Tag Archives: tax code

Do You Want the IRS Doing Your Taxes?

The average American spends over 26 hours per year doing taxes. That’s too much. The obvious solution is to simplify the 70,000-page tax code. But that’s politically difficult. So Austan Goolsbee, among others, has an alternative idea: have the IRS do your taxes for you.

This return-free system is a bad idea for a lot of reasons. One of them is the obvious conflict of interest when your tax collector is also your tax preparer.

Another reason is that the IRS is not up to the task. As I explain in an op-ed being distributed by McClatchy News Services, the IRS rarely has all the information it needs to fill out an accurate return for any one individual, household, or business. People change jobs. They have kids. They get married, and sometimes divorced. They buy homes and cars. Who knows what kinds of deductions they qualify for? The IRS probably doesn’t.

And if the IRS makes a mistake on your return, you would be liable for it. If you want to stay on the right side of the law, you would have to calculate your own taxes anyway, to make sure the IRS got it right. So much for saving time.
Return-free systems have already been tried in California and the UK. Neither attempt can be called a success.
It is heartening that officials are looking for ways to reduce the burden of doing taxes. But a return-free system would treat only the symptom, and poorly at that. The root problem is an arcane, 70,000 page tax code. The solution is to simplify it.

Regulation of the Day 158: Preparing Taxes

The IRS wants to require all tax preparers to register with them, pass an exam, and take continuing education classes. Over at Investor’s Business Daily, Caleb Brown and I explain why that would hurt consumers and taxpayers. Our main points:

-Since the IRS has the power to revoke registrations, tax preparers will have to be careful not to advocate too aggressively for their clients.

-There are at least 600,000 unregistered preparers. Many of them are retirees. Others have jobs, but prepare taxes on the side to help make ends meet. Still others are volunteers. They give their services for free to people who can’t afford a tax preparer. How many will give up, rather than jump through the proposed regulatory hoops?

-Big firms — with more than 500 employees — pay $7,755 per employee per year to comply with federal regulations. Their smaller rivals have to pay a whopping $10,585 per employee per year. That’s a built-in competitive advantage of nearly $3,000 per employee, courtesy of Washington. No wonder so many businesses have D.C. offices these days.

-H&R Block alone spent nearly $1 million on lobbying in the last half of 2009, much of it pushing for these very tax-preparer regulations. It wants the deck stacked even further in its favor.

-The best solution to this problem is simplifying the tax code. There is no legitimate reason for the tax code to be so complicated that most people have to turn to others for help.

 

The Tax Code

According to CNN, the federal tax code stands at nearly 100,000 pages, “with a word length that is about 10 times the size of the standard English version of the Bible.”

Wow.

Surely we can do better than that. Both parties complain about the complexity of our tax code, so why not do something about it?

Turns out they are, just in the wrong direction. Reps. Dreier and Berman are proposing a targeted tax break for filmmakers, and President Bush is proposing a tax break for casinos in the Gulf region.

I’m all for lower taxes, but this is ridiculous. Instead of a cut for a few people here and a few there, why not do away with all exemptions and special treatment and just charge everyone the same rate?

Tax avoidance would be almost impossible. The entire tax code could fit on one page. Imagine that, being able to do your own taxes. Tax rates would almost certainly go down due to popular pressure since everyone would have to pay.

The only downside is that H&R Block would probably go out of business.

Well, that and it probably wouldn’t do a thing about the real problem, which is spending. I noted some of the difficulties with that yesterday.