1040: The Concept of Dread


Jay Hancock on the oppressiveness of tax preparation:

There are 77 boxes to complete on this year's Form 1040, each a trap door of potential perjury and fraud prosecution. Schedules, worksheets and attachments add many more.

One box depends on another, so even simple, honest errors breed multiple mistakes. Chaos-theory researchers don't need hurricane patterns or bacteria colonies when they have the tax code.

The instructions for Form 1040, by my calculation, have the same length, theme and appeal as Kierkegaard's Fear and Trembling and The Sickness Unto Death, the undergraduate philosophy staples.

Flunking Kierkegaard, however, never sent anyone to jail.

Among the details that follow:

don't forget this year's Where's Waldo deduction—for college tuition. It's not on Form 1040. It's not in the instructions. You have to either hire a psychic or read Publication 970, which basically says, "Pay no attention to everything else we said about this."

The whole column is here. Fox Trot concurs here. The forms are here. They're due tomorrow. Get cracking, people.

NEXT: Where Have You Gone, Jose Padilla?

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  1. The tax forms aren’t that difficult.

  2. Two words: Turbo Tax.

  3. I agree that the federal tax forms aren’t that bad, especially if you’re able to use the 1040EZ form. Having just officially moved to New York however, and having to deal with the part time resident tax form for that state, has given me a whole new appreciation for Form 27B Stroke 6.

  4. Huh? I thought they were due yesterday?

    I got a pretty cheap copy of TaxCut Pro off Woot, and it wasn’t *that* hard.

  5. imw:

    no worries:

    Just use the standard S- 1798 and wrtite in ‘pizza’ where it says ‘machine gun.’

  6. Huh? I thought they were due yesterday?

    Yesterday was Sunday. There’s no mail delivery on Sunday.

    And today is Emancipation Day, so we get to be emancipated for an extra 24 hours.

  7. Tomorrow. It would’ve been today (Tax Day goes to the next day when the 15th is a Sunday), but it’s Emancipation Day in DC. Or something like that. I’ve already filed, thanks to my little friend, TurboTax.

  8. I filed “electronically” but was still required to fill in a form and mail it. I also love that they charge you money to file your tax return, that’s a real scam there.

  9. “Get cracking, people”

    When did you become the state’s slave driver? Stop paying taxes and financing your evil masters you sheep!
    Every drop of blood shed by the State’s goons is on your hands if you pay for it.

  10. Timothy,

    I paid $16 to file electronically. Normally, I’d have just filed by mail, to avoid paying such a silly fee, but I held off filing until Saturday, because I thought I’d be paying the IRS. I was wrong, so I figured I’d just pay the fee and be done with it.


    Now that it’s election time, I hereby revive my other non-Censor obsession, namely. . .

    The Top 100 Things I’d do if I Ever Became a Libertarian President

    #91 Force joe to dismantle government programs that I deem unnecessary. . .with a smile on his face 🙂

  11. Why wouldn’t I be smiling?

  12. And today is Emancipation Day, so we get to be emancipated for an extra 24 hours.

    It’s Patriot’s Day here. All hail Tom Brady!!

  13. Why wouldn’t I be smiling?

    Because centralized control of the uses of private property would be at the top of the list?

  14. The Sickness Unto Death explained the existential destruction caused by despair, which can only be repaired by losing oneself in the service of God.

    The 1040 instructions cause said despair.

    So, the tax instructions cause the despair, Kierkegaard diagnoses it, and the good Lord heals it.

    No wonder the Republicans didn’t do anything about the tax code.

    – Josh

  15. This is a joeposter. Check the email.

  16. One word: extension.

  17. It’s this time of year that I sit back and smile for having the great wisdom to have shacked up with a brilliant accountant over 6 years ago. Yes, I have to endure dull office parties in which we spouses huddle in a corner, slowly drinking ourselves in oblivion, while the CPA’s have a ball talking about taxes, Sarbox, financial reporting, blah, blah; but, I save hundreds every year and never even have to look at a tax form. Ah, bliss! (Oh, and the nice income I get to waste is a great plus, too.)

  18. Words to the wise–

    Marry one of the following, preferably from poor families (so they have something to prove): accountant, lawyer, doctor, computer geek. Make very good friends among the rest.

  19. Here’s another great scam: if both you and your spouse work to permit living above a one-paycheck-to-homelessness lifestyle, chances are the withholding formulas don’t work for you. If not, the government won’t withhold enough of your cash and you’ll end up owing on April 15th. If you owe by a large enough amount, Turbo Tax will tell you that you are REQUIRED to send in estimated tax prepayments for the following year. If you send in any such payments, you go on government’s list, and they send you necessary vouchers and envelopes in ensuing years (Turbo Tax prints out the first set to start things rolling, and although it will do the same in subsequent years, the government asks that you use THEIR forms.)

    So, on top of having your regular paycheck depleted by a huge amount, you also have to make quarterly payments to the IRS. Finally, the first of those quarterly payments is due on the same April 15th when you have to write that big check to the government to cover taxes still owed in the first place.

    This, for the “privilege” of both parents being out the home in order to make ends meet. No way are we living lavishly. And with the seemingly increasing tax bite every year, no way even to get out of debt.

    Frankly, I think it is more important for my family to be out of debt than for good Americans to die in Iraq to preserve “stability” in the middle east region or guarantee that the oil continues to flow. If I had some of those tax dollars back, I could afford an expensive EV, for instance.

  20. Get cracking, people.

    I haven’t filed a return in about 12 years. Have fun, all you wimpy, talkative slaves.

  21. The definition of misery is the California part-year resident form. It makes my head spin.

  22. Oh, and by the way, if it seems as if I am meekly rendering unto Caesar, let me add that “I fought the law” in the 1980s. The law won. It’s cheaper just to pay the protection money. Any of you people who hasn’t yet been mugged by the government — it’s your turn. “After taxes,” I’m having a hard enough time paying rent on my swampland cave on Dagobah, as it is.

  23. Offshore PO Box + Digital Gold Currency= No tax.

    Truly slavery is only made possible by the slaves themselves.

  24. I suspect that for the vast majority of people, filling out the 1040, while no walk in the park, is not that awful, either. Especially if they can afford Turbotax. I’m not one of them, and pay through the nose for an actual account-type person to do it for me.

  25. what the hell is digital gold currency?

    (don’t answer that if you want to include a link, because it will probably be a link to something weird–which the IRS probably tracks)

  26. Jammer, like I said, marry one of those persons. All you have to do is smile occasionally and unclog the toilet from time-to-time.

  27. “Having just officially moved to New York however, and having to deal with the part time resident tax form for that state, has given me a whole new appreciation for Form 27B Stroke 6.”

    i feel your pain. that whole section reads like a burroughs cut-up but with implicit rather than explicit sodomy.

    also, apparently ny state isn’t accepting actual w2 forms anymore – our return was returned to us last month asking us to fill out one of five sections. thankfully process of elimination came through and saved the day. otherwise i’d still be sitting there wondering just what the hell we were missing.

  28. Florida has no income tax, so at least I have that going for me.

  29. I guess I should mention here that I read in the 2006 instructions (come to think of it, it may have been in 2005’s too, but it didn’t use to be a few years ago) that royalties for intellectual property do go on schedule C (and therefore contribute toward self-employment tax income), not E, if you are yourself its creator. I wrote otherwise in a thread here last week.

  30. Florida has no income tax, so at least I have that going for me.

    That’s certainly one of the things that keeps me here. That and the fact that I can’t stand the cold.

    But that fifty percent boost in my homeowners insurance premium this year didn’t help my feelings for the place.

  31. Two comments: (1) It’s kind of ironic that the efficiency of the market (tax software) has made complying with our insane tax system relatively painless, and therefore undercuts the public pressure necessary for reform.
    (2) Mr. Merritt, have you tried the IRS’ withholding calculator?
    Was it that you could not afford the extra withholding recommended byt he IRS, or that you chose instead to send in quarterly payments?

  32. Florida has no income tax

    Nor Texas – and Texas hasn’t (at least, not lately) done stunts like make people file sales taxes for things they bought online.

    I can deal with sales and property tax rather more when it takes less than an hour to do my income tax.

  33. How’s this for a crap deal. I made $24,000 last year, I have a wife and 2 kids and I owe $3,000 to the IRS. It turns out that the family trust I’m a part owner of did rather well last year (thanks in large part to me building houses for it) and I owe tax on the phantom money I never saw. I’m feeling quite bitter today.

  34. Listen people, HIRE A REAL ACCOUNTANT!!! The couple hundred dollars you will end up paying you will more than save in extra deductions, avoiding fines or audits, etc.

  35. Kevin O’Reilly: Regarding calculator — we’re each maxed out on normal withholding already (no exemptions). We’d have to elect additional withholding, apparently, and in that case, I’d rather keep the money in my account; the quarterly payments are therefore the lesser of evils. Plus, they do good by providing a frequent, painful reminder of the tax system’s nearly intolerable burden. (The founders of this country wouldn’t have tolerated it, I’ll bet.) But even if “lesser of evils,” they’re still evil. 🙂

    I agree that the rise of (fairly easy to use) tax prep software is a crutch that helps our unconscionably complicated tax system keep going when it ought to be inspiring riots in the streets. When, at least, will the people rise up and demand the end to the payroll withholding that was supposed to be only a “temporary” expedient to help finance WWII?

  36. # Rex Rhino | April 16, 2007, 1:44pm | #

    # Listen people, HIRE A REAL ACCOUNTANT!!!

    How about this: Any IRS-qualified accountant that wants to look at my taxes for 2005 and 2006 can have 50% of the money I get back. That’s it. If said accountant can save me money for both years, I will consider a more permanent (reasonable retainer) relationship.

  37. like make people file sales taxes for things they bought online.

    New York does this, of course. I’m still trying to figure out how they can trap you here if you leave it blank. How would they (legally) know if I bought something online and avoided the tax…?

    I can deal with sales and property tax rather more when it takes less than an hour to do my income tax.

    Mine took under an hour – I think for the first time ever. And only because I used the same software and nothing changed from last year except the dollar amounts.

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