Thursday, January 22, 2009

Treasury Pick Misfiled Using Off-the-Shelf Tax Software


Millions of Americans might be surprised to learn that the man nominated to be the next Treasury secretary -- New York Fed President Timothy F. Geithner -- did his taxes using the same software they do: TurboTax, a fact revealed in his Senate confirmation hearing yesterday.

Geithner's tax returns from 2001 through 2004 have become an embarrassment, if not a stumbling block to his confirmation. A 2006 IRS audit informed Geithner that he had failed to pay self-employment taxes in '03 and '04, when he directed the International Monetary Fund's policy development and review department. While being vetted for Treasury secretary late last year, he was told he made the same errors on his '01 and '02 returns. He calls them "careless mistakes" that he should have caught and has paid $42,702 in back taxes.

It's an unlikely image: The man charged with leading this nation out of recession -- an architect of the $700 billion financial rescue package -- hunched over a computer, surrounded by stacks of paper, trying to figure out his taxes, just like the 18 million other working stiffs who bought TurboTax last year.

But the disclosures raise another issue: When Geithner found he owed back taxes for '03 and '04, and had probably made the same mistakes on his '01 and '02 returns, why did he wait until confronted by Obama's vetters to check?

That was the question Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) tried to get at yesterday, suggesting that Geithner was hoping to ride out the statute of limitations on audits.

"The question is whether it occurred to you before you were nominated or approached to be nominated that, in point of fact, you didn't have to go beyond 2003 and '04 because of the statute of limitations," Kyl said.

Geithner said: "I did not believe I had the obligation to go back. I had no occasion to think about it, and I might not have thought about it had I not gone through the vetting process."

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