For the last three years, I've filed my income-tax returns online, which is a decided convenience, and while I qualify for free e-filing under IRS rules, I'd just as soon pay the nominal fee to the filing firm I've been using: apart from the fact that I am a creature of habit and seldom change service providers unless I'm seriously peeved, I can transfer data from last year's returns with relative ease, especially considering how lousy a job I do of filing actual paperwork at home.

As a preliminary step, I downloaded from the IRS the current 1040 instructions, which have grown to a ridiculous 153 pages. I looked over the usual stuff — this year there are six brackets, from 10 to 36 percent — and the annual "burden" statement, which this year reads as follows:

[T]he average time burden for all taxpayers filing a 1040, 1040A or 1040EZ was 26.4 hours, with an average cost of $207 per return. This average includes all associated forms and schedules, across all preparation methods and all taxpayer activities. Taxpayers filing Form 1040 had an average burden of about 34 hours, and taxpayers filing Form 1040A and Form 1040EZ averaged about 10 hours.

And a pox on whoever exported this document to PDF format: they've contrived to make it impossible to cut and paste the text, which means I had to type the above in from scratch. I should include this in my 34-hour "average burden."

Breaking it down further, I see that I am, for purposes of burden calculation, a "non-business" filer, which means that I have less paperwork than the putative "average" taxpayer. O frabjous day! But I'm still looking at 14.1 hours, which doesn't strike me as all that freaking frabjous now that I think about it, and a cost of $114.

But that figure is scary enough all by itself. Okay, I'm not Donald Trump, and I don't have to file a return the size of a Sears Wish Book; but the idea of ten hours for the short forms is somewhere between embarrassing and galling. No way should this tax system be so convoluted. But so long as politicians propose to use the tax system to reward their friends, or to try to make new friends, we're pretty much stuck with it.

I also discovered, way in the back, that the TeleFile system, in which you punched all these numbers into a phone, has been dropped. I used it once; I don't really miss it, but it's easier to do this stuff online.

Many years ago, I did seasonal tax work for one of the national chains. It was interesting, in the way a train wreck holds one's interest, but I'd hate to have to do it again, if only because there are so many things that have changed in the interim. I don't remember, for instance, there being an Innocent Spouse office, but yes, there is. They have their own form — Form 8857 — and their own 800 (well, 866, which is much the same thing) number. (If you're curious, the details are here; I am not about to try copying stuff from the instruction book again.)

And this year, there is advice about phishing. I wish they'd reproduced the sample phishing email they have at their Web site; that and a couple of lines of explanation would be more than enough, I think, to raise people's awareness sufficiently to reduce this sort of thing substantially.

You'll note that at no point here did I gripe about the actual tax rates. You'll see that soon enough.

The Vent

#566
  21 January 2008

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