One of the more hilarious subsections of the Instructions for Form 1040, which run 104 pages before you get to Form 8949 and Schedules 8812, A, C, D, E, F, R, and SE inclusive, is titled "Estimates of Taxpayer Burden." This has nothing to do with the actual amount of money siphoned out of your wallet by the Treasury, but with the time you had to spend to tell them where it was. This year's model:

Time spent and out-of-pocket costs are presented separately. Time burden is broken out by taxpayer activity, with recordkeeping representing the largest component. Out-of-pocket costs include any expenses incurred by taxpayers to prepare and submit their tax returns. Examples include tax return preparation and submission fees, postage and photocopying costs, and tax preparation software costs. While these estimates do not include burden associated with post-filing activities, IRS operational data indicate that electronically prepared and filed returns have fewer arithmetic errors, implying lower post-filing burden.

A subtle hint that maybe, bucko, you should consider filing electronically next time, just to avoid this mountain of paper. No, I mean the mountain of paper in this packet; the mountain of paper you have to accumulate for supporting documentation is another peak entirely.

Reported time and cost burdens are national averages and do not necessarily reflect a "typical" case. Most taxpayers experience lower than average burden, with taxpayer burden varying considerably by taxpayer type. For instance, the estimated average time burden for all taxpayers filing a Form 1040, 1040A, or 1040EZ is 12 hours, with an average cost of $210 per return. This average includes all associated forms and schedules, across all preparation methods and taxpayer activities. The average burden for taxpayers filing Form 1040 is about 15 hours and $280; the average burden for taxpayers filing Form 1040A is about 7 hours and $90; and the average for Form 1040EZ filers is about 4 hours and $30.

If you ask me, it takes a certain amount of sheer nerve to call something "EZ" that takes four hours to do.

Anyway, 68 percent of returns are not done on EZ, or even on A, but the traditional two-page 1040, the fifteen-hour job, eight hours of which are spent on record-keeping, four on form completion and submission, two on actual tax planning, and one on the grandly general "Other." I probably should have claimed that $280 on Schedule A, just for kicks. ("Well, you said I did!")

Actually, it took me about three hours to assemble the completed package, which included one form I'd never seen before and, so far as I could tell, required me to fill out exactly one section out of a dozen or so. The one mistake I made, pending IRS review, is that I scheduled my preparation — done at this same old desk — to take place after that night's basketball game. I had no way of knowing, of course, that the game would run into overtime, and double overtime at that. So I was pretty well brain-dead when I finished it up, and I held off on sending it for a week, partly because there's always the chance that I'll think of something I forgot, but mostly because I'm never in a hurry to send a check to government.

It is, of course, futile to ask what can be done about this: there are few things Washington likes better than to pass out privileges to some and inflict penalties on others, and the tax code is a primary vector for that sort of tomfoolery. You can yell all you like about a Flat Tax — I dropped an otherwise simpatico Twitter relationship because that was all she did — but I suspect it's not going to happen without some sort of physical relocation:

Congress doesn't need a single, permanent meeting place; the Supreme Court can rotate its sessions among the 50 state supreme court venues.

Presidents and Cabinet secretaries can be based in Wichita or Boise or Fargo.

K Street can stay in Washington, though.

I propose an exemption for EPA: they ought to be in downtown Detroit, just so they can get an advance look at what they plan for the rest of us.

The Vent

  1 April 2014

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