And … Why Exactly Do I File a Tax Return?

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I believe in paying taxes. I’m not one of those guys who claims that the government doesn’t have a right to collect them. I pay taxes of all sorts, to all sorts of agencies and et cetera

Those tax payments may or may not be used efficiently, properly, or in the ways that I would like them to be used. But honestly I don’t know enough about things like how much it costs to run a country or how flexible various budget line items actually are (before other things start going off kilter) to make a judgement about the use of my tax money. For the sake of this blog post, I am just assuming that the amount I pay and the way it is used is all fine and dandy. Jolly good job by the tax collectors, I say. 🙂

But you know what? I can’t think of a single reason why I should need to file a tax return in order to pay taxes.

Let me reiterate: Paying taxes is fine. Filing tax returns is dumb.

Filing a tax return is like…

  • … sending a letter by USPS mail, and simultaneously jumping in your car to hand-deliver a copy of that same letter.
  • … reverse engineering your grocery receipt while the check-out kid rings up your produce and canned goods, so you can see if you get the same number and remember all the coupons you handed him.
  • … pulling teeth, and not in the gentle way that is unpainful. 😦

So – each year, around February, after finishing my cussing rant against the snow and the cold weather, I begin to receive various “tax statements”. These are copies of the information that the “government” already has, since the folks who send me the tax statements are also sending that same information to the government.

(Note: I put “government” in quotes, because I mean it to refer to the several levels of government which are typically involved – Federal, State, maybe a second state, City, Town, and any other municipalities. I’m not really clear about where and to who exactly my numbers are distributed at that point.)

After I receive all these documents, I go out and spend about $150 on software and filing service fees, and then I muscled my way through a ridiculously bizarre assortment of questions, down a Magic Path of Administrative Super-Hurdles, and come up with some finalized forms and numbers. Then I either send more money or request that money be sent back to me.

I also do other related things like clicking on buttons, giving out routing information for any refunds, keeping extra copies of stuff, and putting it all aside for a week or two so that I can come back to it with a fresh mind, so I can pull more teeth. I take solace knowing that the other lemmings are running off the cliff with me. 🙂

And I pray, through all this, that the numbers I come up with are the same ones that the various government agencies also came up with. I pray that my reverse engineering skills are sharp this year. It would sure make it easier if they would just reveal their number ahead of time and then I could watch it carefully as a target to make sure I come up with the same exact number. Instead, I play a game very similar to Final Jeopardy. My time would be better spent … actually PLAYING Final Jeopardy.

My Disclaimers, Ad Nauseum

I’m not a tax expert. I know that there is some “wiggle room” in tax returns. But I am pretty certain that almost everything in almost everyone’s tax return is not wiggly at all. The bulk of it – all the income and withholding and tax charts – well, that’s preordained. It just is what it is. There are, of course, the deductions, and people will come up with various levels of complexity in there – but it’s not like me and Joe Taxpayer can file for the same set of circumstances and come up with different numbers. I mean, either my medical expense is deductible, or it is not, and there’s a well-defined set of rules which says which way it is – it’s called Topic 502 – Medical and Dental Expenses. Whether I actually take that deduction is likely to have more to do with whether or not I saved the right paperwork during the year or whether my eyes had already glazed shut before I got to that line item, but is not really affected by any other factors. The deduction calculation could be (should be?) outsourced to … the IRS, leaving me to concentrate on the far more important task of record-keeping and double-checking submitted expenses.

Of course, another reason I might not take any particular deduction is just that I might not know about it, or I might have forgotten about it since I was so buried in the 99% of the tax law which is routine and mundane. But still – there isn’t really any wiggle room, so far as I can tell. And there really is no point in me filing a tax return to explain the whole situation, 99% of which the government already knows about before I file. Since they got the same information that I got on my tax forms, very likely before I even got my copies!

But this year, as in years past, when I should be scanning a few receipts and sending them in by fax, kind of like I do with my Flexible Spending Account – instead I buy TurboTax, file a return, and pore over buckets and buckets of numbers and forms in order to make sure I come up with THE SAME FREAKIN’ NUMBERS THAT THE GOVERNMENT CAN CALCULATE WITHOUT MY HELP.

Perhaps I am missing something. I’m sure I am, since I usually do. But can you tell me: Is there, actually, in this modern age of easy distribution of information, any longer any reason for me to file a tax return?

Also, I don’t think I should have to take out my own garbage. 😉

2 Replies to “And … Why Exactly Do I File a Tax Return?”

  1. >Also, I don’t think I should have to take out my own garbage

    Sounds like you and Sharon need a child. That would also open up a whole new adventure for you in filing returns as you consider the implications of dependent deductions. 🙂

    1. See – that’s part of what I’m getting at. I know that filing a return is never going to go away since we need a way to show that I agree with the numbers. But I feel like there are only a few areas where there is actually any choice involved as far as which numbers are submitted – dependent deductions being one. My tax return right now is probably about average complexity, with some mortgage and retirement account factors to consider. But still, at least 90% of what I enter and double-check really isn’t open to debate.

      I’m thinking a system where we could login to the IRS website, be presented with a screen filled with everything that is already fixed, and then be presented with a few short questions to enter anything that the IRS does not already know about, or a chance to make a decision or two about areas that truly involve debatable decisions.

      I wonder whether the effort that currently goes into building products like TurboTax could be invested instead in a system like this that is more tightly integrated with IRS databases?

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