On February 22, 2012, a telescope in Spain discovered an asteroid, 150 feet across, in an orbit that would bring it uncomfortably close to earth. Astronomers reassured us that we would be safe — this time — but that it was "a wakeup call for the importance of defending the Earth from future asteroid impacts." Last month, that asteroid, named 2012 DA14, passed within 17,200 miles of earth at a speed of nearly 17,500 miles per hour. That's a hair’s breadth in cosmological terms — it actually flew under the ring of communications satellites orbiting earth before it headed safely back out into space.
Earth isn't always so lucky. Ironically, on the same day that 2012 DA14 flew by, a meteorite struck outside the remote Russian town of Chelyabinsk with the power of 30 atomic bombs. Amazingly, no one was killed. A century ago, a meteor broke up with similar force over Russia's Tunguska forest, flattening an estimated 80 million trees. Again, amazingly, no one was killed. And just last week, astronomers discovered a comet that could strike Mars next year with an apocalyptic force equal to 25 million times the largest nuclear weapon ever tested on earth.
But what if 2012 DA14 hadn't passed harmlessly by? What if it had struck the earth, with its estimated 3.5 megatons of energy and 200 times the power of the atomic bomb that destroyed Hiroshima? What would our friends at the IRS have done?!?
It probably won't surprise you to learn that the "doomsday preppers" at the IRS have a well-established disaster plan. Internal Revenue Manual Section 10.2.10 outlines comprehensive continuity planning requirements for all sorts of emergencies, including "natural disasters, accidents, technological failures, workplace violence, and terrorism." The goal, in all cases, is "to ensure the continuation of IRS mission essential functions under all circumstances." And Section 25.16.1, updated just last June, lays out pages of disaster assistance and emergency relief program guidelines
So, what actually happens if a chunk of space rock takes out Washington or another major city? The plan assumes that the IRS will resume assessing and collecting taxes within 30 days of the strike. They might be authorized to make cash grants to survivors, or buy assets destroyed in the disaster (and even pay off any outstanding bank loans or mortgages). IRS employees could be reassigned to any job "regardless of and without any effect on the current positions or grades of the employee."
At one point, the Manual even appeared to give delinquent taxpayers a "Get Out of Jail free" card. "On the premise that the collection of delinquent accounts would be most adversely affected, and in many cases would be impossible in a disaster area, the service will concentrate on the collection of current taxes," it said. Of course, that rule would apply only in the disaster area: "However, in areas where the taxpaying potential is substantially unimpaired, enforced collection of delinquent taxes will be continued." Ouch!
The tax code gives you plenty of breaks if your own stuff gets taken out from space. You can deduct unreimbursed damage caused by a meteor strike or other sudden, unexpected, or unusual event. You'll have to reduce the amount of your loss by $100, then by 10% of your adjusted gross income. Then you'll report the remaining amount on Form 4864.
None of us like paying taxes — but you don't have to wait for an asteroid strike to pay less. The real answer, of course, is planning. And if "continuity planning" is the answer for the IRS, tax planning is the answer for us. So call me before disaster strikes, and see how much you can save!
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