American firms.  That means I am exempt from paying a 17% tax on that income.  (If they were Israeli employers, I would have billed for and received a separate check with each paycheck for this 17% amount, which I would then give to the government.)  But because my employers are based in the U.S., I am exempt from this.

Although it appeared that the Israeli IRS had not gotten the message about my employers being American, and they thought I was delinquent.  Instead of crapping my pants, I did the next best thing – called my friend Anna.  She let me give her the whole story.  I was not panicking, b/c I was sure I didn’t owe this money – but I was disturbed by the whole “we can bust into your place and take whatever we want” aspect of the notice, and I was afraid we weren’t going to straighten it out soon enough, and I’d come home with my computer repossessed.

Anna calmly reminded me how slow and inept the beaurocracy is, and surely no one would be busting into my place for at least the next year.  It’s just paperwork, she assured me.  The system dictates that this is the form they have to send you, but trust me – no one has the intention of actually busting into your place and doing this.

I emailed my accountant right away, and the next morning went into the office and scanned & emailed a copy of the notice to him pronto.  He emailed back a short while later to say Oh, yeah, Nina from my office dealt with this last week.  You had never filled out paperwork documenting that your employers are American, so they didn’t know.  It’s all been taken care of now.  You can disregard the notice.

That’s what I pay him the big bucks for.  🙂  Yay.