Earlier this week, my first work of fiction was published. Cue fireworks and cheering crowds and confetti falling from the sky. (Smoke. Available on Amazon as a print copy and on Smashwords as an Ebook. Please buy me. Support the arts. Support a starving author). I already have orders for the print version filled and in the mail, and it is pretty sweet that you can produce something, then let the Internet do the rest of the work for you, while you get about the business of the next story.
And then, this morning, Smashwords sent me an email saying my W-8 BEN form was missing information and was rejected by the IRS. If I need help completing the form, please contact the IRS. Huh. Not a real-life experience this little Canadian girl ever anticipated!
The problem, as far as I could tell, was that I do not possess a foreign TIN (Tax Information Number). Although I get to opt out of Smashwords withholding money for taxes from my revenue (because I am Canadian, eh!), they have to submit the amount I earn (which I imagine will be in the millions) to the IRS. On line five of this W-8 BEN form, it wants to know either my SSN (American for social insurance number) or my ITIN (international tax information number). On line six, they want my foreign TIN, issued by my tax reporting country. I understand this to be Canada, but I think, now, that Smashwords means the USA. I blithely enter my SIN in both line five and line six, only to have the form bounce back again with a red message saying the number cannot be the same on both lines.
So, I try to research my way out of the problem. First, I call H&R Block, who has kindly helped me file my taxes for the past five years in a row. Their office closed. Yesterday. Hmm. So, I call the head office number for H&R Block and am put on hold. While on hold I think, you know what, maybe I should just go to the source. So, I type in the web address for the Canada Revenue Agency. I type W-8 BEN into the find me slot. No results. I type ITIN. Way too many results and none that seem to tell me what I need to know. Like, you know, how to apply for one. So, I dial the 800 number provided (nice of them!), and sit through a pre-recorded message of options, none of which apply to me. I push the speak-to-a-human option, and am then asked if I would like to fill out a survey on how well they helped me after my call. If so, stay on the line. FYI, not gonna happen.
So, I am put on hold, which I put on speaker phone. For the next fifteen minutes while I wait with elevator music filling my living room, I cruise the Internet, decide to book the more expensive hotel for my upcoming trip to Kamloops, book said hotel, get up and bring the phone with me for a brief potty break, eat a cookie, pet the dog, nag my son — who has hurt his back — about going to the doctor, and generally realize my day off is not looking anything like I planned.
Finally, a voice answers, and identifies with a name and an agent number, and when I haltingly try to explain what I need, he has no idea what I am talking about. He is nice enough, and wants to be helpful, but he is as confused as I am. Since I am not a business, neither of us know why I need any number other than a SIN to file taxes. He transfers me to someone who will be able to help me. Okay, great, and thanks, and back on hold I go.
I wait for another ten minutes, then another agent answers with name and number. He listens as I read the description off the form and tells me, Canada only uses social insurance numbers. That is the only number they have on file. I know this. Again, he is nice, but not helpful. He does, however, have the number for the IRS, which he gives to me. I thank him, and he wishes me good luck.
And sitting in my little British Columbia living room, I phone the IRS. They are located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and I am thinking this is going to cost me large in minutes. Which, maybe it did, but not becuase I was on hold. Because, no, in the US, apparently, there are no wait times to pay your taxes! My call was, in fact, answered on the very first ring. I had no time to prepare my spiel, even, and yet, the man knew immediately what I was talking about. Also, he knew he had not been trained to help me, so he would pass me on, and have a nice day, ma’am. Also, just in case I got disconnected, he gave me the number to call, then told me what buttons I needed to push to get through the automated system.
He needn’t have worried. I got through no problem, and once again, the agent picked up on the first ring. Wow. And even with my bumbling, uninformed Canadian schtick, she knew exactly what I needed, and told me I had to fill out a W-7 form, and if I mailed it from Canada it could take up to 11 weeks to be approved. So, okay, not what I wanted to hear, but still, I have to admit, the Southern side of the border was a bit more impressive than my side of the border today. This lady also called me ma’am, which I’ve decided I kind of like. I mean, maybe not if the Canadian twenty-year old at the liquor store is doing it, but in a southern drawl, yeah, it has a nice ring.
I didn’t like to think that all the millions I’m earning with this novel would be sitting in stasis for eleven weeks, so after I hung up from the IRS (!!!), I did what I should have done in the first place — I emailed Smashwords help desk. Turns out, I only need to fill out line five or line six, not both. My SIN will suffice. And Canada carries the day.