Taxes

You Want the IRS to Tell You How to Navigate Complicated Tax Forms? That'll Cost You.

There are rules, you know. And they'll tell you what they are for 23 bucks.

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The income tax code being just a tad complex, the general rules explaining tax law to Americans who are compelled to spill their financial guts to the feds every year run to almost 300 pages. Ouch. And happy reading.

Happy reading, that is, if you can get your hands on Publication 17, in which those almost 300 pages reside. The Internal Revenue Service used to freely distribute printed copies of the rules of the road for not getting fined or arrested over matters tax-related. But taxpayers this year looking for copies of that breezy guide to filling out legally mandated tax forms find that the federal government now charges $23 for a printed copy.

The guide is still available for free in electronic form on the IRS website. Cuz…maybe it just hasn't occurred to them to charge? Whoops.

PDF files can be easier to handle than print, if you're tech savvy. But not everybody is tech savvy. Even today, not everybody even has Internet access. Ken McEldowney of Consumer Action points out that "women, minority groups and low-income households make up the lion's share of the 25 percent of American households without regular Internet access. Analysis of census data shows that households with incomes below the national average are 18 percent less likely to have Internet access."

Nice move. The folks least likely to have access to the electronic publication are those for whom purchasing a physical copy is the biggest hit in the wallet.

And, once again, Publication 17 is effectively the instruction manual for tax forms that the government requires us to file under penalty of law. Want to know how to fill them out or what all of that impenetrable language means? Log on a computer at the library and take notes, buddy, or buy a copy from the U.S. Government Bookstore. Because, if you get it wrong…

Now, that's an effective revenue-enhancement scheme.

The federal government supposedly eliminated the free printed version of Publication 17 to reduce costs associated with rolling out all of those dead trees, but eliminating the explanation of how to do something that the government forces people to do seems like an odd and cruel cost-saver. Unless, that is, there's a benefit for government officials to keeping the tax code obscure to the people who suffer under it. Hmm…

Speaking of obscurity… If your income tax code is so complicated that the "general rules" run to hundreds of pages, you're doing it wrong to begin with. Maybe the better cost-saving measure is to simplify the rules—with a machete—so the explanation doesn't require the mass printing of Russian novel-length explanations. That would save not just cost, but aggravation.

That's my suggestion, which government officials may read for free.

NEXT: Stop the Madness: Even Ron Swanson Is Boycotting Indiana

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  1. Seriously, shut it down. Go to a flat tax and stop the madness once and for all.

    1. Just walk away. There has been too much violence, too much suffering. Give me the tax forms, the e-mails, and the Sixteenth Amendment, and I’ll spare your lives.

      1. Hey, you horning in on Lord H’s act?!

        1. Nah, he’s just His Lordship’s Toady.

          1. I think “herald” or “ambassador” or “messenger” would be more dignified.

            1. Look, that’s the title. Don’t like it, take it up with the Humungus.

            2. No, he-s right. I gave up the fingers on my right hand for that title.

  2. Every tax season, randomly select two congresscreatures. Separate them, then give both all of some (anonymous) Joe Blow’s tax info, access to all IRS Forms, a pencil, and a calculator. Give them a whole day to fill out Blow’s return. If the bottom lines do not agree *exactly*, fire them both.

    1. Firing them all sounds perfectly reasonable to me – assuming the firing involves gasoline and a match.

      1. I’ll take “out of a canon, into the sun.”

  3. It’s always helpful to know an expert that can do it for you for free.

    1. Is it his signature at the bottom, or yours?

      1. Not sure, I just signed where I was supposed to and didn’t notice anything else.

        1. Good. Plausible deniability.

        2. Ruh roh.

          1. Was that wrong? Should I have not done that?

            1. Is he a CPA, or an “expert”?

              Doesn’t matter, really. Your risk of audit is zero, and it’s unlikely that any mistakes were made anyway.

              There are 2 spots for a signature on the return. Yours, and one for a paid preparer (licensed CPA). If the preparer signs, he’s professionally liable for mistakes. If not, you are.

              1. He’s not a CPA, just a professor of finance and econ that knows the tax code.

                I doubt he made any mistakes, the only thing difficult about my taxes this year was having had 4 different jobs in 2 states.

                1. That’s easy. You’ll be fine.

                  1. If the preparer was not paid, even if they’re a CPA/EA/Attorney – they shouldn’t be signing.

                    If the return is wrong, you’d be both be liable. Actually, it’s less likely that your preparer would suffer penalties unless there were grievous errors or negligence.

  4. Thank you, J.D., for posting about.something other than this.utterly retarded Indiana signaling fest.

      1. Swiss just went to Indiana.

        1. I want to climb the Indiana Dunes and pretend its the Alps

          *yodels madly*

          1. What is that? A landfill?

          2. You can’t. Mount Baldy is closed to the public. Apparently it ate a toddler.

    1. Stop saying THE WORD!!

    2. Yeah, I agree. I mean, at least one post here noted that it was a bullshit debate on both sides (though the underlying debate isn’t bullshit).

  5. My best friend’s mother-in-law makes $85 /hour on the internet . She has been out of work for 5 months but last month her pay was $16453 just working on the internet for a few hours.
    Visit this website ????? http://www.jobsfish.com

    1. Hey, I’ll bet it’s tax returns, isn’t it? She fills out TAX RETURNS!

        1. IRS help line. For when a Magic 8-Ball isn’t verbose enough.

      1. Illegal tax returns for unsuspecting victims?

  6. You Want the IRS to Tell You How to Navigate Complicated Tax Forms? That’ll Cost You.

    Taking your money by force still involves a cost. Suck it up.

    In China, the cost of the bullet used in your summary execution is billed to your family. I see no fundamental difference between the two activities (either murdering you or robbing you) when it comes to the ethics behind each, so why would charging you for either be inconsistent?

    1. In China, the cost of the bullet used in your summary execution is billed to your family.

      I keep seeing that. Could be true, but sounds truthy. Any confirmation?

      1. Not sure about that, but:

        “It was 1943 and the Nazis were deporting Greece’s Jews to death camps in Poland. Hitler’s genocidal accountants reserved a chilling twist: The Jews had to pay their train fare.”
        http://www.irishexaminer.com/w…..19898.html

        1. ‘Uh, gee. Sorry, but I don’t have any cash on me. Guess I’ll have to walk.’

      2. Could be true, but sounds truthy. Any confirmation?

        It was from a movie with Richard Gere.

  7. Why would the government want to make the tax code simpler? With it as complicated as it is, it’s practically impossible to follow. So if you’re in government and you’ve got an axe to grind … release the IRS hounds!

    1. “So if you’re in government and you’ve got an axe to grind … release the IRS hounds!”

      And tell the IRS to “lose” the emails!

  8. The folks least likely to have access to the electronic publication are those for whom purchasing a physical copy is the biggest hit in the wallet.

    Seriously?

    Look, I hate the IRS as much as anyone here, but;

    1. The people least likely to have access to electronic publications are also the people least likely to need a 300 page manual to do their taxes – 1040EZ baby.

    2. You can read a .pdf on your smartphone (and don’t tell me the poor don’t have smartphones, fuckers paying for groceries with foodstamps have smartphones) – go to an internet cafe and download it.

    3. Paper printing *costs*. I would rather have that cost born by the people *using* it than have to fork over EVEN MORE! of my money for something I won’t use. And let’s face it, you know who’s using the paper version? Accountants.

    1. Definitely number 3.

    2. And let’s face it, you know who’s using the paper version? Accountants.

      Who are also printing the publications from PDFs, not requesting copies from the Service.

      1. I didn’t read all of #3 the first time…

        CPAs are not using paper versions of publications, unless we are viewing the PDF and then printing it to our own printers.

        1. Well fine – the *no one* is using the printed publication.

          If you need a 300 page book to do your taxes then you likely have already hired an accountant to handle that.

  9. Ken McEldowney of Consumer Action points out that “women, minority groups and low-income households make up the lion’s share of the 25 percent of American households without regular Internet access. Analysis of census data shows that households with incomes below the national average are 18 percent less likely to have Internet access.”

    I didn’t realize this was the NYT.

    “Taxes are theft and the government will even punish you for not correctly calculating how much they are going to steal from you. Women, minorities hardest hit.”

  10. What is the latest on the lawsuits over the various states that sell the copyrights to their code to private publishing companies? Texas was a big one, IIRC. You are expected to know and obey the law, but if you want a copy of the law, you gotta buy it from them. If you want to just look at it, you have to go to the proper state office or to a library that has a copy – but don’t be thinking you can just use the Xerox machine there, that’s illegal. (Why do libraries have Xerox machines anyway? Facilitating, aiding and abetting IP theft?) And God help you if the lege changes the law on occasion, ’cause your law books ain’t instantly updating themselves.
    .
    Look up the Georgia code at the .gov site and it directs you to LexisNexuswhere you will see:
    .
    Terms & Conditions
    Your use of this service is subject to Terms and Conditions. These Terms and Conditions do not apply to the Statutory Text and Numbering contained in the Content of the site. However, the State of Georgia reserves the right to claim and defend the copyright in any copyrightable portions of the site. Please indicate your agreement to the Terms and Conditions by clicking “I Agree” below.”

    1. Please indicate your agreement to the Terms and Conditions by clicking “I Agree” below.”

      I imagine that if you click on the “I Don’t Agree” button, Federal agents will bring down your door, come into your home, burn you with a flash grenade and shoot your dog. Not that they tell you this, but one has to assume it.

      1. Well, see, it’s really “voluntary”, and no one is really gonna *make* you pay it. Sorta. Kinda.

  11. I’m guessing that the courts will also not accept the fact that you relied on this guide as a defense if you happen to screw up your tax return, much like it is with the IRS phone line. You probably shouldn’t rely on the phone line anyway, since their advice is wrong about half the time, IIRC. That is if you are lucky enough to even get through, since wait times are in the hours. What a great racket they have going.

    1. wait times are in the hours.

      (Wait time) x (your hourly salary) = Hefty deductHAHAHAHAAA!!

      Damn, couldn’t quite get it out!

  12. How about an Alternative Maximum Tax? No one should have to pay over 10,000 dollars to the IRS. If you max out, you wouldn’t have to fill out any forms at all, except the one with the check like on the estimated quarterly payments.

    1. I don’t understand. How can we punish the more affluent without stealing their money without restriction?

    2. AMT the sequel?

    3. But, but CIVILIZATION!!!

  13. call the CFPB. you’d think they’d do it since they don’t have t get funding from the government.

  14. Maybe the better cost-saving measure is to simplify the rules

    Yeah, but think of all the IRS bureacrats and pencil ushers that will be put out of work. Not to mention all the tax preparers, accountants, and lawyers that will also find themselves out of work. And they say government doesn’t create jobs…

    1. I think that the inference there might be “legitimate6 “jobs.

  15. The article’s headline is repeated below, for readers convenience.

    You Want the IRS to Tell You How to Navigate Complicated Tax Forms? That’ll Cost You.
    There are rules, you know. And they’ll tell you what they are for 23 bucks.

    Re the last sentence, when did the IRS “go into business for itself”?

  16. “The folks least likely to have access to the electronic publication are those for whom purchasing a physical copy is the biggest hit in the wallet.” <<br /
    So what? In socialist America they don’t pay any taxes anyway — not a cent.

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