I just finished filing my U.S. taxes for the third time. I’m not sure if I’m more upset at my own stupidity or by the fact that taxes are seemingly created to be difficult.
Here’s what I do know. I had all my taxes processed well before the April 15th deadline. Everything was paid off and all refunds were squared away until I realized I incorrectly filed a form for retirement savings. And I sorta screwed up on some tuition reimbursements. That meant an extra grand in taxes owed. Ouch to the third power.
Okay, so my bad. Maybe I should’ve hired a tax preparer. Maybe I could’ve read the numbers more carefully. Maybe I could’ve slept more than four hours last night. You’re not wrong, but what if — hang on to your wallets — the grand entity requesting our money actually asked for it?! 🤯 Mind blown.
We’re essentially playing a guessing game. When you get a W2 from your day job, guess what? The government gets a copy too. So why in the name of all things warm and fuzzy are we expected to figure out exactly what we owe the government when they could just as easily run those numbers for us? (Don’t even get me started on the rage I feel every time I see another one of President Trump’s childish tweets, read about some new scandal or corruption case in government, or bounce with my teeth chattering over another pothole.)
Return-free tax filing is nothing new. To be fair, there are the obvious drawbacks for things like itemized deductions and maybe even transparency, but there’s no way in hell legislators expect every American to completely understand the tax code and take advantage of it in every correct way. And sure, I had a relatively complex tax situation this year: multiple W2s, some contractor income, college tuition and scholarships, etc., but there’s no reason why I should be having to call out mistakes I made on my taxes. It’s like ordering an orange adult inflatable jumpsuit on Amazon and being allowed to pay whatever I wanted at checkout. Just nope.
The tax prep business is in the billions of dollars. While I have great respect for the individuals who put in the hard work to become a credentialed expert and have a knack for running numbers, hearing things like tax preparation companies lobbying against simpler tax returns and trying to hide their free-file options just leaves a bad taste in my mouth. We can do better.
California has already implemented a return-free system. Companies like Intuit and H&R Block are spending millions of dollars to prevent this. Unfortunately their software tends to be the best on the market and I do use it, though not without a scowl on my face. Quite frankly I don’t mind paying for help filing taxes, or even paying more taxes, but whatever solution I use or pay for needs to work accurately and correctly on the first time. At the very least, we need software that is actually intuitive to the layperson, tax publications that aren’t in the dozens of pages, and possibly helplines that are adequately staffed. Or we need a reformed tax system. Or both.
I’d be interested in hearing your perspective. You can reach out to me on Twitter @shengslogar. In the meantime, I’ll be out back near the swing set, crying in dollars.