I spent $3k this year on accountant time to file my personal taxes. The majority of the cost is driven by my various extracurricular activities. In the five years where I did my own taxes as a self-employed person, I generally lost between 2 and 5 working days a year to the effort, largely driven by the "calculate the income and expenses of your self-employed business" part of the return.
A Japanese corporation with one employee is in for about ~$5k a year of professional services fees incident to managing payroll for that single employee, not counting the taxes themselves. (I personally can't wait until this space gets Gusto-ed here, and SmartHr and other companies are starting to get there.)
I did it for years with no need for an accountant, despite my business was complicated by special circumstances (non-UK customers, tax-exempt research funds, etc).
The one year I was in credit, they wired me the money within days.
Most people are just afraid of making mistakes (it's not a big deal if you do, you'll get a notice and you file an amended return). Or maybe they just feel their time is too valuable to spend an afternoon filling out forms. But most individual tax returns are really not that complicated.
There are numerous other ways to have income outside of formal employment in the US. The most salient one for tax purposes is self-employment.
Surely most of that capital gains stuff is stock and bond sales.
My justifications for paying:
- We've done the return ourselves once, but it was stressful to worry about not completely understanding everything and making some expensive mistake.
- Service in English.
- If tax officials ever wanted to ask me something, they would get responses in Japanese from a person who actually knows what they are talking about.
- Nice for making sure I get every deduction.
- Probably just doing the "blue form" return is already worth the expense because of deduction benefits. I probably wouldn't ever get around to figuring out how to do that.
The process in Japan seems reasonable, but seems to me more convoluted than in Finland. I was particularly surprised how you have to pay many different fees which in Finland would have been bundled together. Namely having separate bills coming on varying payment schedules for income tax, municipal tax, entrepreneur tax (5%) and health insurance. This seems inefficient and confusing to me.
That's how it is in most countries because they're all different entities collecting.
Exactly. I pay city, state, and federal income tax in the US. My city is about 1.5 times the population of Finland, and that's only one of the three different forms of income tax I have to pay. At least that goes through the state, so it's only two departments, but that's again separate from the federal IRS. And that's just income tax, not other taxes I have to account for and pay as well.
The reason it's more complicated in countries like the US, Japan, India, etc. is because they're much, much larger, which requires more complexity to manage - both the size of the government itself and the revenue-collecting departments that need to support it.
If I only had to pay taxes to my city's revenue department and there were no state or federal tax in the US, I can guarantee that the process would be a lot smoother for me as well.
So I wouldn't say that most countries differentiate like in the states.
Maybe it is a Europe - USA difference?
Definitely a peculiarity of the US system being less cohesive than some other countries - and also dealing with far more people and jurisdictions.
Actually the more population the harder it is keep the different taxes, it would be easier to have a single one and distribute it accordingly from the top.
Our total filing packet runs to nearly 100 pages and our annual bill is between $1800 and $2500, depending on the exact complexity, whether we have any amended filings to make, etc.
I DIY'd my taxes for many years, and once the kids came and brought the additional complexity (some of which is cyclic), I tried a professional one year. Literally in the first year, he looked over my prior DIY'd returns [that I was certain I'd done correctly] and found an error in one year where I'd overpaid $29K by miscalculating the basis of some employee RSUs and it was still within the statute of limitations where I could amend that year. He saved me 10 years' worth of his fees before he'd filed my first full year of taxes.
Here's how it happens to lots of people.
1. Vest RSUs worth $25k-500k, depending on how senior you are and what BigCo you work for
2. Employer sells 40% of your shares instantly upon vesting, for taxes
3. Employer remits that 40% to the government
4. You sell all your shares, because you realize concentrating your risk of investment loss with the risk of unemployment is a bad idea. Basis should be approximately 60% of that year's vesting
5. Employer correctly reports the full pre-tax vested RSU value as income on your W2
6. Broker, for incredibly Byzantine and unfortunate legal reasons, reports basis of vested-then-sold stock as zero
If you miss step 6. when filing your taxes and just naively enter the numbers your broker gives you in your tax forms, you will be double taxed, capital gains on the full value of your sale, instead of ~$0 gain for your vested-then-sold stock. Your employer already covered that income on your W2.
So, sokoloff may have just inappropriately paid capital gains on a $300k vest. Sizable, but fairly normal for a high performing senior engineer or manager at a BigCo.
Alternatively, the same logic applies (and it's even easier to screw up) if you held on to your shares from multiple years of vesting, and sold them all at once, so the original grants may have been smaller. If they appreciated, you owe tax on the adjusted basis, not the zero basis reported by the broker.
Side note: you need to check this particular failure even if you take your return to a place like H&R Block. H&R Block specifically has repeatedly screwed this up for many different coworkers of mine. And then they didn't help with the necessary amended return. Stear clear of H&R Block.
(I wish I vested $300K of shares per year... ;) )
150k of miscalculated basis would be about 250k of pre-tax RSUs, which is the ballpark I was vaguely thinking of.
I assumed in Sheets (arbitrarily) one grant, 10% CAGR on share price, annual vesting, and selling the whole grant in year 4 (so years 1-3 growth are LTCG and year 4 is no growth after vest).
I paid just shy of $3k for tax prep last year. The package of information that I sent to the IRS was more than 50 pages of documentation. I joke with friends that you'd think I was an international oil baron but in my mind I'm a pretty regular person.
Judging from Patio11's writing I would guess that his situation is similar to mine (though he seems more confident in grocking IRS rules and doing his own accounting and taxation than me). Here are a few of the complicating factors that make me want to pay to make the problem go away instead of reading IRS documentation for literal weeks to learn how to do it properly:
* Income in two countries.
* Tax treaty between those two countries.
* RSUs from two companies.
* Options from one company.
* Difference between what stock events are taxable in the two countries.
* 401k and similar account in other country.
* Vanguard ETFs with some sells for loss harvesting purposes.
* Running a company into which I've put some personal cash.
I did my taxes myself using Turbo Tax for around $60/year for years. Until suddenly I didn't and started paying what seems like a lot of money. Once you leave W-2 land, things get complicated more quickly that seems reasonable.
But then I move to the UK which has a different tax year, with a lot of subtleties over where my money was physically located, and what kind of expenses I could claim, and it got crazy complicated crazy fast. Paying $2k probably saved me $10k/year.
Granted, I could have spent a LOT more if I didn't keep track of everything (i.e. needing a bookkeeping service too). Maybe that's where the additional expense came in.
For a simple schedule C, $200 is suspiciously cheap but I hear this all the time, even from people with rental property and I'm like - ok whatever good luck with that. If you go to H&R Block for a simple schedule C, of course they do the whole return and it's a charge per return. I think it's about $500-$600 for a 1040 that also includes A, B, C, D, E and SE, last time I had it done. These days I'm just using TurboTax with numbers plugged in from accounting software.
The systems described by the article seem to be using the data submitted by employers and financial institutions to generate a tax return, which the tax payer verifies or adds to (in the case of self-reported income). For the majority, filing taxes would either be a simple confirmation that the government has complete data or vastly simplified because a great deal of the work has already been done for them.
The withholding is not a calculation of actual taxes owed. E.g. it doesn't even have a way to account for spousal income for married couples.
You can then retroactively go in and modify that by doing a "Arbeitnehmerveranlagung" where you can claim modifications to your automatic tax filings.
This is a different process for when you are self employed and you actually file taxes from "scratch" which however is also a significantly simplified process.
People with various sorts of cash businesses that don't appear at any of the classic touch points are few and far between, and probably don't report anyway.
And for the remaining people who, say, want to record an expense to offset a capital gain (like a remodel that increases the sale price of their home): they have an incentive to let the tax authorities know, since it reduces taxes. I doubt many people would do this more than once or twice in their lives unless they ran a real estate business.
Or do you have to share that with your employer in Japan?
However, every financial institution that deals with you deducts and prepays some taxes on your behalf and also reports the income. So at the end of the year, it shows up in a report which shows tax deposited and you just have to fill in the sum of that income as "other income". This system is good enough that if you are a salaried person with some investments and some tax deductibles like housing loan, tax filing takes about an hour and also normally doesn't have any surprise element of "you owe the taxman X"
It becomes complex only for business owners which is a small minority of the population of any country.
Doing rarer activities such as investing in startups brings you into return-filing territory though, but I guess that's unavoidable since it's private investing, and not a concern for most people. Reading many comments on this post, it's clear hackers generally aren't "most people" ;)
That's an odd characterization. Most people would think getting the equivalent of pre-filled 1040EZ as controlling.
He runs an extremely influential organization that administers a sort of purity pledge that, for most Republican candidates for Congress, is necessary to sign in order to avoid being primaried.
He has decided that making taxes easier to do would make people more okay with tax increases, and so he has decreed that support for the kind of systems other countries use is a violation of this pledge. His excuse is that such a system would effectively slightly increase taxation by preventing people from getting away with taking erroneous deductions. This excuse is obvious, total bullshit.
Grover Norquist wants taxes to be painful because he wants people to dislike government and the concept of taxation in general. Thus, Republicans in Congress must take the same opinion or risk having their purity stamp revoked. Thus, no reforms get passed.
Perhaps this is one area Trump can do some good; certainly he's much less beholden to the traditions that bind the old guard (for better or for worse).
Withholding was a clever and subtle way for us to never see part of our paycheck so then any tax return we get feels like a bonus when it was actually just an interest free loan to the government.
Another way to look at it.. people here talk about $Xk that they make but it's always pre-tax. Ask the same people what they make post-tax and I'd wager less than a quarter can answer it accurately.
The destruction of the tax prep industry in the US would make me so happy that it would overshadow any negative feelings I might have about my tax payments being more transparent to me.
The numbers quoted in the article are insane. Over $10 billion that could be spent on actual useful economic output, wasted. Hours and hours of individuals' time, wasted. It's disgusting.
In some ways I find the preservation of the tax prep industry to be even worse than Trump's recent attempts to protect/resurrect coal industry jobs.
Complex tax systems also encourage simply avoiding engaging in anything that would make tax burdens more difficult to figure; they cause stress (a public health issue that's still consistently ignored); and they encourage cooking the books to make life simpler - which in turn is an enabler for fraud.
The real-world cost of US tax complexity is likely at a bare minimum 100 billion dollars; possibly as much as 10 that; and that's excluding factors that are excluded from GDP; i.e. the value of things like lifestyle/stress but also more economic-oriented factors such as reduced economic agility.
Thanks for the correction.
In my case, because I spend significantly less than I make, so I don't really need to think about my monthly bills. Yes, that's an incredible luxury, and yes I have friends and family for whom even a few tens of dollars of unexpected expense at the wrong time can mean disaster (and yes, I help them out).
Like you, when I made minimum wage I knew my after-withholding figure. But now? I honestly don't know.
In the US, I guess you can look at how much salary appeared in your bank account, and multiply it by 12, to get the yearly salary.
In European countries, there are holiday bonuses and in some countries a 13th month salary, so the yearly income is something between 12.5 to 13.5 times the monthly pay.
I'm not willing to predict the results but it would cause some interesting debates.. imagine everyone being in the middle of their taxes when they cast their votes.
Doesn't sound like you are describing Norquist's organization they way they do in their mission statement. Do you have any references?
I for one find the grandparent's explanation of the organization to be quite accurate. My guess is that you aren't getting the subtext: His main goal is, in practice, to lower taxes for those with high incomes, and the rest of that group's stated goal is just mandatory steps to make it possible to pass that.
The visibility factor is huge, just because without it, his movement would not have legs: The more visible, the more likely it is for people to dislike taxes, whether they are getting a lot out of them or not. Making all taxes lower is also key to sell that goal too, as flattening the system while maintaining revenue would mean a tax increase for a large majority of Americans, which is also a non-starter.
Once you get those real, non-stated goals, then the stated goals make perfect sense, as they align 100% with what one would need to do to get the real goals achieved in practice.
> In 2005, Norquist testified before the President's Advisory Panel on Federal Tax Reform arguing against return-free filing. The next year, Norquist and others wrote in a letter to President Bush that getting an official-looking "bill" from the IRS could be "extremely intimidating, particularly for seniors, low-income and non-English speaking citizens."
so, the argument would be to first make taxes more painful. the best would be to remove auto withholding. if the average $50k a year family had to write a check for $3k to the government every 3 mouths they'd likely push much harder for lower taxes. less taxes means less money for government which would seem to mean smaller government. once the taxes are low and government is small you can simplify the tax code.
I'm not saying I agree with that or that I could ever actually happen but I don't see a flaw in the logic and why their own description of their mission can both say they are for simpler taxes and also be against the kind of simpler the linked article is about
Next you'll be telling me that Google does evil.
Nothing stated in the article supports the claim made above. I believe that's just someone's interpretation in an effort to make certain people they disagree with look bad.
I'm sympathetic to this point of view -- in theory, bearing the pain of taxation, the taxpayers will be amenable to solutions to simplify the tax code to make that pain lessen.
I think, though, at this point, we can say that this has empirically failed. Ironically enough, TurboTax and its ilk have rendered this part almost moot -- the government can keep increasing the tax code complexity, and the software will gloss over the difficulties. Small, gradual simplifications to the tax code will have absolutely no effect, since people will still just use electronic systems to assist them.
In addition, the payroll tax withholding is probably responsible for the remainder -- it's hard to get clear visibility into how much you're actually paying. I only just did my taxes, and I could tell you what my refund was, but I couldn't tell you what I actually paid in taxes offhand.
"I don't want to abolish dependencies. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub."
in the hell
is that legal
Ugh, subproblems everywhere. Fucking campaign finance private-sectorizing the practical viability of taking public office.
1) a simplification of the tax rules - mainly by reducing the number of exceptions and tax deduction rules,
2) filing the tax forms digitally - they started with desktop applications, and now the main focus is on a web application, and
3) pre-entering the information the DTA already has on you, so you just need to correct and add missing information instead of entering everything from scratch - and they collect a lot of data of you yearly.
This improvement happened over the last 15 years, and the time required to filing tax returns was reduced from many hours (mainly to gather all the information, and writing it on a paper form) to like 30 minutes. That is, if your administration is up to date. Filing the tax forms is my yearly reminder to update my administration...
BTW, that slogan is stated more succinctly in Dutch: "Leuker kunnen we het niet maken. Wel makkelijker."
For example, it pre-fills some data but omits obvious stuff like my first name and email address which are highly unlikely to have changed since last year?
Some non-relevant sections can be ignored but others need you to enter 0.00.
Also, if there is an error in the electronic filing, so your return is not submitted, good luck on finding what that error was because they aren't going to tell you.
And, lastly, the switch from the old style site to the new could be handled better, like all in one go instead of randomly switching you between the two.
They may be thinking that it is better to let you cache that information in your browser?
Until you have the gall to (god forbid) open a side business. After that, you'll forever be forced to file a tax return, even if you go back to being a regular employee. Because fuck entrepreneurship, amirite?
If you do not go through the process and close your income tax, NI and VAT accounts then yes you need to file them even if you no longer have a side business in practice.
The whole thing took about 15 minutes, including digitally signing and submitting it.
Just found out: according to their own account, it's their slogan for twenty years already. In ads it seems to be introduced in 2007.
The system of subsidies ("toeslagen") for rent, health care, child daycare and such is complicated indeed... but not really related to tax (although it is sometimes capped based on the income). It was a political coincidence/agreement that the responsibilities for paying those subsidies was put at the Dutch Tax Administration, as that agency was more used to receiving (tax) payments than paying subsidies to citizens. Culturally, handing out money didn't 'fit' the tax administration well in the beginning, but there was no other agency in NL that was deemed capable of getting it done in a short time.
It's a mess in the US because Turbotax and others make money on that complexity and do lobbying to keep it that way.
I remember when I lived in the US a few years ago. Everybody told me that I had to go through a professional to fill my tax return as it was just too hard and error-prone. It sounded insane considering my situation was extremely simple. I was also surprised because I assumed the American tax system to be simpler than the French one.
In the end, it wasn't that hard, but I did have to spend some time to find and read the proper documentations. I think in France people are more reluctant to spend money on things they can do themselves, where Americans are more willing to rely on service providers.
All for about $60.
You know what would be worse than that? A system which has absolutely no competition or financial incentive to improve....
The majority of UK residents don't need to file a tax return. The correct tax/national insurance/student loan deductions are withheld from their paycheques, and in case of problems, a phone call will normally sort them out.
Some people need to file returns. (Those that don't need to can also choose to.) Those people that do can file on paper, though the Government website, or using third party software. There's around 30 listed software providers for personal tax.
The fact most people have never seen a tax return in their lives hasn't prevented competition for tools in the more complex cases.
There is no reason to pay a third party.
There is no reason to get a third party involved in your private financial matters, just another place to get hacked.
And just because it was tolerable for you, doesn't mean that's average. My taxes took four days and about eight pages, and I didn't make much last year.
Again they already know all this shit.
I filed taxes in NZ a few years back and it was a hundred times easier, "next next finish," on a modern website. Took 15 minutes.
Which is odd, because I've used Turbotax (and others) in Canada and it's also been a breeze.
Almost only companies use third-party software here, so the market for tax software is much smaller.
The year I moved to the US I had a pretty complicated tax situation. My company paid for accounting help to get my taxes filed for that year as part of the relocation package. However, the accounting firm had some issues with my Swedish taxes, and told my company it would cost an extra $25k to fully investigate the situation to properly finish my Swedish tax return.
That dragged a bit, so I just called up the Swedish tax agency, explained my situation, and they told me which form to fill out and how, and which rules applied, all in a ten-minute free phonecall.
I'll take that over "APRIL 15TH OR ELSE!!!", which is all you get from the IRS.
It cost 30$, and I can see how you could argue the fact I paid a private company for a convience other countries get from their government for free is sad, but I'll take it since my quality of life would drop significantly at a comparable salary in Sweden due to the amount of taxation vs the ease of taxation. Relatives in Norway have expressed similar sentiments in reverse though, so I guess the grass is always greener on the other side?
Obviously given the choice of a comparable tax burden and simplified returns I'd take it, but I find that for the most part once your taxes are so complicated you have to pay someone to do your taxes, you still won't ever pay anything even remotely high enough to close the gap between what your tax burden in a country like Sweden would be and what it is here
I would much rather pay more to a Sweden-/Europe-style system and feel like I was actually getting something for my taxes, vs. the current state in the US where I only feel like a small fraction of my tax bill actually goes toward expenditures I think are reasonable. And to top it off, this year my tax bill is going to an administration that actively hurts people I care about with its policies. Gross.
I'm saying I in my current living situation feel I benefit from a lower tax burden and higher base salary more than ease of filing taxes would. In a few years that might not even hold true, and me benefiting more from the former doesn't mean I'm against the latter, they're tangential issues that happen to have a correlation in the US vs much of Europe (but obviously lack causation)
And to your point about reasonable expenditures, simpler tax structure won't suddenly change how the US government would spend money...
Also, in the US, as other commenters have pointed out in this thread, implementing pre-filled returns would increase tax revenue, since it would reduce tax fraud considerably.
>Obviously given the choice of a comparable tax burden and simplified returns I'd take it
I'm not against simpler taxes, I'm just saying I don't blindly envy Sweden's taxes, just the part where it's easy
Edit: The ATO developers programme: http://softwaredevelopers.ato.gov.au/
But Iceland errs on the side of under-withholding, if they don't know what your income is going to be. As a result, come tax time, most people get a letter saying "you owe us 60,000isk", and they pay it back as extra money garnished from their wages over the next year.
The Australian government errs on the side of over-withholding, which sounds bad, but it's more like a mandatory saving scheme. Most people discover the tax office has over-charged them by at least $800 over the course of the year, and you get it paid to you in a lump sum after they process your tax return. After deductions are filed, it's not unheard of for people to get 4-6k back.
As a result, for most people in Australia, tax season has a bit of a party atmosphere to it. You'll find people talking about what they're going to buy with their return, and there are sometimes tax season sales on things like TV's etc.
It's a really great example of a small and seemingly unrelated implementation detail making or breaking the whole experience.
 about $600, figure example only :P
Ask a person what their refund was, and they'll know, but total tax? Few do.
On the other hand, it is likely a huge benefit to the poor and those who are poor at managing their money. Come tax time, they could easily face a bill that exceeds their paycheck and paying interest on top of their taxes. It would also cost the government more since they would have to pursue collection more aggressively.
* 99% of people liked the pre-filled forms
* He took this idea to California state congress, but Congresspeople were "warned" about him by Intuit lobbyists
* He hired his own lobbyist but lost by 1 vote in the Congress
Maybe if we all start calling it that, Americans for Tax Reform will realize that they are causing more harm than good by lobbying against a more efficient filing system. They may think that having us spend a bunch of time doing our taxes makes us better realize how much taxes we pay. In reality, it's just another form of government waste.
If you work as a contractor/self employed, you have to fill in a self assessment form. I personally don't need to do one, but my partner did, and it took us about 30 minutes last year.
It really doesn't need to be this complex.
I imagine that they will also tell you if you need pay more for the same reason, but that's never happened to me.
I took a job with an employer in London who didn't get my taxes right, but I was none the wiser of course. A few months in, my tax increased by a significant amount from one paycheck to the next, and this tipped me off to something being wrong. I talked with my employer who looked in to it, but this kept on being the same for about three months. At this point, I'd been on the job for maybe 7 months or so. Finally I'm told I have to sort this out with HMRC myself, so I called them. They were very helpful and pleasant to deal with, and the person on the other end of the phone call very briefly looked over my account and determined I've been overpaying every single month – by a lot. They noted as well that HMRC had indeed changed my tax code to an "emergency rate" or some such about three months prior to the call, but failed to note the wrong tax code that was already there in the first place. This person did sort it all out however, and a couple of weeks later I got a check in the mail for over £6000.
It did finally work out in the end, but I'm not sure I would've noticed if they hadn't hiked my tax so significantly, and I don't know what would've happened then since apparently they hadn't registered the error either.
Moral of the story: HMRC are there to help, but you may want to be proactive and call them if you think anything might be wrong, or you want to double check something. Their phone service is very helpful, and usually not too busy.
Years later, I moved to the US. I'm sure it's probably less bad if you've grown up with this system, but I still have no idea what to change (or by how much) to make sure I don't owe taxes next year. I don't understand how to play the tax game, so I'm pretty sure I'm paying much more than I should.
However, a friend has an interestingly different approach: pay as little as possible in taxes throughout the year, set aside what you estimate your tax burden will be, keep the interest, and pay it all in one lump sum at tax time. They refer to this as "not giving the government an interest-free loan".
Edited to add: I never thought I'd say this, but... I miss HMRC.
For most employed people, this calculator should be very close to correct: https://listentotaxman.com/
That's the case for anyone with the most common case of a single salaried job. If you have a more complex situation (dividends from company share, taxable investments, multiple jobs) then you need to fill in a self-assessment form. I did one last year and it was all done online and took about an hour in total.
In the US, Congress derives much of its power from tweaking the tax code, it's how campaign contributions are rewarded. Do this for a hundred years, and you get a complex tax code. This is also why it's not going to be simplified anytime soon, since Congress will never vote to reduce its own power.
All of that takes about 3 minutes, and it's pretty much sufficient for like 80-90% of my peers (fresh out of college).
But with more complex deductions, you need to use the 'full web app', which is also pre-filled but comes with tons of questions. They take me about 20-30 minutes, because I know how it all works nowadays. But the first time it took me 2 hours cause there's lots of definitions and words that aren't frequently used in the Dutch language.
We get pre-filled tax forms which include salaries and all capital gains from dividends. If the figures are correct, you don't need to do anything: the return has been filed for you. If you need to change or update the information, then you can do it online.
The only time an individual (like me) has to actually add to the pre-filled data is when they have additional income from properties or land. Back in 2013, when the online system first started to accept rental income, I would still need to fill in every freaking month. Separately. In 2014, I needed to provide the personal details of the tenants, but at least the rental income and expenses could be aggregated. For tax year 2016, I only needed to provide the aggregate income and expense for the properties in question.
My tax returns used to be really complicated, and for nearly a decade the Finnish tax authorities tried to systematically tax me twice on the same income. I used to send documents and letters in every year. But that has changed. When I filed my taxes in March, it took me a grand total of 10 minutes.
If I hadn't had the rental income to deal with, it would have been less than 5 minutes. So yes: it's finally a pleasant experience.
Yearly, citizens file their taxes, giving information that the employer doesn't have or does not take into account (like gifts to charity, partner income, mortgage interest paid, health care related costs, tax paid on dividend, ...) that results in more or less taxes that should have been paid. After receiving that tax-related information, the DTA calculates what you should pay additionally, or whether you get some of the taxes paid back.
How often are those exemptions or deductions worth it, especially when compared to the potential complexity and additional cost of a byzantine tax system?
There is talk nowadays about changing this and bringing in deductions, just like in the US.
once you start doing absolutely anything else (having a side job, renting out property, participating in the stock market, having income in multiple states, etc etc etc), you're in the byzantine territory of income/deductions/credits/AMT where nearly every line on every form involves reading the instructions for that line (and yes, nearly every line has its own instructions) and reflecting on your life to decide whether you think that purchase qualifies as a deduction, or what percent of your car's annual depreciation you can allocate as a business expense, or whether you need to declare your 2014 California refund as income on your 2015 Oregon taxes. Money ping-pongs around, getting taxed coming and going (you pay tax on your salary and tax again when you use that money to pay for gasoline (and a very few of these taxes are multiplicative instead of additive, so you can in fact pay tax _on the tax you're paying to buy gas_)).
I'm really not doing justice to the intricacies of the tax system. I would really enjoy reading a James Mickens tribute to it.
Pre-filled forms aren't going to help navigate the insanity, unless the governments (federal and all the states) have access to data about every transaction, every penny that flows through your household.
If your taxes are complicated enough to need an actual accountant (not a tax preparer) you'd still need an accountant. But the tax preparers that fill out forms for simple W2s and a couple 1099 forms would be out of business.
Pretending like the only thing stopping them is Intuit is pretty disingenuous. All the handouts to various groups (homeowners, parents, college grads, etc) would go away under a simpler system. You're going to be the congressman to tell home owners in your district, you know, the ones who vote frequently and donate money to campaigns, that they no longer get to deduct their mortgage interest and property taxes? Very, very doubtful.
You make it sound as if the government is just dying to simplify this stuff, but Intuit won't let them.
Intuit lobbies in its self interest. There is nothing wrong with that. The damage is done by the politicians who listen to the lobbying effort and play along.
Personally, I've always liked the idea of a 'standard deduction'. People with a steady paying job for the whole year, and simple tax affairs, don't have much of a reason to fill out a tax return given how much data our Tax Office pulls in from other sources (e.g. your bank interest gets pre-filled). The longest part of the whole exercise is claiming all those little work-related deductions here and there. For most people I don't think this ever exceeds $1000 total.
So if the government just gave everyone a default $1000 deduction, combined with pre-filling, filing a tax return for most people would be a simple matter of looking at the summary and hitting 'agree'. You could even take it one step further: if you don't fill out a tax return the government assumes you agree that your default return is correct.
We almost had this in Australia . It was a measure in our 2010-11 Federal Budget , but we didn't go through with it for.... reasons...
 And there's good reason to believe it would have radically simplified things. I recall 'tax agents' really hating the idea for some strange reason.
> We have that [a employer withholding system] in Australia, and it definitely simplifies the process for workers at the end of the year.
We have that in America too, only it complicates our tax forms.
When filling out your Form 1040s, under "Payments" you fill field 64 "Federal income tax withheld from Forms W-2 and 1099" from your employer-provided W-2's field 2 "Federal income tax withheld" (ignoring fields 4 and 6, "Social security tax" and "Medicare tax" withheld.) And of course, any 1099-Rs with federal income tax withheld must also be attached to your tax return...
You can ask your employer to adjust your withholding - if you owe too much money (more than $1000 and more than 10% of your total yearly taxes?) come tax time, you'll have to pay an additional penalty. If you paid too much already, the government can wire it back to you, or apply it to next year's taxes.
> Personally, I've always liked the idea of a 'standard deduction'
We have this in America, it's great - mine was "only" $6300 this year (single, no dependents). On the other hand, there are deductions for everything from mortgages to electric vehicles (expiring after this tax year), which can add up quick. Fortunately I'm not there... yet...
I got lucky this year: Only 5-6 forms to mail.
In Australia there is a single federal employment tax, and a single federal sales tax. States and counties typically collect property tax and fees from services.
In the US both the federal and state governments collect income tax. The tax rates and deduction complexity varies widely between the 52 states. Then the states AND counties (districts) have different sales tax rates. California alone has over 1790 districts each with sales taxes set at a local level.
Not to mention capital gains, Medicare tax etc...
Then the comparatively high lobbying, wealth inequality and inefficiencies in the US political systems makes tax change very slow or regressive.
*I'm an Australian living in the US
On the tax complexity, at least on the bright side the only direction is 'up' from here :)
Edit: People who are contractors / not employees have to remember to set aside a portion of their income that the employer would take out automatically for them.
Employers withheld on wages, which is how most Americans "pay" their taxes. Most Americans also use a standard deduction, which is several thousand dollars. Taxpayers can alternatively itemize up all of their deductions and if the sum total is larger, use that sum instead of the standard deduction.
A US taxpayer with just W2 (employee) wages taking the standard deduction can fill out a tax return in 5 minutes or less. It only gets complicated when you try to take advantage of the many deductions and tax credits available in the tax code.
Some people choose to not deduct any, and put a guesstimate of what their tax bill will be into savings, so that they can make some tiny amount of interest on it over the course of the year, then when tax time comes, pay just exactly what's owed. But this feels like playing with fire to me.
Well it should, because it's not really legal. If you aren't having taxes automatically deducted then you're expected to pay quarterly estimated taxes. And if you should have been having taxes automatically deducted and underpay by too much, then there's a fine associated with it.
Once you have dividends, stock sales, mortgages, other revenue, etc. your employer really has no way to know what the right amount to deduct is. If you're consistently over or under, you can change the number of allowances on a W-4 form.
>Some people choose to not deduct any
You can take a large number of allowances but I'm not sure you typically can just not take any deductions. If you significantly underpay you may get hit with a penalty and will have to make estimated tax payments the following year.
Taxes are always social engineering.
I'm going to stay away from discussing TurboTax from a political perspective.
However, I have used TurboTax since the first year I had income. It's super easy. As my income has gotten complex over time (from simple, one employer tax return to multiple employers in a same year, real estate, investments, and office expenses), I have found TurboTax worth the $90 or $100 it costs to purchase the software every year. I always purchase the $40 "Audit Protection" and have never used it: not once I have been audited.
It does take some investment of time. You need to read the questions, learn to figure out the forms that you get from banks, and be careful in inputing your data. But a lot of the sections are skipped anyway. I learned to stay away from buying stocks that are partnerships (pain the behind to do during TaxTime, not worth the hassle if you can find alternative stocks). TurboTax remembers my last year's numbers and that is also super easy. It helps me stay informed and keep responsibility for my tax situation and make my own decisions on what to do next year without "the government or the employer doing it for me."
I have always had the temptation to go to a full service (H&R Block, or some of the higher end ones offered by my bank), with the idea of maybe discovering that I have been overpaying all these years! But I have never done it, mainly because of concerns on identity theft. Today, all my data is in my computer and the only time the data leaves my network is when I send it to TurboTax for e-filing. This could also be avoided if I printed it and mailed it, but I rather not take my chances with lost mail.
I did have some large income a number of years back due to a sale of a company, and I was doubting myself about whether I was "paying too much." I simply asked folks around me, and they told me "nope, you are good" as the cash was distributed as regular income in my W2.
All in all, TurboTax has served me well. My investment is a total of about 10 hours or so spread over a few months. Every time I get a new form, I go to TurboTax and input it. Sometime around March I wrap things up and file.
I do not understand how the hell this is still so complicated in the US. Just change it?
My impression of politics and authorities is "if something is obviously broken then it's already worked on and probably fixed within a year or two".
The reason crap isn't fixed in the US? Beats me - but I'll guess: because a lot of people don't want it fixed. And those people contribute money to politics. You have a political system where money can be used to campaign for political office. Fix that.
0 - https://www.irs.gov/taxtopics/tc455.html
For example, interest rates, pensions, charities, home improvements etc are deductible and automatically deducted since e.g the bank or charity reports the interest cost or donation etc. Travel to work is deductible but the treshold for making the deduction is so high that few can claim it.
The key is to design the tax system so that it is easy to file. A deduction no matter how fair and reasonable that would make thousands have to file paperwork doesn't make sense.
If a law is merely about bureaucracy and is neutral in terms of e.g tax pressure of redistribution then any political resistance must surely be because of some kind of unwanted influence from an organization or company?
When you sign on to the government tax website (or mobile app, or whatever) you are presented with all the numbers they have for you, which means whatever your employer(s) and bank(s) have reported on you. (Same as in the US, the IRS knows these things already, they just don't tell you what they know).
If you are fine with that, you sign it, and it's done. Denmark has their system setup so that if you do nothing, it's the same as accepting.
But if you have more information, if you have deductions to make, and there's plenty of those in Sweden as well, you just fill in the information in the very nice government tax app, and you're done.
I'm fine with taxes, but filing taxes in the US is utter bullshit.
To give credit where it's due, though, the state of California has free online filing (Calfile) , which is nice.
I actually don't mind paying taxes, because I can see around me every day that the money is mostly put to good use. I can imagine if I lived in a place where there were little or no public services, bad public schools, bad infrastructure, five digit annual college fees, polluted tap water, power with frequent blackouts or brownouts etc, I'd be pissed off with my tax bill too.
My heart goes out to the people held in torturous conditions in prison on my tax dollar. I hope that I someday have the strength to resist and refuse to pay for this.
Increased complexity doesn't mean lower taxes or higher taxes, in principle, it just means complex taxes.
In practice, it actually leads to higher taxes to pay for an army of people to check the code is being applied correctly.
In Taiwan they have a system where you can choose to do manual deductions (A), if you think that's in your interest. Or you can take (B) 'the average deduction+10%'. Then you have a 1-page declaration of your income, no deductions marked, but they calculate what the guys who use (A) get, take the average, add 10%, then knock that off your tax bill.
No false claims, no evidence to supply, nothing to check, both sides win, each tax official can manage 100x as many Bs as As.
It's a practical example of how simpler tax codes can result in lower taxes by reducing (needlessly) big government.
I feel you've missed my point. Most countries offer the ability to consolidate some deductions into a standard deduction.
But in Taiwan they consolidate ALL the deductions, as far as memory serves; and the way they do it isn't a fixed amount (e.g. 5%) but the sum of what the other people achieve who go the long route, plus a bonus.
So literally it's 1-page 'sign here', or a complex form.
And it's literally a statistically 'guaranteed' win if you make things easy on everyone (average + 10%).
The US doesn't offer anything like that.
I used to use TaxAct to do my taxes, but unfortunately they aren't simple enough anymore that I even feel comfortable using that without making a mistake. I just got my completed return back from my CPA the other day, and there are (required) things he did on there that I definitely would not have known how to do, even with the prompts in tax-prep software. If I had to puzzle through IRS form instructions, it'd be even more of a mess.
I actually did decide to look up one of the more confusing things my CPA did by reading some IRS form instructions, and it confused me beyond belief. I asked him about it and his explanation sounded reasonable, but there's no way I would have figured it out on my own. The US tax system is so messed up.
I used to do those, but honestly, it's just easier to do it with pen and paper. Either there is automath in the form that screws up if you fill in a field out of order, or they make the form so it cannot be saved. PDF editing software sucks too. It's very unfriendly on Linux. I would suffer through it when I used OS X, because I worried about legibility in the small boxes. I'd never go back to that now. It's a huge pain. The pen is mightier than the keyboard with tax forms.
Why can't the US do _________?
Works for simple tax returns, healthcare, labor laws, unionizing, etc.
If that were true, "if you cannot afford a lobbyist, one will be provided to you" would be a thing (and no, I'm not talking about crowd-funded 'patches' like the public funded NPOs/watchdogs protecting our rights).
As far as I'm concerned it's functionally equivalent to straight-up bribery. Accomplishes the same ends for the same people, just sidesteps the definition.
More robust restrictions on the flow of money from lobbyists to campaigns and superPACs could be an effective deterrent on the worst influences of lobbyists, though.
More detail: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14004152
I once screwed it up and they fixed it for me, yielding a larger return than I calculated (I accidentally zeroed the RRSP contribution carry over value).
Thought maybe this would help give perspective of what can be.
I once heard a (bad) joke. If you are in Canada and hold the door for a group of 5 people you can expect 7 "thank you"s.
Well that's just a joke I thought, there is no way people are polite anywhere. So I decided to act on this little limerick and compare it to Nebraska manners. At a few restaurants, in home town of Omaha, I tried holding the door for groups counting the "thank you"s. The first group of 5 gave me 6 "thank you"s.
I thought that was actually pretty good, but it is not an experiment without a control. I had a friend going to Canada and asked him to try it. Sure enough the first group of 5 gave him 7 "thank you"s.
> Simplify Tax Filings for Middle Class Americans: Obama will dramatically simplify tax filings so that millions of Americans will be able to do their taxes in less than five minutes. Obama will ensure that the IRS uses the information it already gets from banks and employers to give taxpayers the option of pre-filled tax forms to verify, sign and return. Experts estimate that the Obama proposal will save Americans up to 200 million total hours of work and aggravation and up to $2 billion in tax preparer fees.
It's embarrassing as well to witness so many Americans to dismiss what's obvious for anybody having lived abroad. The tax system here sucks donkey balls. Background: lived and worked in three different countries, filled in taxes everywhere by myself. Sometimes with a dictionary, and never was so bad as in the US, even with Turbo Tax.
No, it's not only tax filling. No sir: immigration system, health care, education ... failing to admit the US lags far behind the (rest of the) civilized world is the surest recipe for worsening the situation.
Get smart, America. You're for a big surprise when you wake up to a world that's surpassed you already in most issues.
You also have an option to do installment, deducting from your bank account monthly.
I don't have any other source of income so it will be different for other people.
Apart from the complexity, the problem here is the extremely slow return of what the government owes you.
For 2016 income:
* filing between 20170426 - 20170630
* final calculation by post ~20171101 - ~20180401
* return of overpaid amount ~20180101 - ~20180601
The Belgian revenue service almost always overcharges on obligatory prepayments. Refunds happen only at the end of the process. That means an ordinary Belgian citizen gives a free loan to Belgian government for ~12-18 months.
In some ways, the tax account was a better place to put money than a bank account. There have been periods where the interest on the tax account was competitive compared to banks, so some people would pay a years worth of taxes up front, and come tax season reap the benefits in terms of higher returns. Since they'd already paid all their dues, they'd pay nothing each month and the tax man would just reconcile things monthly as the tax comes due.
This isn't as palatable today when there's no interest, but I know some people still do it because it means their take home pay each month is "higher" in the sense that taxes aren't deducted, because they've already been paid. I've considered doing it, since while it makes no difference in the amount I pay, it means I have more cash in hand at the end of each month, rather than having amortize the tax cost over the year. Obviously this only works if you put away that money elsewhere somehow, taxes still have to be paid after all.
This also reminds me of a trick a buddy once pulled in the U.K. He paid all his taxes to the wrong account, but it was still in the hands of HMRC. Then when the tax man came knocking, he just showed his payment receipts and HMRC noted the error, fixed it up and apologized for he inconvenience. As well, he'd be paid back interest earned on this money, because the account he paid into had a higher interest than the one he should've paid to, which may have had no interest – I don't quite recall. I don't know if he still does this, but he did it by mistake one year, saw the benefits and figured it wasn't illegal so he just kept doing it. If there's anyone here that knows what I'm talking about I'd love to hear you thoughts!
1. Sign-in from Bank-id at Skatteverket
2. Review pre-populated amounts
3. Digitally sign acceptance filing with Bank-id
If I just have one salary from one employer all year round, why should it be more complicated than this?
Skatteverket is a pretty knowledgeable organization though, and quite friendly when you have questions to ask so I recommend giving them a call if you need things clarified. They've helped me out a lot simply by educating me when I've called asking all sorts of dumb questions.
As much as I dislike paying taxes, the process of doing so is anything but inconvenient in Sweden.
Q. How much money should I pay in tax?
A. All of it.
We should require the IRS to release the tax forms in a machine-readable format, e.g., as open-source software. The human-readable instructions should merely be the spec.
Other people can write nice interfaces on top of that. Then you can run the code on your phone to figure your taxes.
PDF Link: https://incometaxindiaefiling.gov.in/eFiling/Portal/StaticPD...
Other than this, the government run e-filing website also has a nice interface to do your taxes. It's fairly simple. Just fill in numbers and click Next Next Next Submit, and you're done.
For a person with simple reporting requirements, like only one source of income from a job, and no foreign income (99% of tax returns), the most likely required action is to just accept the proposal and file it... all done for free.
I guess it is about as annoying as menu elements changing size on hover.
If you were to pay £80 into a personal pension (similar to an IRA), about a month later an additional £20 would be added. That's tax relief at the 20% basic rate. (Higher rate payers currently need to file to claim additional relief, but there's no reason that couldn't be automated too.)
If you had a company pension instead (similar to a 401(k)), you can pay in through salary sacrifice, where the salary your tax is calculated on is reduced and the difference paid directly into the pension scheme.
Whichever route is taken, the end result is the same: a £100 contribution cost you £100 in pre-tax money.