It's nice that RFI is being taken seriously. In many, many cases it is not: Noisy utility transformers, plasma TVs, poorly designed wall-wart supplies, touch lamps, and broadband over power lines, just to mention a few troublesome sources.
> it is a “conflict of interest” for the government to both collect taxes and calculate how much people owe
Doesn't the government do this anyway? Try claiming that you owe $0 and see how that goes over. The individual taxpayer has already had the money withheld and then submits paperwork after the fact just in case any of the business entities involved failed to submit their required documentation.
You're right. You should distrust any argument Norquist makes about taxation - you'll find that they are either wrong (as in this case) or strawmen. His actual goal is to defund government and you should assume anything he does is done to further that goal. And lest you think this is just ad hominem ranting, google "drown government in a bathtub" and look at the effects Prop 13 have had on California municipalities.
Submit a signed W-4  to your employer with the word "Exempt" on Line 7.
Of course, by doing so you also certify that you are actually meet the legal requirements stated on the form for $0 withholding, under penalty of perjury, so you obviously should only do it if, you know, you actually qualify for it. But that's how you do it.
> I'm aware of that but my point is that most employers would not allow that since the employer is also liable if it under-withheld for a W2 employee.
AFAIK, they aren't liable for under withholding if they withhold correctly according to the W-4 signed by the employee, even if the W-4 claims things (e.g., "exempt" when the employee does not meet the qualifications) that are not accurate.
The employer is only liable for the Medicare/SS withholdings. Half of them are deducted from your check and the employer pays the other half out of pocket. As long as you're being paid as an employee you have no control over that. The employer will only withhold and send income taxes based on what you've specified on your W-4.
Since withholding is performed upfront it either uses older declarations or (more likely) some sort of standard chart. So it's similar to a utility bill: some amount is withheld throughout the year and once all data is in the actual amount of taxes due is tallied and the payment is adjusted (with a check to or from the IRS).
I also used Turbotax this year, and like every year at the end when asked how the process could be improved I made a similar, albeit less convincing, argument to FreakyT's. This is my 4th year of telling Turbotax I hate them after using them.
It's almost beside the point -- it would be a problem even if TurboTax worked perfectly -- but I agree, I've found the interface quirky enough that it makes me question if it's always doing the math correctly.
Turbotax has a view that lets you see all the forms and how they're filling it out. It's pretty easy to check the math there if you really want to.
Depending upon how complicated your taxes are, it can also be easy to do them by hand. I only recently started using turbotax because I was tired of doing it by hand. My taxes are fairly simple though.
It's a few years ago, but I had a slightly complex multi-state situation and found that the numbers TurboTax calculated changed based on the order in which I typed them into their interface. That really felt like a bug.
I don't think anyone's really talking about the literal math, the adding and subtracting. It's more about pulling and putting the right numbers in the right places.
Here's an illustration. Say you sell a security that shows $X,Y00,000 proceeds of which $X,000,000 is cost basis and $Y00,000 is capital gain. It's really important to make sure only the $Y00,000 gets included in any taxable number. The 'math' in question is that this amount should be taxable and this amount shouldn't be, and the checking is that it was correctly expressed to Turbotax.
Turbotax will not make mistakes regarding the business logic of the forms. It will correctly "add the value from line 19d on schedule XYZ" every time. But Turbotax can't know that you entered the data correctly in the first place. It has no underlying concept of "this $Y00,000 shouldn't be taxed" or that you should have used schedule UVW instead of XYZ. It's just a fancy flowchart shuffling some spreadsheet cells. This is why you want to double-check Turbotax's operations using the form views that it provides. The form views are Turbotax's step-through debugger. If you think Turbotax is getting something wrong, it's much more likely that you misunderstood a question and entered something that wasn't what it was asking for.
Perceived bugs in Turbotax are right about in the same space as "blame the compiler" bugs in programming. They can exist, and poor messaging can create false positives, but 99% of the time, it's the user providing some kind of bad input instead.
In my case it fetched a 1099 from some remote source, and the text in one of the fields on the 1099 was automatically entered into a field on my return. The "debugger" identified that the field contained too many characters and would not let me edit the field or submit the return to NY so I had to print it. This results in a $50 failure to comply with the e-file-mandate penalty from NY.
For my IL return it would not allow me to e-file b/c I didn't have the PIN which is assigned the first year you file. However the system's workflow entered an infinite loop and I had to just abandon and click "print return" order to continue.
> Turbotax will not make mistakes regarding the business logic of the forms.
I do not think this is true. It will let you enter arbitrary values in fields on the form that you should not have edited. It does not re-check and delete unnecessary entries from the forms either, though in some cases these problems trip up the debugger and it forces you to delete the return and start over.
If the forms had truly thorough input validation it would be a very confidence-inspiring product to use.
Is it that bad? I tried out TaxACT for the first time and was fairly unimpressed. It didn't help clear up any of the tax questions I had, basically just linked me to the tax docs. It also had a pretty poor UI. Was thinking about trying out TurboTax next year, but it is more expensive and if it is just as bad...
I used TaxACT from 2000 until last year, when its interface for handling my HSA made me want to immolate my computer. Then TurboTax helped out.
This year, I just said "fuck it" and went to H&R Block, because I'm just done with doing it myself. Someone else who does this all day can do it faster, yell at the computer less, and I'll get the same results.
I normally do my taxes myself (I only have a simple schedule A -- home mortgage interest and property taxes deduction). However, a couple years back I sold stock I got years before, so I went to H&R Block. When I looked at what they billed me for -- I sold something like 160 shares of a stock, but the broker had to do multiple transactions (150 shares in one block, 8.something, on another transaction, etc), so I had something like 10 lines that accounted for a few bucks each. And the Block charged something like $25 for each "stock sell" line. All told it cost close to $300 for them to do my taxes.
The best way to simplify tax preparation is to simplify the tax code. The percentage of people who save money by itemizing deductions is extremely small, as is the percentage who claim (or are eligible for) any of the more generous deductions.
Doing taxes in the US feels like going through a garbage can of bad social program ideas, bureaucratic waste, etc. Then to make matters worse we get expensive wars...
The annoying part about all of this is that our taxes are already done. Due to various required forms for businesses, the IRS pretty much knows exactly what you make and how you did it.
Banks file forms. Charities file forms. Employers file forms. They know how many kids you have, they know how old they are, they know if you own or rent, and how much your mortgage is and the interest being paid. They have info on your outstanding student loans. Except for the edgiest of edge cases, there really should be no surprises. Even a moderately powerful desktop should be able to precalculate the taxes for everyone in the country in less than a day.
Why is filing taxes even a thing anymore? Hell, at this point, I wouldn't be surprised if Facebook could do our taxes for us due to all of the info they have. Our tax system is stuck perpetually in 1960, and it's just sad to watch.
As I said in the other posting of this, it is already done at some point. You get most of your tax forms before the IRS does, and you submit your tax return before the IRS processes most of them. They can't verify the information on your 1098s, 1099s, and W2s until the businesses that generated those forms submit their taxes and the IRS processes them.
Yeah, I didn't see that there was a previous post; sneaky. In any case, that just accentuates my point, really. Were this more automated, the businesses wouldn't need to file either. If forms were handled more like an API, i.e. filed when expenses/income happens, it would all be live info.
The government bitches about the digital age stealing their income, but they're not even trying to adapt. Nobody anywhere should have to "file" anything. The very act of buying and selling means it's already on file somewhere, and that means a live view is possible.
Many if not most businesses file taxes and tax forms on a monthly or quarterly basis. Between 75% and 100% of the relevant data is already in the IRS's hands. Businesses also generally don't wait until the deadline to file.
Only businesses that withhold taxes from employees, and then only on the employees. Principals who are not classified as employees, those who qualify as "family employees", and 1099 contractors do not report anything until the end of the year.
> The best way to simplify tax preparation is to simplify the tax code.
That much I absolutely agree with. A flat tax would require a single tax form the size of a business card.
> The percentage of people who save money by itemizing deductions is extremely small, as is the percentage who claim (or are eligible for) any of the more generous deductions.
Not true at all. Anyone who owns a home itemizes to deduct interest. Anyone who pays enough state taxes itemizes because you can deduct state tax payments on your federal taxes.
I do agree that taxes should be drastically simplified, but in the process they would also need to be lowered so that the average person pays the same or less in taxes as they would have with today's high taxes and deductions.
A flat tax isn't progressive though (unless modulated by significant exemptions and deductions, and then you're back where you started). And effectively regressive once you factor in diminishing marginal utility.
Ok, it would require 30 seconds of 3rd grade level math. That's clearly unacceptable, and we need to instead pursue a solution that pushes wealth upwards. Because simplicity, right? No other agendas involved there? Let's talk about job creators.
There are many arguments in favor of a flat tax beyond just simplicity, fairness among them. Also, I wasn't just suggesting a flat tax, I was suggesting a much lower flat tax.
If you took current government revenue from income taxes as a percentage of total personal income and just used that as the flat tax rate, that would indeed be quite unreasonable, mostly because that revenue number is far too high. On the other hand, a flat rate in the 4-5% range might not be unreasonable.
Or, alternatively, a simple formula that would still count as "flat tax":
tax = flat_rate * max(income - floor, 0)
Where "floor" is a threshold below which you pay no taxes. That would address the set of people for whom even a tiny increase in taxes could make the difference between making ends meet and not.
Right, many people do put down their home interest, real estate taxes, medical expenses, sales tax on a new car, etc...but even then, most peoples' itemized expenses fall below the standard deduction, especially for married filling joint.
So yes, a large percentage of people are just getting the standard deduction.
Not necessarily anyone that owns a home deducts. Consider that the median home price is $188,900. If you have a loan of 4% (current rates), that puts the amount of tax you would pay at about 7k for the first year. If you are single, this is just over the standard deduction amount. If married, it is below.
So, yes, plenty of people in the "we can afford expensive houses" category are in position to deduct. Majority of the nation? Not so much.
Let's be honest, the tax code is used as the means to influence social/economic decisions, without having to impose any laws. Even take gay marriage as an example...many states do not allow it still, however; because the IRS has said you can file married filing joint as a gay couple...as long as you were married in a state that allows so, even if you re a resident of a state in which it's illegal, you're good to go. This by itself pretty much made gay marriage legal nation wide. This is just an example, not that gay marriage should or shouldn't have been made legal, but should it be done in this way... using the tax code instead of ratifying the actual laws. It's a long, dark road we have started down with this method, and something needs to be done about it.
Is it really that dark a road to have the IRS pass a simple rule that simplifies tax filing and brings it closer to people's lived experience of keeping their finances as a family unit? They wanted to save themselves some paperwork by allowing people who cohabit as a family unit to file taxes as a family unit. How is that a long, dark road to having the IRS tell everyone how to live?
> The percentage of people who save money by itemizing deductions is extremely small
I don't know where you're getting that. The only number I can find on it is an unsourced assertion that more than 60% take the standard deduction , which still implies that on the order of 1/3 of taxpayers itemize. Hardly "extremely small".
Anyone who bought a home in California in the last 10 years probably saves money by itemizing. Or any other high cost state with decently high income tax. It isn't huge but I wouldn't call it extremely small...
Any tech worker probably saves money by itemizing in California too. State taxes and salaries are high enough for that.
The stated purpose of making mortgage interest deductible is to make home ownership more affordable. We should take a careful look at whether it accomplishes that goal.
My not well studied understanding is that people price homes based mostly on the monthly payment they will make, so the mortgage interest deduction tends to make them willing to pay more for a given home. Rising prices do not make housing more affordable.
> My not well studied understanding is that people price homes based mostly on the monthly payment they will make, so the mortgage interest deduction tends to make them willing to pay more for a given home.
As with any subsidy, you'd expect both an increase in the market clearing price of the subsidized good and an increase in the number of units sold at the market clearing price (that is, it increases both price and affordability), unless you have either perfect elasticity or perfect inelasticity, neither of which seems likely with homes.
> The stated purpose of making mortgage interest deductible is to make home ownership more affordable. We should take a careful look at whether it accomplishes that goal.
To the extent it does, it does only for people near the boundary of being able to afford to own a home, and does so (ceteris paribus) at the expense of everyone who isn't paying interest on a mortgage, including people too poor to do so even with the deduction -- who it therefore makes less likely to be able ever to afford a home.
You'd do at least as much to make home ownership -- but also lots of other things -- more affordable by getting rid of the deduction and cutting base rates on below-median incomes such that the net result was revenue neutral before considering indirect economic effects.
He makes a very good point about understandability in system design:
Mixins hide control flow and add layers of indirection that make it hard to even see what the possible paths through the program are. Instead of a clear and obvious flow of data you have to hunt around to try and piece together the graph of possible events. My hope was that pushing as much of that into data as I could think to at the time would make it observable, but realistically a graph with more than about 20 edges is very hard to make much sense of and an IDE certainly has more than 20 edges.