Among those waiting anxiously last year to see what Congress was going to do about the catastrophic health care plan were the people in the Government Printing Office who make income tax forms. It's easy to imagine the teeth gnashing as first the House, then the Senate, and finally a conference committee dithered around with the plan.
The printing office people had just so much time to wait. With no congressional decision on catastrophic care at deadline time, they started the presses rolling.That explains why you are asked, on line 54 on Form 1040 - or line 23 on Form 1040A - to fill in the amount of your supplemental Medicare premium.
Don't do it. Skip those lines. Congress repealed the catastrophic coverage and with it the surtax you might have had to pay. If you increased estimated tax payments or had additional tax withheld to meet the surtax and therefore overpaid your 1989 tax, you can claim a refund when you file.
Many older people owe no tax for 1989, but that doesn't excuse most of them from filing a return. Uncle Sam demands that you file if you had a gross income of $5,850, were single and 65 or older.
For married couples filing a joint return, the minimum gross income for having to file is $9,200 if both spouses are under 65, $9,800 if one is 65 and older, and $10,400 if both are 65 or older. A head of household under 65 must file if gross income is $6,550 and he or she is under 65, and $7,300 if older.
Being blind doesn't by itself relieve a person from having to file a return. And some people who make less than the amounts above must also file. They include the self-employed who made at least $400; those who can be claimed as a dependent on another taxpayer's return; those who owe tax on an IRA or qualified retirement plan.
Remember, too, that you may be subject to federal income tax on up to half of your Social Security benefits - although chances are good you won't owe tax on them. Jointly filing couples - one spouse retired and the other working - and married people filing separate returns are those most likely to owe money.
Social Security should have by now sent a benefit statement, Form SSA-1099, to those who received payments last year. That form will show how much the agency deducted to cover Medicare premiums and the like. Page 13 of the IRS instructions for Form 1040 has a worksheet to do the figuring.
A $2,000 deduction is allowed for each exemption shown on the tax return, but there is no additional exemption for those who are 65 or older or are blind. Instead, those who fall in those categories are allowed a higher standard deduction amount. Those who can be claimed as a dependent on another person's return may be limited in the amount taken as a standard deduction.
For tax purposes, you are considered 65 years old if you had that birthday on or before Jan. 1, 1990. The same goes for blindness. If you were blind on the last day of 1989, you are considered blind for the year.
Your government, ever anxious to make it easier for you to pay your taxes, has information tapes on 140 tax subjects you can listen to. A listing of the tape subjects, hours, and toll-free numbers to call is in the instruction booklet that came with the tax forms.
And, you can even find out why you haven't received your refund, or when you can expect it, by calling a number, also in back of the instruction book.
To make use of that service, which is available beginning March 1, have a copy of your return in hand to answer some specific questions designed to establish that you are who you say you are.
Readers may write Harry F. Rosenthal at The Associated Press, 2021 K Street, NW, 6th Floor, Washington, D.C. 20006. Letters may be used in future columns but cannot be answered individually.