Monday, February 23, 2009

Tax Expertise

I still do my family’s taxes by hand, slogging through the IRS instructions, adding up numbers with a calculator, and penciling in the results. Last year, it took me about ten hours to complete the job. I enjoy the challenge, but I am bothered by the fact that filing taxes is a challenge. I am an intelligent woman with a master’s degree; if I struggle to calculate what I owe in taxes, how can grade-school dropouts and people with limited mental capacity be expected to get through the forms?

The current tax code drives people to hire paid tax preparers, thereby increasing the cost of meeting our already expensive obligations to the government. Most people I know hire someone to do their taxes for them; the one time we did so, we paid more to the preparers than we got back in refunds. Since then, we have added four or five forms to our tax packet; hiring someone would likely cost more than I earn in a week.

The whole idea of paid tax preparers reminds me a bit of the tax collectors in the Bible, hated because they added their cut to the payments people owed the government. The only difference now is that people love them for it – even handing over extra money to shorten the length of time it takes to get back the earnings the government overcharged in the first place.

Whenever I write about taxes, someone inevitably tells me that I’m not an expert and I have no business “giving tax advice.” But why should I have to be an expert? If the government expects everyone to file taxes, the process should be something anyone can do.

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