First, the Internal Revenue Service sent a 7-cent check to former employee Brent Barker. Next came the form for him to report it as earned income.
The check, the after-taxes result of an apparent 10-cent payroll error, came in 1993. Barker laughed, posted the check on the family refrigerator and forgot about it.But the IRS never forgets.
"This year I just got a W-2 form for it," he said.
A W-2 is the form your employer sends you telling you how much in taxes were withheld from your earnings.
The form puzzles Barker because it is for the 1993 tax year and was mailed from Detroit. Barker already did his 1994 taxes, so to use the form he'd have to pull out last year's tax records and file an amended return.
He won't. Tax rules allow you to round off penny amounts, so 7 cents one way or the other would just disappear.
More puzzling to Barker is why the IRS bothered. He can't fault its honesty, but the postage to send two separate documents, not to mention the labor, cost a lot more than 7 cents.
IRS officials were generally at a loss to explain.
"I'm trying to figure out how this could happen, and I'm having a hell of a time," said Doug Green, spokesman for the IRS Ogden Service Center.
He suggested the Detroit office. A spokeswoman there said the Department of Agriculture does the IRS payroll. She suggested the Washington, D.C., office.
The Washington IRS said to call the Salt Lake City office. There, spokesman Jeff Harding said it must be a computer glitch.
"It sounds like it was an automation thing," he said. "It was punched into the computer, and the computer doesn't know whether it's cents or dollars."