Taxes, College, and Lies
February 10, 2012 5:55 PM   Subscribe

I lied about going to college whilst living with my mom. She still doesn't know. It's getting time for her to file taxes, and things could go very wrong.

I was and am living with my mom. In the earlier part of this year, I lied and said I was going to college in order to keep low rent, as I was broke and at the same time did not feel like incurring debt I doubt I could pay off. I do not want to discuss the merits of such a decision at this moment, so please keep comments away from it.

Tax season is coming up, and my mom is going to claim me as having gone to college for a semester in order to help with her taxes. She expects me to do the same. I have no idea what to do. If I lie, both me and her might be committing tax fraud. If I don't tell her and file mine separately, she might still be committing tax fraud. If I tell her the truth, I might very well be living on the streets/ friend's couches. What help can you offer me?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (30 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Tell the truth and don't lie to your mother about important stuff.
posted by unSane at 6:01 PM on February 10, 2012 [32 favorites]

That's quite a bind. I appreciate the mess you are in, but I don't think you have much choice but to tell your mom about your deception. If you fail to do so, you may commit fraud, and introduce your mom to a whole new host of problems she will incur as a result of your deceit. Think about how much more that may hurt her both mentally and financially if you let this ruse go on for too long. It's going to be tough, but I think you already know you have to tell her. Maybe before hand, try to set up a few places to crash until you get back on your feet. By telling her now, you will have the chance to start repairing your relationship with her sooner rather than later. Your mom is going to be pissed, but not as pissed as she would be if you dragged this out. Good luck.
posted by msali at 6:01 PM on February 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


You gotta 'fess up. You don't have any tax documents from the school, so this is gonna put you both in a LOT of trouble if you file and claim education benefits.

Talk to her. She's your mother. Tell her the truth and tell her why, whatever the reason.

Good Luck!!
posted by BeastMan78 at 6:03 PM on February 10, 2012 [3 favorites]

Here's the thing: there's no "might." Lying on your tax forms in order to receive tax credit (or whatever) is the textbook definition of tax fraud. Considering that schools issue a 1098 or 1099 for students, once the IRS sees that you haven't actually sent in the thing, bells will go off and it all goes downhill from there.
posted by griphus at 6:04 PM on February 10, 2012 [3 favorites]

[Anonymized this. OP you need to contact us via the contact form link if you want to add updates.]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:04 PM on February 10, 2012

Tell the truth and don't drag your mother further into the mess you've created with your dishonesty.
posted by Sternmeyer at 6:15 PM on February 10, 2012

Yeah, you just tell her the truth.
posted by mleigh at 6:25 PM on February 10, 2012

Own up to your mom so she doesn't unwittingly commit a serious crime. Sorry if that means you have to move out - consequences can be very harsh. If you go further with the lie, you're going to be waiting for years (the IRS has YEARS) for the other shoe to drop when your fraud is discovered, and there's no stress like having a terrible secret you're worried is about to be revealed any moment in the mail or email or a knock on the door.

Honesty is coming one way or the other. Better if you take it on your own terms. There may be some scenes, but most likely it will accelerate you dealing with whatever problems you have that made this seem like a good idea in the first place, and I hope gets you on the right track. Something sort of similar (but not exactly this) actually helped me straighten out and refocus my life at about the same age.
posted by Miko at 6:27 PM on February 10, 2012 [11 favorites]

I think you should tell your mom what is going on, for reasons other than taxes. Are you working? Are you in school now? As someone who has their share of screw-ups over the years, coming clean now will only help. I am sure she already suspects, and it won't be as big a surprise as you think.
posted by katinka-katinka at 6:27 PM on February 10, 2012 [3 favorites]

I am sure she already suspects, and it won't be as big a surprise as you think.

Ah, now that katinka-katinka mentions it, I wonder if your mom isn't pushing and prodding at the issue of the taxes in the hopes that you will come clean or at least confirm her suspicions.

fwiw, I know someone who did this exact thing. Eventually his parents found out. Do you know what happened? His parents were spittin' mad and my friend had to get a job, but they didn't kick him out and they supported him when he went to a trade school a couple years later and got a job.

Also, I and several people I know had some ugly times in our early 20s. It sucks, but some of us just take longer to grow up and there's no shame in that. You know what would be shameful? NOT growing up and trying to keep this song-and-dance up.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 6:52 PM on February 10, 2012 [11 favorites]

The vast majority of us have done, will do, or are doing right now, incredibly stupid, stupid things in our 20s.

You can only make it worse by trying to keep this hidden. The shame will eat at you. Come clean, take your licks, and move forward. You're learning - by asking this question, you demonstrate that. You're reaching for help and that's fantastic. Times like this, the truth really will set you free.
posted by rtha at 6:56 PM on February 10, 2012 [7 favorites]

You really don't want to defraud the IRS. You also really don't want to cause your mom to defraud the IRS. What's left? Telling her.
posted by J. Wilson at 6:58 PM on February 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

If I tell her the truth, I might very well be living on the streets/ friend's couches. What help can you offer me?

I can offer you the advice that unknowable but hopefully convenient-for-you consequences are poor criteria for making important moral decisions. Even if they were sound criteria, your first lie doesn't seem to be working out for you. Why are you even considering a second?

Do the right thing because it's the right thing to do, not because you think you'll be better off.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 7:01 PM on February 10, 2012 [6 favorites]

It's time to be an adult. Adults admit to their mistakes and make them right. They don't lie to their mothers in order to get cheap rent. Unless you want to continue to live your life like a child, it is time to make this right.
posted by markblasco at 7:11 PM on February 10, 2012

It actually feels good to get things in the open, perverse as it seems. Pretending is exhausting and stressful as you probably know.
posted by Miko at 7:15 PM on February 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Lying to your mom about going to college? Feeling the need to do that indicates problems in your relationship but doesn't make you a bad person.

Encouraging your mom to unknowingly commit tax fraud? Sociopathic.

You need to tell her.
posted by 256 at 7:20 PM on February 10, 2012 [3 favorites]

Assuming you're in the US, another poster was right: you'd be issued a tax form called the 1098-T by the college or university. This form says how much you were charged by the institution (and also what, if any, scholarships/grants you got through them). They send this to you and to the government. There is no way around this.

There's only one right choice here. Tell your mom she can't claim you as a higher education student on her taxes.
posted by asciident at 7:25 PM on February 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

What help can you offer me?

Well, the help I REALLY want to offer you is something you've already said you don't want to hear... so let's just say everything trinity8-director had to say above is SPOT ON.

With that in mind...

Tell the truth. Turn this into a 'growing' moment rather than 'help me weasel out of this and never face consequences for my screw-ups' moment.

I hope your mom is like most out there... she loves you. She'll forgive you - eventually. She may even help you figure out the next RIGHT move for you in your life (but then again, just be aware the 'right' move for you might not be one you 'like').

Everybody makes mistakes. Some people make brazen asses of themselves by lying to and manipulating others. None of us are perfect... but the BEST people out there are the one's that admit to their mistakes.

posted by matty at 7:47 PM on February 10, 2012 [7 favorites]

Yeah, you have to tell her.

Good news is, parents tend to not stop loving their kids even if they screw up.
posted by drjimmy11 at 7:51 PM on February 10, 2012 [4 favorites]

I think the pile-on here is pretty clear. There's a big difference between (a) lying about what you do or don't do, and (b) actively harming someone else. Your mom.

But to let you know that you are not the worst person in the world -- or, if you are, you've got company -- my daughter did this to me. She's not Satan; she's my daughter and I love her, though she may be a little selfish, a little immature, and the words that come out of her mouth are pretty much equally likely to be true or not.

But I knew, as your mom knows, that I was supposed to have a 1098-T to write off her tuition. I estimated (low) and filed anyway, telling my daughter we'd have to go to her school and get the thing. She said fine. Well, she didn't want to go and she didn't want to go, despite my increasingly earnest attempts to make her understand why I must have this thing. So, bing! Ah. She lied.

So I had to file an amended 1040, and give the money back. Not such a big deal, since I found out before the IRS caught me. But it scared the shit out of me to come so close to utter anihiliation by the grinding wheels of government, and I can't help thinking my daughter either doesn't love me as much as I would like, or is less smart than I thought.

Did I kick her out? No. This is past anger -- this is deep into sorrow.

Are you my daughter?
posted by pH Indicating Socks at 7:55 PM on February 10, 2012 [30 favorites]

Dude, come on.
You know what you need to do, so do it!
This isn't just some lie or fuck up you can fix by lying, this is documentation released, to.the.government! that will be caught. And here is how I know.
As others mentioned, a 1098-T is sent to both you and the government.
The easiest way to get caught with IRS taxes is to have a forged type of document (I.e. you claim but they didn't get a copy that they should have), or they received a document that you failed to claim.
The second one can be accounted for much easier than a second one, plus if you are "claiming to go to xxx state school" and the government doesn't have an exact copy.
I know this as I've known an IRS agent and they've informed me that the easiest people to catch are those who claim something that the IRS should have received but didn't. Particularly since this process is automatic, and a big school isn't mailing out a bunch of forms, no, third parties send in this information processed on behalf schools. Not that mistakes don't happen, but suppose an agent calls the school? By all means, the school will verify if you are a student or not, they have to.
Besides "a story-from-a-friend" let me tell you what happen to me.
I failed to report in my filing the cashing out of a mutual fund, I simply didn't think twice about it during my undergrad days.
Around June, I receive a letter from the IRS claiming I owe the government x amount of $.
I thought, shit! I did forget that.
The government didn't.
turned out my honest disorganization worked out in my favor, I lost money and actually could have written off the amount and that the government owed me some 400 dollars.
Worked out for me! But it taught me that I could have just as easily of lost $400 that the government had earlier accused me of owing more for it not a discrepancy.

Look people have to owe up to shit, sometimes. This is one of those times. Its your mother! It will suck, but no where near as much as dealing with the government. Do the right thing, owe up, the consequences alone are no where near as dire.
posted by handbanana at 8:38 PM on February 10, 2012

At this point your lie will be exposed one way or another so the real question is how would you like it to be revealed?

You could have your mom find out via a tax audit or you could be honest and tell her before you cause her a whole lot of grief.

I think you know what you need to do.*

* You need to tell her before she makes false statements on her tax filing!   <-- That's what you need to do!
posted by mazola at 9:21 PM on February 10, 2012

[Back off, be helpful or keep walking, thanks.]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:47 PM on February 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

I totally feel you. Unfortunately, in this situation, I do concur the best thing to do is to come clean, and ASAP. The longer you wait, the more likely the situation will unravel out of hand. I know it's really challenging to come clean, but I have faith you can do it :) you've already taken the first step by asking here - ignore those discouraging posts putting you down or lecturing you. I don't believe in judging.

Again, just come clean. Your relationship with your mom may be strained, but she may actually understand where you're coming from. After all, she was once in her 20s too!
posted by dubious_dude at 10:04 PM on February 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

I can offer some help on how you do it. First, line up a place to crash for a few days. Second, pack. You minus well prepare for what you fear. Third, find a quiet time, and say it straight and up front.

Mom, I am so sorry. I have lied to you. I have not been enrolled in college for a year. One of the reasons I had to tell you is that I didn't want you to commit tax fraud. I can only imagine how you feel, but please know how sorry I am, and that I am willing to do what I have to to make this right. Which starts with me telling you.

Full stop. Don't try to justify or blame others.
And then wait, answer her questions honestly, and try not to be defensive. Let her process, and feel what she its going to feel. You aren't a bad person, you just did a bad thing. Many people do at some point or the other. It doesn't have to be the thing that defines you. What matters is what you do now. The best thing to do when you can't out run something is to face it. You can do this, others have, and you can too.

Then, no matter what, try to connect with friends or healthy experiences that bring you peace or Joy as soon as possible. No point in beating yourself up.

Good luck.
posted by anitanita at 10:12 PM on February 10, 2012 [15 favorites]

i came here to say pretty much what anitanita said. to put a more positive spin on your situation:

come clean. don't try to shift the blame, make it out to be anoyone's fault but your own. you messed up, but you're coming clean now because you just don't feel at all right about getting her in trouble with the IRS over your dumb lie. you know you made a mistake but you HAVE to do the right thing now or you know you'll just be making 1000 times worse.

take the fallout like a man.

but, for bonus points, and to spin this double-positive (even though she'll still probably be mad at you, and you'll know you deserve it) at some point in the conversation, she'll probably mention how much better off you'd be if you'd just frikkin go to college. use this as an opportunity to bring the convo away from your lying and around to "yeah, you're right, i need to figure out how to make that work even though the financial aspect of doing it worries me." enlist her help in getting you into some kind of post-high school education, and actually do it this time.

why wouldn't you want to go to college? college is awesome! if you're not going for straight a's at MIT or something, it's like a 25 hour workweek, and there's hella babes. finish and you'll make like $10,000 a year more than a high school graduate for the rest of your life, if not more. whats so terrible about that?
posted by messiahwannabe at 10:36 PM on February 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm a mom and I think, if my kid lied about attending college for a while while living at home, it wouldn't be that big a deal. I mean it's not great, but look. She knows you have problems. She is glad to have been a help to you. She might be mad that you deceived her, but she will be glad it wasn't worse.

But DO NOT cause her to get into trouble with the IRS. That ruins lives and will ruin your relationship. Please, don't do it. Tell her now.

"Mom, I have to tell you something I'm embarrassed to admit, but you need to know. I don't have those tax documents because I didn't really attend. I didn't realize that there would be tax consequences for you. I don't want you to get into trouble." That's it.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:10 AM on February 11, 2012 [3 favorites]

As far as consequences go: I don't know whether mom will kick you out of the house if you fess up now. But she is much more likely to kick you out of the house if you fail to tell her what's going on in these circumstances, because you will have been much more irresponsible and thoughtless and made things much worse for her.
posted by J. Wilson at 9:41 AM on February 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

In my experience, people almost always get more upset about not knowing something than they do about knowing something, even if the latter thing seems really bad.

This kind of mistake can be repaired - there will be hard feelings at first, but less exhaustion from trying to cover things up.
posted by analog at 10:16 AM on February 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Also, I know the moment you tell the truth it will seem really scary. But people get through these things. As you see, a lot of us in the thread went through moments like this. Two things are true - first, you'll immediately feel better when it's out in the open even if you aren't sure what's next. Second, you will live beyond this and one day it won't seem as huge a deal as it seems now. Families are nuts and do crazy things to each other and blood is usually thicker than water. I'm not saying it will be easy but I am saying it's doable.
posted by Miko at 7:21 PM on February 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

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