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[P]
IRS e-file is a Scam, or, Why I'm Going to Snail-mail My Tax Returns

By waxmop in Op-Ed
Mon Feb 03, 2003 at 11:43:14 PM EST
Tags: Politics (all tags)
Politics

The IRS says that it allows US taxpayers to file electronically, but there's a hidden wrinkle: you are required to use an intermediate third party. They are able to file a tax return on a taxpayer's behalf, but we can't file on our own behalf.


These third-party e-file Partners are either for-profit or non-profit organizations. Some of these partners offer the service for free. These free services are restricted to certain groups, like taxpayers with an adjusted gross income of less than $30,000, or military personnel, or citizens of certain states. This page lists who will file your taxes for free, and what the conditions are.

Other third-party partners charge for the e-file service. These are the IRS e-file Partners that charge a fee. The first one listed offers the taxpayer the opportunity to e-file for a mere $6.95.

So what's the big deal? These private firms are offering a servce for a fee. This is basic capitalism.

Well, the big deal is that their service is really nothing but an unneccessary non-technical artificial bottleneck that allows third parties to extract revenue from my tax return.

These third parties, like Jackson Hewitt, or $4.95 1040EZ, are all logging in somehow to some server at the IRS and then updloading tax filings. So why can't I log in to that server? The load on the IRS server is similar if not identical if I'm logging in directly, or if QuickFile USA logs in for me. If our government weren't wiling to sell us out at the drop of a lobbyist's hat, the IRS could publish the protocols for everyone to use. H & R Block could still make a buck by making a pretty glossy interface to that IRS protocol, and people like me could write a GPL client.

What's next? Will the postal service no longer allow private citizens to directly access mailboxes, but instead, now we've all got to pay a fee to a mailbox partner to put an envelope in a mailbox?

I found this page on the IRS website, which offers a truly awful excuse for the practice. I'm also excerpting it here:

Why is the government doing this through a partnership with private industry rather than providing its own software free to the public?

The government believes that private industry, given its established expertise and experience in the field of electronic tax preparation, has a proven track record in providing the best technology and service available. The Secretary of the Treasury has stated that he did not want the IRS to go into the software business. We believe that the partnership of the IRS with private industry will provide taxpayers with higher quality services by using the existing expertise of the private sector, maximizing consumer choice, promoting competition in the marketplace, and meeting these objectives in the least costly manner to taxpayers.

Horseshit. The bottom line: private industry wants some of your tax return, and so they got Congress to prevent you from directly accessing the very same servers that they use. A completely useless intermediary market has been created by the government, and the benefit of new technology been snapped up by commercial interests, rather than shared with all of us.

Finally, this wouldn't be a very good k5 op/ed without a conspiracy angle, so here it is: a typical US citizen's tax filing is a gold mine for demographic profilers. An individual's address, social security number, itemized assets, and income are all right there, just crying out for marketers to profile.

But would these tax preparers really try something like that?

I looked at the Privacy Statement for www.esmarttax.com/, which is one of the partners listed on the IRS website, and I found a few interesting tidbits:

Restrictions on Disclosing Information To Third Parties.

We are not in the business of selling or renting your personally identifiable information to others. We do not reveal personally identifiable information about you to third parties (outside of any affiliate or subsidiary we may have) for their independent use unless: (1) you request or authorize it; (2) the information is provided to help provide a service or complete a transaction for you; (3) the information is provided to comply with the law, enforce our User Agreement or other agreements we have with you, or to protect our rights, property or safety, or the rights, property or safety of others; (4) the disclosure is done as part of a purchase, sale or transfer of services or assets (for example, if substantially all of our assets are acquired by another party, your information may be one of the transferred assets); or (5) the information is provided to our agents, vendors or service providers who perform functions on our behalf. We may also gather aggregated data about you and disclose the results of such aggregated (but not personally identifiable) information to third parties for marketing or promotional purposes.

So, they will be selling your aggregated data for sure, and they will sell your personal data as a service. Hurray! Thanks IRS!

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Poll
How I'm filing my taxes:
o go to hell - I don't live in the US! 31%
o old-school snail-mail 25%
o e-file 23%
o telefile 3%
o I read on the interweb that you can tell the IRS to suck it! 16%

Votes: 146
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o This page
o These
o Jackson Hewitt
o $4.95 1040EZ
o QuickFile USA
o H & R Block
o this page
o Privacy Statement
o www.esmart tax.com/
o Also by waxmop


Display: Sort:
IRS e-file is a Scam, or, Why I'm Going to Snail-mail My Tax Returns | 217 comments (203 topical, 14 editorial, 0 hidden)
The IRS (2.50 / 2) (#1)
by TheOnlyCoolTim on Mon Feb 03, 2003 at 02:31:55 PM EST

The whole IRS is a scam, nevermind e-file. Government lives in the past.

Tim
"We are trapped in the belly of this horrible machine, and the machine is bleeding to death."

I Love Big Brother! (5.00 / 1) (#6)
by dr k on Mon Feb 03, 2003 at 02:53:44 PM EST

Tell me how to comb my hair. Please?


Destroy all trusted users!
[ Parent ]

I'm sure it's a security thing (3.50 / 2) (#4)
by DesiredUsername on Mon Feb 03, 2003 at 02:50:01 PM EST

And what's the big deal, you can pile "electronically" by phone. Also, the only reason you would want to file early is to get your refund early. Today is February 3. You would have gotten your return already if you'd paper-filed on January 2.

-1, I can't get worked up about this.

Play 囲碁

Can only file 1040EZ (4.50 / 2) (#17)
by rhino1302 on Mon Feb 03, 2003 at 03:25:51 PM EST

You can only file 1040EZ by phone. Those of us who have to itemize, or god forbid make more than the limit for 1040EZ, are at the mercy of the middleman.



[ Parent ]
File by January 2? (4.00 / 1) (#20)
by thejeff on Mon Feb 03, 2003 at 03:45:00 PM EST

You're damn lucky to get your W2s by Febuary 1st, much less Jan 1.

[ Parent ]
OK, true (3.00 / 1) (#21)
by DesiredUsername on Mon Feb 03, 2003 at 03:47:14 PM EST

But I got mine by Jan 15 or so. Since nobody else files that early you get your return in just a couple weeks.

Play 囲碁
[ Parent ]
Free loans to the government (none / 0) (#155)
by dipierro on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 06:06:13 PM EST

Also, the only reason you would want to file early is to get your refund early.

The easiest way to get your "refund" early is to not overpay your taxes in the first place.

Anyone who willingly gives the government an interest free loan and then complains that they have to pay money to get it back faster is beyond my comprehension.



[ Parent ]
Not to overpay (none / 0) (#163)
by TheOnlyCoolTim on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 08:57:03 PM EST

Because they let you chose how much they take out of your paycheck?

Hell, they didn't even ask me if they could take from my paycheck, and they weren't supposed to, so I had to file a return for 2001 and a form to make them stop during 2002.

Tim
"We are trapped in the belly of this horrible machine, and the machine is bleeding to death."
[ Parent ]

How to not overpay (none / 0) (#165)
by dipierro on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 10:22:45 PM EST

Because they let you chose how much they take out of your paycheck?

Yep, that's why you fill out a W-4.

Hell, they didn't even ask me if they could take from my paycheck, and they weren't supposed to, so I had to file a return for 2001 and a form to make them stop during 2002.

You should have filled out that form (a W-4, I presume) before you started working there.



[ Parent ]
You have done all this stuff... (none / 0) (#171)
by TheOnlyCoolTim on Wed Feb 05, 2003 at 02:55:45 AM EST

... at least somewhat professionally. It seems that you basically need to be a professional in order to understand the IRS because no one else has the time to invest in learning all this bullshit.

Look at the amount of times you see the word "estimate" on the W-4. The fact that it allows you to just add an amount to withhold from each check (what if I put a negative number?) indicates that the calculations will not always be accurate. Then look at the chance for the average person to fuck it up somewhere and get too much money withheld. (I guess I fucked up the first W-4, or the IRS fucked up putting it into their computer...)

Hell, my parents have a professional accountant handle all this shit and last year they still overpaid and had to get a refund.

Tim
"We are trapped in the belly of this horrible machine, and the machine is bleeding to death."
[ Parent ]

Fair enough (none / 0) (#174)
by dipierro on Wed Feb 05, 2003 at 10:23:29 AM EST

I guess I see where it's too much of a pain to figure out the withholding. But at the same time if you're so concerned that you're going to pay to efile maybe it's worth it. Maybe not, I guess that's why people pay someone else to figure all the crap out.

Hell, my parents have a professional accountant handle all this shit and last year they still overpaid and had to get a refund.

Almost all professional accountants are going to either leave the W-4 up to the client or suggest that they take out at least a little extra. This way instead of being pissed at you at the end of the year when they owe money to the IRS they are happy to be getting a refund. They wind up blaming the lower monthly pay on their employer, not on the tax preparer.

It's something actually encouraged in H&R Block class, probably because it increases the number of people paying them for rapid refund (or whatever it's called these days). To which I said to my instructor "so you encourage people to voluntarily give their money to the government and then you charge them ridiculously high interest rates so that they can get it back faster." She didn't reply.

Any competent accountant doing your taxes will help you set up your W-4 so that you come close to breaking even at the end of the year if you specifically ask him to. For those of you rolling your own there are tools available online and in most of the tax software.

Personally I try to set it up for myself so that I owe as much as possible without getting penalized. :)



[ Parent ]
A kind of firewall. (5.00 / 11) (#5)
by Kyle on Mon Feb 03, 2003 at 02:51:47 PM EST

If the IRS's filing servers were public, they'd be a ripe target for attackers. A determined attacker could probably find it right now as it is, but it's not quite as easy as "I filed my return and then used the address it gave me to hose down everything."

Also, if I were the IRS, I wouldn't want to be fielding tech support calls from the whole US. Yikes. Better to send a manual to some friends and let them figure it out.

Agreed. (3.50 / 2) (#68)
by terpy on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 12:52:03 AM EST

Hearing "...Average hold time is approximately 4.7 hours to speak with a surly and incompetent government employee..." would start riots.

After I thought about this for a moment it dawned on me: America is made up of the same cockmasters and asshats standing in front of you at the DMV, who always act surprised that they don't have all the right paperwork or can't transfer a title without a bill of sale and *the title* - opening this up to the public would be a nightmare. Too bad though. Perhaps a simplified tax code, and several years passing (most people *still* aren't acclimatized to computers) would be a good idea first.

---
"I may be wrong, but I have arrived at my wrongness through expensive and respectable means."--ghjm
[ Parent ]

Christ on a barbeque (4.66 / 3) (#73)
by Rogerborg on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 03:12:10 AM EST

What kind of logic is that?  Because the tax system might get DoS'd, they preemptively deny service?  Whoopee, and the winner is... the spineless beaurocrat in the red corner.

In other news, the incidence of street muggings is very low among people that are too afraid to leave their homes.

"Exterminate all rational thought." - W.S. Burroughs
[ Parent ]

Might get DoS'd? (3.33 / 3) (#74)
by Bios_Hakr on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 04:10:21 AM EST

More likely WOULD get DoS'd.  I don't know how well protected the system is from outside access, but if it ever became public...

Not that I think 3'rd party filing is a good thing.  I'm just saying that everyone and his brother would want to take down the IRS servers.


[ Parent ]

And the nice thing about this argument (none / 0) (#75)
by Rogerborg on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 04:57:34 AM EST

Is that we'll never find out who's right, because of the aforementioned spineless beaurocrat.  Sigh.

"Exterminate all rational thought." - W.S. Burroughs
[ Parent ]

Nah (none / 0) (#93)
by Wah on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 10:14:16 AM EST

it's obvious that it would get DDoS'ed.  You're talking about the Internet and the day when the U.S. collects a good portion of its operating capital. That would be a heck of a doorway to jam, and a plum for any number of teenagers from any number of countries, and some real enemies too.
--
Fail to Obey?
[ Parent ]
DDOSs are a fact of life (none / 0) (#107)
by trane on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 12:45:42 PM EST

Much like the threat of sending an anthrax-infested letter to the IRS offices.

Except DDOSs don't kill anyone (directly at least), have never lasted more than a few hours, and can generally be filtered...


[ Parent ]

A DDoS is worse than you think. (none / 0) (#118)
by Kyle on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 01:37:07 PM EST

The attack on DALnet has been going since December.

More info on DALnet's front page. They can't filter it.

You could argue that someone attacking the IRS would soon witness a federal justice delivery mechanism. It hasn't happened in the case of DALnet because they're too poor to be able to sue the FBI for not doing their job. OTOH, maybe the feds are really hot to get the perpetrators either way, and it's just easy to hide.

In any case, a DDoS is nothing to sneeze at.

[ Parent ]

Dalnet (none / 0) (#123)
by TheOnlyCoolTim on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 02:09:30 PM EST

Dalnet's back up now although irc.dal.net is still nonfunctional. They're also trying to kill themselves by banning filesharing channels, legal or illegal.

Tim
"We are trapped in the belly of this horrible machine, and the machine is bleeding to death."
[ Parent ]

True, but (none / 0) (#128)
by trane on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 02:26:52 PM EST

A good idea should not be abandoned because of the fear of someone doing something illegal to stop it. I think there are ways around it.

We're not stopping building skyscrapers because of the threat of airplanes being driven into them...(not that I think skyscrapers are a good idea, but anyways.)

[ Parent ]

Electronic tax declaration in France ... (5.00 / 3) (#82)
by Chakotay on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 08:18:00 AM EST

In France there's a way to declare your tax delcaration electronically, through the website of the tax services. As you may or may not know, income tax in France is not taken at the source (as in, withheld automatically from your pay each month, after which you can reclaim anything you might have payed in excess). Instead, everybody has to do a tax declaration each year before april, and by september you will get to hear how much income tax you will have to pay for the previous year, which then has to be payed generally before the end of the current year. Basically a braindead system that costs many millions of euros in organisation and shit...

Last year just before the deadline date, I was called up for a short "mission" as tech support agent for the tax services. Tech support for their online declaration website, working 12 to 24 for two weeks. The pay wasn't shabby, but still...

The last day, teh system was slow almost to crashing all day, because everybody apparenty waited for the very last moment to get their tax declarations in. In the evening, the system went down. Not just only the website, but also our phone system, because obviously, everybody who waited for the clock to strike 23h on the very last day on which one could file the tax declarations now tried to call us to shout at us that the damned thing didn't work. So we finished the day in the absolute calm of our callcentre, while thousands upon thousands of French taxpayers desperately tried to get their declaration, or their hotline call, through to our systems, and failing miserably at all counts...

The government ended up granting 4 days of extra time for those who had started their online declaration before 24h on the deadline date, because the system luckily at least stayed online enough to be able to register the failed attempts...

Maybe such a problem is what the US government is trying to prevent?

You do NOT want a system like that to buckle under huge load. And if it does, you don't want the general public to know... I mean, with the system as it's set up by the IRS, if the system does go down, they can simply keep their systems open for a few more days so those partner companies can get the backed up declarations though.

I think the system that was chosen isn't half bad. It may prevent things from going wrong, and if things do go wrong, it effectively hides the problems behind an opaque fifo buffer so the taxpayer doesn't have anything to worry (or riot) about.

--
Linux like wigwam. No windows, no gates, Apache inside.

[ Parent ]

Electronic Tax Lodgement in Australia (4.00 / 1) (#181)
by xean on Wed Feb 05, 2003 at 10:21:45 PM EST

Income Tax in Australia is done along the lines of most mentioned so far. Employee takes required amount from your pay and provides you with a Group Certificate at the end of the financial year to use in completing your tax return. After claimable expenses and all you get a particular amount back. I haven't attempted to logde electronically because mine is normally complicated enough that I just dump all my data at an accountant.

However, when the Australian government introduced the GST (Goods and Services Tax) - something similar to a VAT, where 10% is thrown on top of (almost) everything you buy. If a business buys an item they can claim the GST component back, likewise they have to keep the GST component of anything they sell to return to the ATO (Australian Taxation Office).

When they introduced this tax (July 2000 - from memory) I was working for a software company developing a financial applicataion for a specific industry. I was charged with the job of developing the parts of the system which would interface with a rather badly written java client for lodging the BAS (Business Activity Statement - a form for businesses to return every 1 or 3 months to the ATO for reporting GST). The only problem with that system was the Java client was rather badly behaved.

The system worked by you connecting to the ATO's servers and downloading the latest pre-prepared form for your organisation. The (ATO supplied) java application would then export this form as XML. The application we developed would then read in the XML, populate the relevant fields and then output the completed XML back to the java client for uploading back to the ATO.

This method provided lots of good checks, making sure that the form was only submitted once (as you had to receive the correct form from them first with a few fields already filled out - they were the ABN (Australian Business Number - which was needed by most businesses when the GST was introduced) and a DocumentID along with the dates for the period covered by the form.

I'm sure that the ATO also provide a smiliarly well designed system for submitting personal tax forms, however as I mentioned before, mine are genreally complicated enough I'll just leave them with an accountant.



[ Parent ]
The French! (none / 0) (#189)
by wnight on Thu Feb 06, 2003 at 02:12:52 PM EST

The French have it easy. What with their cultural protection laws that say script kiddies must use locally developed, French language, exploits. This  drastically cuts the potential number of attackers. :)


[ Parent ]
Why yes! (none / 0) (#87)
by Kyle on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 09:40:30 AM EST

Incidence of street muggings is very low among people that are too afraid to leave their homes! Maybe I just live in a bad part of a subnet, but I think of the Internet as a high crime area. If you know there are muggings in the neighborhood, it's not irrational to be afraid to leave your home. I think the IRS would be making a large target of itself if it made itself too public. I think reasonable people can disagree on this, but in my mind, it's not "might get DoS'd", it's "might not get DoS'd".

They could make a system that would withstand attacks pretty well, but you'd be spending more tax dollars to make it than if you just did what they're doing now--keeping off the street in the first place.

[ Parent ]

As a taxpayer (3.00 / 2) (#108)
by trane on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 12:54:57 PM EST

I'd rather they spend the tax dollars on making an open, secure system than turning it over to private enterprise.

To avoid the last-minute rush (and obvious time target for a DOS), they could do something like stagger the filings, giving each taxpayer a time when they have to file by, or something...

[ Parent ]

UK tax returns e-filing (5.00 / 1) (#77)
by Kruador on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 06:23:20 AM EST

Firstly, most of us UK citizens (that fit into the lower tax bracket) don't have to fill out a tax return. We have 'Pay As You Earn,' where the Inland Revenue arranges with your employer to take taxes from your pay packet.

People who have complicated situations, claim expenses, are self-employed, own land or earn the appropriate amount to pay the higher rate of tax are asked by the Inland Revenue to complete a self-assessment tax return. It's called Self Assessment because you provide the IR with the information - they don't spend the time working it out (which they used to).

If you return the forms before a certain date, you can leave the actual calculations blank; you only have to provide the relevant information. The IR then contact you to tell you how much you owe.

You can fill in a web-based version of the form yourself, or you can ask an Agent (typically an accountant) to fill it in for you. You can also use 'commercial software' according to the FAQ at http://www.ir.gov.uk/efiling/sa_efiling/sa_faqs.htm . I believe this includes the UK editions of software such as MS Money, Quicken, QuickBooks, etc.

UK ahead of US on e-government?

--
Kruador


[ Parent ]

BR is mostly the same (5.00 / 2) (#81)
by hummassa on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 08:12:58 AM EST

Here in Brazil, if you live in a salary, you have part of it discounted by the employer and passed on to the Receita Federal (our IRS); by April, you have to fill your tax form (we have a single Delphi program [yes, yes, w32 only...] to fill the form electronically, provided by the Receita, and sending it over the Internet) so if you have deductions that would make your tax less than you have paid, you get your money back (by October, if you are lucky).

Self-employed people have the option of paying the Carnê-Leão (hehehe... the Lion Carnet -- the Lion is the official symbol of the Receita Federal) every month, and then, by filling your tax forms in April you would get your exceeding deductions back. (in October) Or, they can fill the tax forms in the Delphi program without paying in advance and it will generate the bill for you to pay (without the discount that the Carnê-Leão offers...)

[ Parent ]

"Pay As You Earn" (5.00 / 1) (#95)
by Control Group on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 10:36:55 AM EST

Interestingly, the IRS has arranged with all employers to withhold taxes from employees' paychecks, and everyone has to file a return. Moreover, the IRS has never done the sums for you, you've always been responsible for providing them with accurate information and calculations. In point of fact, a citizen of the US is criminally liable if s/he misrepresents hir tax information.

Since the advent of telefile (touchtone filing, which you can use if your taxes are sufficiently simple, and your income sufficiently low), there is a way a citizen can have the IRS do the figuring, given the basic numbers, but as soon as you do anything even vaguely complex (have children, say), that's no longer available.

So, from my POV, the UK system is stunningly taxpayer-friendly. And, conversely, I would imagine that you would find the US system prohibitively cumbersome and offensive. I'm always fascinated by the various aspects of life the people take for granted, depending on their background.

***
"Oh, nothing. It just looks like a simple Kung-Fu Swedish Rastafarian Helldemon."
[ Parent ]

Oh yeah... (none / 0) (#180)
by Gooba42 on Wed Feb 05, 2003 at 04:41:53 PM EST

Thsi part in particular pisses me off to no end. I do the math to fill out the form. They do the math to check my math and if I'm wrong, I'm a criminal. If I'm right, nobody has been saved any work whatsoever because they do the math anyway to check mine.

I would much prefer if they just took what they needed, gave me a receipt and either trusted my numbers or didn't make me do them. At no point do *I* get to correct *them* under the current system, so why should I have to do the numbers? Just to give me the chance to be a criminal over some stupid thing?

[ Parent ]
By the same argument (4.50 / 2) (#112)
by trane on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 01:12:31 PM EST

The IRS should not allow us to mail our returns in directly to them, because they might contain anthrax or letter-bombs...

[ Parent ]
An idea (3.00 / 3) (#9)
by skim123 on Mon Feb 03, 2003 at 02:57:40 PM EST

Protest this by not filing your tax form this year. You can keep us up to date with periodic stories on how the IRS will deal with you on this.

Money is in some respects like fire; it is a very excellent servant but a terrible master.
PT Barnum


that would be poll option 4 [nt] (none / 0) (#16)
by waxmop on Mon Feb 03, 2003 at 03:24:53 PM EST


--
We are a monoculture of horsecock. Liar
[ Parent ]
Not much of a protest (none / 0) (#69)
by Greyshade on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 01:10:59 AM EST

for those that would be receiving refunds. Now the government gets to keep MORE of your money.

[ Parent ]
Hrm (none / 0) (#70)
by TheOnlyCoolTim on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 01:16:55 AM EST

If you don't file your taxes (and you were supposed to) but the IRS figures out you would get a refund, do they still come down on your ass?

Tim
"We are trapped in the belly of this horrible machine, and the machine is bleeding to death."
[ Parent ]

I think this is how it works (none / 0) (#72)
by Greyshade on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 02:33:15 AM EST

As I understand it, they will not come after you because they already have your tax money (plus some since you were owed a refund that you never received). You only have a problem if you lapse a number of years and end up oweing the government money. I think you have 4 years to file before it is considered tax evasion. Before that point you are just delinquent and subject to late fees and fines.

Oh yeah, and I am not an accountant. I got this info from an accounting major back when I was in college. If someone with more knowledge can confirm or correct me, please do.

[ Parent ]

I didn't file last year (none / 0) (#168)
by groove10 on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 11:04:53 PM EST

And I was due a refund... I haven't heard anything from them yet. I am planning on rolling it into my refund for this year. It's not like they didn't have my refund for a whole 12 months collecting interest on it (don't know if that statement works since it's the gov't).
Do you like D&D? How bout text-based MMORPGs? You need to try Everwars. It's better than shooting smack!
[ Parent ]
That's not how it works. (none / 0) (#214)
by vectro on Sun Feb 09, 2003 at 04:09:54 AM EST

I am not a tax advisor. I have never filed taxes on my own. I have never seen a tax form. This is not advice. Do not follow these directions. See a licensed tax advisor.

You have to file a tax return for the tax year in which the witholding took place. You can't report the previous year's income on this year's return; otherwise, the government can't find the money.

And, you will probably face penalties (e.g., your refund will be smaller) for filing last year's return late.

“The problem with that definition is just that it's bullshit.” -- localroger
[ Parent ]

Not much they could do (none / 0) (#186)
by dipierro on Thu Feb 06, 2003 at 12:42:56 PM EST

Virtually no one gets charged with criminal tax evasion. I can't imagine them charging criminal tax evasion on someone due a refund. So even if you do get caught, what happens? You certainly don't have to pay interest, and I don't think you have to pay penalties either (don't quote me on that though, I'd have to look it up).

Of course, it depends why you're due a refund. If it's because you have a whole bunch of itemized deductions (or capital loss cost bases) that the government doesn't know about, I'd imagine they would go after you.



[ Parent ]
Motives (4.25 / 4) (#10)
by Three Pi Mesons on Mon Feb 03, 2003 at 02:59:03 PM EST

Suggestion: IRS doesn't want to be responsible for things going wrong. They don't want to spend time, money, and be legally at risk, making their system work for random taxpayers. So they delegate a tier of the service to private companies, as a "filter" - they can be sure (sort of) that the data they get from the third parties is properly formatted and such. They don't have to do tech support for the general public, just for a handful of clueful admins. If things go wrong, they blame the private partners.

:: "Every problem in the world can be fixed with either flowers, or duct tape, or both." - illuzion
Moronic (4.09 / 11) (#12)
by theNote on Mon Feb 03, 2003 at 03:01:36 PM EST

There is a good reason why you are being charged to file electronically.

It is expensive for the providers of eFile.

You are more than welcome to create your own eFile software.
A cursory glance at the website indicates all you need to do is:
1. Fill out this form:
http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/f8633.pdf

  1. Pass an FBI background check.
  2. Make sure you follow the rules and regulations.
An abbreviated list is here:
http://www.irs.gov/taxpros/providers/article/0,,id=97681,00.html

THEN you can write the software and hope that you get it done by April.
Also, make sure you brush up on the tax code enough to write a piece of software that can navigate all the ins and outs with ease.
You should probably try and get your CPA at night since I believe you aren't allowed to charge people to do their taxes without one.

Or you could just pay someone the $20 and have your refund next week.

well... (5.00 / 1) (#14)
by waxmop on Mon Feb 03, 2003 at 03:19:18 PM EST

Of course I can become a third-party e-file partner, and then allow people to use my client. Those partners didn't spring out of the earth. The point is that the IRS is allowing a market for intermediaries to exist.

what's the conceptual difference in the IRS hiring workers to process my handwritten filing that I mailed in, versus hiring workers to process my account that comes in electronically? Will the IRS next stop allowing me to mail my account directly, but instead require that I send to a partner that will handle reading my filing and typing it into an IRS form?


--
We are a monoculture of horsecock. Liar
[ Parent ]
No (none / 0) (#18)
by theNote on Mon Feb 03, 2003 at 03:31:05 PM EST

What is it that you are after, a free web based filing system, or a published spec of the tax return file format?

The last sentence in your comment makes no sense at all.

As an aside:
Only in rare circumstances does someone actually have to read your return.

The IRS has some of the most sophisticated OCR software in the world, probably second only to the US post office.


[ Parent ]

either. or both. (none / 0) (#25)
by waxmop on Mon Feb 03, 2003 at 03:56:39 PM EST

What is it that you are after, a free web based filing system, or a published spec of the tax return file format?

well, those are two sides of the same thing, really. if the published spec doesn't require using a third-party, then that would allow for a free electronic filing system.

as for whether or not the IRS actually has a worker bee reading my handwritten return, or just has a computer doing it, it doesn't matter. It still points to the same policy: the citizen submits the filing to the IRS directly. The fact that the IRS was willing to invest in the most sophisticated OCR software in the world underscores my point that they shouldn't be outsourcing their core responsibilities.

The IRS could have allowed the private sector to invest in that fancy OCR software, and offered a "fast-track partnership" where if I pay $5, then I get my filing OCR-processed, and then I get my refund sooner. But the IRS didn't do that, did they?

As for my last sentence, here's the point, just in case my moronic reasoning escaped you: if the IRS can decide to outsource processing electronic submissions, and therefore create a middle market, and funnel some of my tax returns into a commercial interest, then maybe other commercial interests can look for new areas to insert themselves in the citizen-government relationship.
--
We are a monoculture of horsecock. Liar
[ Parent ]

I disagree (5.00 / 2) (#91)
by Control Group on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 10:04:12 AM EST

But only based on empiricism. The published spec doesn't require a third party - having looked at the IRS web site (linked to in a comment above), it certainly seems they'll provide the spec to anyone who can demonstrate they're competent to write efile software. Notably, I haven't exactly seen free efile software coming out of the woodwork.

You seem to be assuming that, just because there isn't any free software to do it, it's been prohibited.

You also seem to be saying that it's illegitimate for a government agency to outsource work. I find this position utterly mind-boggling. By extension, then, the armed forces should own and operate all the factories required to build materiel? Various levels of government should own and operate construction companies? The FBI should start building cars? Are you seriously suggesting that all government agencies should develop all their own software??

I bet the IRS also outsources printing all the physical forms, rather than running them off the office copier and mailing them all over the country. Of course, that cost is just rolled into your taxes, so you don't notice it - but it's still there.

If you want a free tax-filing package, fill out their forms, get the spec, and write one. And then do it again next year, to account for changed tax law. Ditto the following year. And again the year after that. (et cetera)

***
"Oh, nothing. It just looks like a simple Kung-Fu Swedish Rastafarian Helldemon."
[ Parent ]

it's the level disintermediation (none / 0) (#145)
by ethereal on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 04:56:01 PM EST

The question is not outsourcing necessarily, it's why a particular level was chosen in preference to another level. If the original levels were:

  1. filling out 1040 form from W2s, etc.
  2. double-checking math and figuring out refund/amount owed
  3. transferring finished form to the IRS
  4. interpreting form into an electronic format
  5. entry into some giant database
the question is why was the line drawn at #3? Why shouldn't the IRS have outsourced everything except #5? Or why shouldn't they have allowed everything from #1 on down to be done in-house? Was the line drawn just to create a market where there was none before, or perhaps to preserve the market of existing professional paper tax-return preparers?

--

Stand up for your right to not believe: Americans United for Separation of Church and State
[ Parent ]

It seems to me (none / 0) (#149)
by dipierro on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 05:26:36 PM EST

that the IRS outsourced everything it possibly could have. What more could they have outsourced?

[ Parent ]
They could have in-sourced more, IMHO (none / 0) (#150)
by ethereal on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 05:32:54 PM EST

I.e. the IRS could provide the web entry form, basic sanity checking, and submission to their electronic data entry system. Other tax systems (state and foreign) do allow this, so it's not like the IRS magically picked the only good way to decide where to draw the line.

The best explanation that I've seen was the comment about how then their software code would be liable for implementing their impossible tax code, rendering them open for ridicule. That sounds most plausible to me.

Or the "prohibited by Act of Congress" argument. That just seems stupid enough to be true :)

--

Stand up for your right to not believe: Americans United for Separation of Church and State
[ Parent ]

They could have (none / 0) (#152)
by dipierro on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 05:49:23 PM EST

but personally I'm in favor of smaller government in this case. I'd rather not have to pay more taxes just so the government can pay some web-monkeys to implement a shitty broken implementation of what companies like H&R Block are already offering. I'm sure those without web access feel even more strongly about this.

I'd personally be in favor of a non-profit being set up, something like the USPS (but without the mandatory monopoly), which then could compete with other authorized e-filers head to head. But this would probably be prohibited by that Act of Congress.



[ Parent ]
I guess that makes sense. (none / 0) (#164)
by ethereal on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 09:16:33 PM EST

You could really only sell it on the basis of saving the government money, and it would have to save a heck of a lot of money in order to justify competing with private business. From that perspective, the Congressional directive seems more reasonable.

I'm just tired of the IRS saying that it's in favor of electronic payment, while not doing the number one thing that would make electronic payment a sure thing for most people who don't use a professional tax preparer.

--

Stand up for your right to not believe: Americans United for Separation of Church and State
[ Parent ]

rebate (none / 0) (#166)
by dipierro on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 10:25:52 PM EST

I'm just tired of the IRS saying that it's in favor of electronic payment, while not doing the number one thing that would make electronic payment a sure thing for most people who don't use a professional tax preparer.

I wonder what the percentages are of forms (especially of non 1040-EZ (EZ to scan in) forms are filled out by a professional). My intuition is that it's a high percentage, but I don't know.

Another crazy idea of mine is that the government should give a small non-refundable rebate to anyone filing electronically to cover the savings.



[ Parent ]
Good idea. (none / 0) (#183)
by theNote on Thu Feb 06, 2003 at 09:25:00 AM EST

It is almost already like this.
You can write off the expenses from preparing and filing your taxes.

[ Parent ]
"writing off" doesn't give it back (none / 0) (#208)
by ethereal on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 02:41:21 PM EST

It just means that you don't lose an extra X% of what you paid. Unless the write-off happens to drop you into the next lower tax bracket, or the paid tax preparation help finds you some good loopholes, the amount of income you get to write off due to paying for tax preparation isn't going to help very much.

--

Stand up for your right to not believe: Americans United for Separation of Church and State
[ Parent ]

Tax brackets don't work that way (none / 0) (#217)
by dipierro on Sun Feb 23, 2003 at 02:27:12 PM EST

The tax brackets are marginal.  So if a deduction takes you from the 28% to the 15% bracket, you only save 28% (at most), because the most of your money is only taxed at 15% either way.

Not sure if that made sense.

[ Parent ]

Public works (none / 0) (#190)
by wnight on Thu Feb 06, 2003 at 04:36:52 PM EST

The government is requiring you to pay for e-filing. You can't (reasonably) file yourself, so you're essentially required to go to a company who will do it for you. You might as well consider it a tax, it's mandatory. Personally, I'd rather they took bids and hired a company to write the software. That way it wouldn't be a hidden fee. (to e-file is free, but realistically you need to pay to do it.)

You mentioned the FBI and buying cars. No, they shouldn't buy a factory themselves. They should do what they currently do, write a spec and put it up for bids. That's not at all like the IRS situation though, so it's not a valid comparision.

The IRS e-file scheme doesn't realistically allow people to e-file by themselves, they either have to write a package from scratch that interfaces to a byzantine system, or buy access through someone else. How about coming up with a web interface, or some other simple electronic form, and letting people use that, OR pay more for a presumably spiffier system made by a third party, much like the self-file or accountant choice we currently have. That would be a free market, one we're free to participate in, or not.

[ Parent ]

further study (none / 0) (#196)
by dipierro on Thu Feb 06, 2003 at 09:20:36 PM EST

Personally, I'd rather they took bids and hired a company to write the software.

Quite plainly, I don't. Monopolies, even government regulated ones, tend to have worse service and higher prices than is available in the free market. Consider local phone or cable companies. Or those crappy long distance deals you get in college dorm rooms. One place I'd put an exception is the USPS. Sure, some people have their grudges but I've found them to be on par with the private sector. Of course, the USPS has competition (though not direct due to obsolete government regulations).

If you disagree, you disagree, but personally, I think competition works much better than exclusive government contracts.

You mentioned the FBI and buying cars.

I don't remember doing that, and couldn't find it.

How about coming up with a web interface, or some other simple electronic form, and letting people use that, OR pay more for a presumably spiffier system made by a third party, much like the self-file or accountant choice we currently have. That would be a free market, one we're free to participate in, or not.

Likewise the current system is one we're free to participate in, or not. Unfortunately, there is a catch. We wouldn't be free to pay for it, or not, like we are with the current system. I see no reason to waste taxpayer money on a web interface. The only rationale under which I would even consider it is if I could be convinced that system would somehow save the government money.

But your suggestion here is essentially the same as the one I made: Set up a non-profit which then could compete with other authorized e-filers head to head. I guess the difference with your suggestion is you'd want the taxpayers to pay for this. Since not everyone has internet access, this free service for mainly the upper and middle class is probably not my favorite one, but if it could be justified by the savings from fewer paper filers, I guess it would be worth it.

But how many paper filers have internet access and would switch only if the government instituted this? That would need to be studied further.



[ Parent ]
Monopolies, and other Parker Bros games. (none / 0) (#199)
by wnight on Fri Feb 07, 2003 at 12:48:17 PM EST

>>Personally, I'd rather they took bids and hired a company to write the software.
>Quite plainly, I don't. Monopolies, even government regulated ones [...]

How is this a monopoly? You use competition to lower prices. As long as this company isn't guaranteed the rights to all future IRS jobs they'll have the motivation to do a good job this time. You say "exlcusive government contracts" and I guess that's the issue. I think you should contract out for specific things independently. I don't see how winning a specific contract warrants the term "exclusive". Re: FBI Cars... You didn't? Oops. My bad.

>>How about coming up with a web interface [...] That would be a free market, one we're free to participate in, or not.
>Likewise the current system is one we're free to participate in, or not.

But, we're not. We're forced to deal with the IRS, so all pretense of free market goes out the window. If I had a choice I'd skip web *and* paper filing. When required though, I can keep filling out paper which is much slower and essentially costs me money, or go to an e-file company. But that company doesn't provide tax services, they simple offer to send my numbers on to the government for a fee.

The discussion of having to buy stamps is a red herring. If I use my internet account I have to pay for bandwidth. I'm willing to pay for transmission costs, but I want to be able to send information from me to someone else, without an intermediary having to perform *unneeded* processing on it.

>... taxpayer money ...
>... government money.

You draw a distinction here that I don't. Government money is my money, that they took last year. If they save money, I save money. (Well, ideally. If they're crooked they keep it and ask for more, but that's beyond the scope of this.)

As soon as a cheaper system became possible, I'm already paying by not switching. Paper takes a lot longer to fill out and is more error prone than even a simple form. The government also saves by not reading my handwriting and typing it in. It's not worth my taking my already calculated tax data and punching it into a tax package, just to e-file.

You mention this being a service for the upper and middle classes... I don't think it has to be. Certainly, skid-row bums aren't going to use it, but even poor people usually live in neighborhoods with a library and libraries often have computers. This is where I got my computer time when I was a kid.

>But how many paper filers have internet access and would switch only if the government instituted this?

I would. It's not worth making a credit card transaction, to order the latest tax package that handles my fairly trivial taxes, to file electronically. I'm a contractor and I pay my own taxes at the end of the year (ouch, writing a $15k check is painful!) so it's not like I'm waiting on a refund, it just saves me walking to the mailbox and spending a stamp. How many other people would now? Less than in five years, but a system like this won't happen overnights.



[ Parent ]
kickbacks (none / 0) (#202)
by dipierro on Fri Feb 07, 2003 at 04:16:17 PM EST

Personally, I'd rather they took bids and hired a company to write the software.

Quite plainly, I don't. Monopolies, even government regulated ones [...]

How is this a monopoly?

Whatever company won the bid would then have a monopoly on writing the software, and a de facto monopoly on maintaining it.

As long as this company isn't guaranteed the rights to all future IRS jobs they'll have the motivation to do a good job this time.

Please... The cost to the IRS to switch software companies after the software is already created is way too high for it to be a reasonable solution in all but the most extreme cases.

You say "exlcusive government contracts" and I guess that's the issue. I think you should contract out for specific things independently. I don't see how winning a specific contract warrants the term "exclusive".

It's not going to make sense to contract out different parts of the software independently. That's just going to create more work for everyone. You also can't reasonably contract out the maintenance of the software separate from the creation of it. Again, that would create way more work for everyone. Are you starting to see why the private sector is so much more efficient?

But, we're not. We're forced to deal with the IRS, so all pretense of free market goes out the window.

Sure, but you're not forced to e-file. In fact, unless you're getting a refund there's no advantage to e-filing. And you're not forced to overpay in the first place.

When required though, I can keep filling out paper which is much slower and essentially costs me money, or go to an e-file company. But that company doesn't provide tax services, they simple offer to send my numbers on to the government for a fee.

How is paper slower? TaxACT is free. Are you complaining because you don't have a printer? Or are you complaining about the extra 30 seconds it takes to print the form out? Ultimately there are going to have to be requirements for any electronic system, as well. You'll need a modem, or internet access, or whatever.

No, they offer to convert those numbers into a form which can be read by the IRS mainframes. If that's nothing, why don't you do it yourself?

I'm willing to pay for transmission costs, but I want to be able to send information from me to someone else, without an intermediary having to perform *unneeded* processing on it.

You do all the processing then, and I'll gladly transmit your return free of charge.

Paper takes a lot longer to fill out and is more error prone than even a simple form.

Considering that TaxACT is free, I disagree.

The government also saves by not reading my handwriting and typing it in.

They also lose money by being forced to return refunds faster. But ultimately that's the million dollar question. If hiring people to make and maintain web pages saves more money then it costs, then it should be done. But I don't think it will. If you agree that the only question is whether or not money will be saved, I'd be glad to look up and talk about numbers, but I don't think this is the case.

It's not worth my taking my already calculated tax data and punching it into a tax package, just to e-file.

I don't understand what you want then.

You mention this being a service for the upper and middle classes... I don't think it has to be. Certainly, skid-row bums aren't going to use it, but even poor people usually live in neighborhoods with a library and libraries often have computers.

Sure, but poor people can already e-file for free, either online or through one of the organizations that was set up for that purpose.

But how many paper filers have internet access and would switch only if the government instituted this?

I would. [...] How many other people would now? Less than in five years, but a system like this won't happen overnights.

In five years we'll have open source processing software, and it probably won't cost any more than a stamp to file using it.

But even beyond that, I don't think the numbers would justify it. It would only effect current paper filers, and presumably would only save significant money for non 1040-EZ filers. And it's only likely to cause those who can't already e-file for free to switch. Those without internet access likely wouldn't use it, and those not getting a refund likely wouldn't use it. Who's left? Well, you are, but the government certainly shouldn't create a website just for you.

I think a more successful strategy would be to offer a kickback to the transmitter. Then you'd likely see even more opportunities for free e-file emerge.



[ Parent ]
More taxes (none / 0) (#205)
by wnight on Fri Feb 07, 2003 at 11:13:16 PM EST

> Whatever company won the bid would then have a monopoly on writing the software, and a de facto monopoly on maintaining it.

Yes. And whatever construction company gets the contract to build a building *has a monopoly* on that building. You don't switch contractors mid-stream, or hire multiple contractors to work on the same building, but nobody claims that's a monopoly.

> TaxACT is free.

I had actually never heard of TaxACT. (I'm not a native USAian.)

>they offer to convert those numbers into a form which can be read by the IRS mainframes. If that's nothing, why don't you do it yourself?

Because from your description of the spec, it doesn't seem trivial. But it's a useless step. If the spec wasn't byzantine I wouldn't need them to do it. The IRS created the spec, thus the IRS seems to have created something that's pretty much beyond the reach of the average hobbyist coder.

>You do all the processing then, and I'll gladly transmit your return free of charge.

Would that be a good idea? What if I submitted a broken return? Didn't you get fingerprinted because they expected returns you submit to follow the spec? And what if I simply don't want to pass my return through a third party. (One of the original topics of the article that started this thread was privacy concerns.)

>I don't understand what you want then.

A trivial tax package, either on a website, or my PC, that didn't help with my taxes. Something that's just an electronic form. I know what numbers to put in, I've got bizarre circumstances so I do them manually. I just want a quick way to get the data off to them.

>They also lose money by being forced to return refunds faster.

That's pretty cheesy. When you pay the phone company a deposit they're required to return it, with interest. Why does the government get to earn interest off your money at all. You should get all the interest off of your return, regardless of when you file.

But yes, now they have a motive to be slow and drag stuff out. Much like the patent office having  an incentive to grant as many patents as possible, not to try and verify them. This kind of government dishonesty is what I see as the problem.

>Who's left? Well, you are, but the government certainly shouldn't create a website just for you.

Who wants to file by paper? Nobody, but it was the only way to do it. Does everyone want to switch right now? No. But when more people have computers it'll be as obsolete to send in a paper form as to pay your bills with chickens and bushels of grain.

[ Parent ]

responses, again (none / 0) (#211)
by dipierro on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 07:24:19 PM EST

Yes. And whatever construction company gets the contract to build a building *has a monopoly* on that building. You don't switch contractors mid-stream, or hire multiple contractors to work on the same building, but nobody claims that's a monopoly.

Because the market to build a building is many many orders of magnitude smaller.

A trivial tax package, either on a website, or my PC, that didn't help with my taxes. Something that's just an electronic form. I know what numbers to put in, I've got bizarre circumstances so I do them manually. I just want a quick way to get the data off to them.

Download TaxACT for free, print out the return, and mail it in.

They also lose money by being forced to return refunds faster.

That's pretty cheesy. When you pay the phone company a deposit they're required to return it, with interest. Why does the government get to earn interest off your money at all. You should get all the interest off of your return, regardless of when you file.

I think you misunderstand the U.S. tax system. When you overpay your phone bill, and you request a refund, you don't get the interest. The IRS does not require people to overpay their taxes. That's completely voluntary. So they don't owe you any interest. Just fill out your W-4 more carefully so they don't take out too much.

Who wants to file by paper?

Who doesn't?



[ Parent ]
huh? (4.33 / 3) (#27)
by tps12 on Mon Feb 03, 2003 at 04:04:45 PM EST

Since when is "allowing a market...to exist" something we get upset about in the US? The competition keeps the prices low, people who choose to can file electronically, and the IRS saves taxpayer money. I fail to see how this is anything other than a win from anybody's perspective.

[ Parent ]
He has a point though (none / 0) (#114)
by trane on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 01:19:22 PM EST

It would ultimately be more of a win for the taxpayer to be able to file electronically like they file a paper return. I don't have to pay H & R Block a fee to mail my return, only for additional service they provide. Why shouldn't I be able to file electronically and not pay extra for it?

[ Parent ]
You can (none / 0) (#125)
by dipierro on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 02:15:31 PM EST

You can file electronically and not pay extra (other than long distance charges) for it, you just have to write the software, pass an FBI background check, and have your software pass the transmission test.

Now maybe you want the IRS to write a nice pretty web site for you, rather than force you to use their protocol, but now you're asking them to provide a free service, rather than allow the market to provide a non-free one.



[ Parent ]
Barrier for entry (none / 0) (#131)
by trane on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 02:35:21 PM EST

is too high. Why should I have to pass an FBI background check to submit my tax form?

And, as a taxpayer, I think the IRS should provide me with a nice pretty web site for free...(but opening their servers and protocol would be a start, and cheaper for them (and me too seeing as I pay for it ultimately through taxes), probably).

I don't believe that commercial companies inherently produce better products than private individuals. The very fact that they are commercial means there is undoubtedly some scam to make extra money going on somewhere.

[ Parent ]

It's not that high (none / 0) (#132)
by dipierro on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 02:45:47 PM EST

Why should I have to pass an FBI background check to submit my tax form?

Because you're connecting to a system which holds extemely personal data for thousands if not millions of people.

If there were already an open source client out there to connect to the system and transmit the return, then we'd be in a different situation, and I'd agree with you that the IRS should streamline the process. But we're not in that situation.

In fact, you write the client and open source it, and I'll transmit your return for you, free of charge. I've already passed the background check, which really wasn't very hard. Just get an FBI fingerprint card, take it to the police station, have them fingerprint you and sign the card, then mail it in.



[ Parent ]
system security is a red herring (none / 0) (#143)
by ethereal on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 04:48:28 PM EST

It's not like they let authorized return transmittered have unfettered access to the database either, I would think. No one connecting to the system is going to be able to alter it in unauthorized ways, either the public or the select few authorized transmitters. The IRS is not running the complete taxpayer database on the web server itself. In the worst case, a member of the public could file a bogus return, which could already happen now with a crooked or lazy authorized transmitter.

The DOS issue is of a little more concern, but state governments have tax returns on the web and it doesn't seem to have bothered them.

--

Stand up for your right to not believe: Americans United for Separation of Church and State
[ Parent ]

The background check is a red herring (none / 0) (#146)
by dipierro on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 05:09:41 PM EST

In theory no one can fuck around with the system, but no software is 100% bug free.

The IRS is not running the complete taxpayer database on the web server itself.

There is no webserver. The system is dialup (as it should be to increase accountablility). And yes, the entire database is presumably not stored, only whatever is there since the last dump. That's why I said that there were only thousands (possibly millions) of returns.

In the worst case, a member of the public could file a bogus return, which could already happen now with a crooked or lazy authorized transmitter.

Yes, it could happen now, but that crooked or lazy transmitter would be held accountable, unlike a situation where any yahoo can go messing around with things.

All of this is moot though, because the cost of merely transmitting the return is extremely low. The majority of the cost is the preparation and the formatting. Create the software first, then get back to me. Like I said, I'll gladly transmit the return of anyone who creates open source formatting software free of charge.

The barriers to entry in the e-file program are extremely low. This is no telecomm industry.



[ Parent ]
Shouldn't have to write software (5.00 / 1) (#15)
by rhino1302 on Mon Feb 03, 2003 at 03:22:40 PM EST

All you should be giving the IRS is an electronic equivalent of the paper filing form. I should be able to do my taxes manually, and then enter the results into an XML form and send that off to the IRS.



[ Parent ]
OK (4.50 / 4) (#22)
by theNote on Mon Feb 03, 2003 at 03:48:42 PM EST

But that is software.
How is the form being rendered as XML?
Desktop/web software or are you bulding the XML from hand with a text editor?

How many people have the technical ability to do this?

How do you send it?
A form post or some sort of FTP?
What processes the forms, ensures your identity?
How are processing errors reported to you?

This is software.
Software that the IRS now has to develop and maintain.
People tend to forget that tax returns are more than just 1040s.
The last time I filed a paper return, I needed over 10 distinct forms.
What about the forms that only businesses and corporations use?
How do you build a DTD for all of them?
The IRS does maintian a large amount of software for the eFile program as it is.

This way they don't have to hear complaints of:
Why isn't there a linux version?
Why isn't there a version for Mac?
why isn't there a version for people with disbalities?
Why isn't there a speech recognition version?

They have published 1 spec.
They will let anyone write software to the spec with reasonable assurances of identity and qualifications.

The IRS is smart enough to know that the private industry can write software in a more efficient, varied, and secure manner than a government entity that does not have the budget for any of it.

If it wasn't for the eFile program being half privatized, you wouldn't even have the option of fileng over the internet.


[ Parent ]

I can write XML (2.66 / 3) (#30)
by rhino1302 on Mon Feb 03, 2003 at 04:25:48 PM EST

... by hand. It's really not that hard (in fact I'm kinda doing it right now!). There should just be a file format spec, and let me take care of the rest however I want to cook up my XML.



[ Parent ]
Good idea! (5.00 / 1) (#56)
by hesk on Mon Feb 03, 2003 at 10:24:36 PM EST

Wow, that would only take you ... um ... a week-end if not a whole week. You'll save a lot of money this way.

--
Sticking to the rules doesn't improve your safety, relying on the rules is
[
Parent ]

The point is (none / 0) (#115)
by trane on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 01:23:10 PM EST

He could then, if he so chooses, make his work available (for free...), so others could benefit.

[ Parent ]
What a great idea! (5.00 / 1) (#126)
by dipierro on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 02:21:31 PM EST

There should just be a file format spec

here. Nope, it's not XML, probably largely because the file format was created before XML existed.



[ Parent ]
Leave it to the IRS (none / 0) (#144)
by rhino1302 on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 04:52:25 PM EST

Well, that spec is 243 pages long, and contains the format and transmission protocol. It's pretty crufty looking, must have originally been designed in the 70s.

Part of the complications arise from the fact that it deals with a whole lot more than individual tax returns. My favorite is the error code for form 0422 "When use of LPG in Qualified Local and School Buses Credit Amount (SEQ 720) is greater than zero, then Qualified Local and School Buses Gallons (SEQ 710) must be significant."

If the IRS really cared about allowing individuals to file online, they could easily come up with a method using established protocols and file formats that would be a few orders of magnitude easier to implement. I guess they just don't care.



[ Parent ]
You only have to implement a subset (none / 0) (#147)
by dipierro on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 05:23:33 PM EST

in order to get permission to transmit. In theory you could design software which only handles 1040-EZs.

My favorite is the error code for form 0422 "When use of LPG in Qualified Local and School Buses Credit Amount (SEQ 720) is greater than zero, then Qualified Local and School Buses Gallons (SEQ 710) must be significant."

But nothing has to be done with that error code other than to pass it on to the end user.

If the IRS really cared about allowing individuals to file online, they could easily come up with a method using established protocols and file formats that would be a few orders of magnitude easier to implement.

And that would have cost them orders of magnitude more to create. Presumably the current protocols are highly related to the internal ones already being used by the IRS. I've looked at them, and most of the complications are completely necessary. Yes, they don't use standards. Chalk that up to it being government work. This is actually an argument against letting them create the upper layers of software. Let the free market do that.

I guess they just don't care.

Nor should they. No one is forcing you to e-file.



[ Parent ]

Wow, ZMODEM. (4.50 / 2) (#34)
by j1mmy on Mon Feb 03, 2003 at 07:45:29 PM EST

Talk about old-school.

The IRS already distributes all the tax forms in PDF format. My employer provides PDF forms for benefits and other HR-related things, that I can actually fill out, save, and return to HR. This strikes me as a relatively painless solution to the problem.

Barring that, why not put it on the web? In Illinois, I can file my state taxes online for free through a government website. I'll grant that the Illinois tax forms are less involved than the federal forms, but how hard can it be. You could also have employers, brokerages, banks, etc. send off the requisite tax information electronically straight to the IRS, so you don't have to enter by hand.


[ Parent ]

Complicated Tax Forms (5.00 / 1) (#117)
by Rich0 on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 01:33:58 PM EST

I'll grant that the Illinois tax forms are less involved than the federal forms, but how hard can it be.

Plus, this gives Illinois incentive to keep their forms that way.  I'm a PA resident, and I've been filing my state taxes on the web for a while, but I only recently started e-filing with the IRS.  Why?  'Cause it costs money.  I look at my expected refund, and if I expect to break even on my interest for the refund, then I'll fork out the money to buy TurboTax and e-file.  Or, if I expect my taxes to be complicate enough to purchase TurboTax on its own merits I would also go this route (the actual e-file is free with the purchase of the TurboTax software).  If I were filing 1040EZ with an expected $25 refund, I'd mail it in the old-fashioned way.

And the IRS wonders why e-file is slow to be adopted?

The way I look at it is this way:  If the IRS figures it is cheaper to hire thousands of workers to process paper forms than hire a software development team to understand its own horrible tax rules (well, they are actually Congress's rules), then more power to them.  If they expect e-file to save them money, then they should develop the software - it is a net-benefit to the taxpayer as the software development would pay for itself.

I think one of the issues is the IRS likes giving software liability to a 3rd party.  If you buy TurboTax and it messes up the math, the IRS can still fine you and say that you should have checked it by hand.  I'm sure the TurboTax EULA said somewhere that they weren't responsible for math errors either (oh, was I supposed to read that?).  If the IRS developed the software it would probably be about as accurate as their own tax advice, which has repeated been found wanting.  (I won't go into the numerous stories I've seen on journalists hiring expert tax lawyers to pose reasonably typical but slightly difficult tax questions, which would be phoned in to the IRS Help Line about a dozen times, which would result in a dozen different answers, most of which disagreed with the consensus among tax lawyers.)

[ Parent ]

Why not put it on the web. (none / 0) (#130)
by dipierro on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 02:31:42 PM EST

Barring that, why not put it on the web?

Because it would require a lot of work? Because it's much easier to trace a phone call than a TCP connection? Because the system was set up before the web was popular?

The only argument for putting it on the web is if the benefit from fewer hand processors outweights the detriments of building and maintaining the website and the lost tax revenues from destroying companies like H&R Block. I doubt the benefits outweight the detriments, but maybe I'm wrong.



[ Parent ]
Make up your mind (none / 0) (#191)
by wnight on Thu Feb 06, 2003 at 05:50:06 PM EST

Does H&R Block do anything useful? If so, letting people e-file won't put them out of business. If not, they should be out of business because they don't provide a service anyone wants.

You seem to have libertarian leanings, yet you want to government to keep things complicated just to justify the middlemen.

Just because progress would render someone's product obsolete isn't a reason to avoid that progress. A reasonable tax-code would put many lawyers and accountants out of business, but that money would go to more useful parts of the economy.


[ Parent ]

My mind (none / 0) (#197)
by dipierro on Thu Feb 06, 2003 at 09:40:42 PM EST

Does H&R Block do anything useful?

Anything? Sure. They charge way too much, and there are others who are more useful for less money, but they do do some useful things. Where have I stated otherwise?

If so, letting people e-file won't put them out of business.

There are plenty of companies which have done things which are useful who have gone out of business. But admittedly, my statement about "destroying companies like H&R Block" was hyperbole. Some companies like H&R Block would be destroyed. Others would see their profits decimated. H&R Block itself would probably survive. Overall, the profits of companies like (and including) H&R Block would certainly decline. That's pure supply and demand.

Consider this: Does your cable company do anything useful? If the government offered free cable to everyone, would your cable company go out of business? The two points are not in any way contradictory.

You seem to have libertarian leanings, yet you want to government to keep things complicated just to justify the middlemen.

I don't affiliate myself with any political party, certainly not Libertarians (I voted for Nader). But in this case, I don't think the government is keeping things complicated just to justify the middlemen. Things already are complicated. Someone has to do the work of converting the numbers on the tax returns into an electronic format that can be read by the IRS's mainframes. The current e-file system puts the brunt of the work on the private sector.

Just because progress would render someone's product obsolete isn't a reason to avoid that progress.

Absolutely. But we're not talking about progress. E-file isn't about progress. It's about lowering government processing costs.

A reasonable tax-code would put many lawyers and accountants out of business, but that money would go to more useful parts of the economy.

Sure, but that's completely unrelated to the issue at hand.



[ Parent ]
Progress? (none / 0) (#198)
by wnight on Fri Feb 07, 2003 at 12:09:55 PM EST

>Absolutely. But we're not talking about progress. E-file isn't about progress. It's about lowering government processing costs.

Isn't it progress to remove a useless barrier to commerce?

My issue in this isn't free software related, or anything. It's that government seems determined to make things complex enough that you need layers of interface people. You can't represent yourself at a trial (reasonably), you can't e-file your taxes yourself, etc.

I'd like to see things simplified to the point where you don't need H&R Block *just to e-file*. If you want their value-added service, fine, but you shouldn't need to pay them off merely as gatekeepers. If the interface ever gets easier, companies like this will lobby against it. Ditto with lawyers being so against small claims court when it was proposed. It was a way for people to take back the court proceedings. They can't have that, their jobs are pretty much just as a mandated interface between people and government.



[ Parent ]
not progress (none / 0) (#201)
by dipierro on Fri Feb 07, 2003 at 03:36:40 PM EST

Isn't it progress to remove a useless barrier to commerce?

I don't know, but rather than getting into a semantical argument, I don't think the IRS is creating any barriers to commerce.

My issue in this isn't free software related, or anything. It's that government seems determined to make things complex enough that you need layers of interface people. You can't represent yourself at a trial (reasonably), you can't e-file your taxes yourself, etc.

My point is that taxes are complicated all by themselves. You can file your taxes by yourself, by hand. E-file is an alternative which lets you do all the work for the IRS, and in return you get faster processing. To make it simple for the average person to file by himself would defeat the entire purpose of it.

I'd like to see things simplified to the point where you don't need H&R Block *just to e-file*. If you want their value-added service, fine, but you shouldn't need to pay them off merely as gatekeepers.

But they're not just gatekeepers. They take the information and translate it into a format which can be processed by the IRS mainframes. If many people would be able to do that work themselves, and the only barrier were the fingerprint check, then I would agree with you that the government should relax that check. But that's not at all the case.

Writing software to translate tax return data into the proper format is not something which should be done by each individual. So unless someone makes it for free, you're going to have to pay the person who writes the software anyway. The argument you're making is that the government should write that software. I disagree, for reasons I have repeated many times.

If the interface ever gets easier, companies like this will lobby against it.

I'm not defending those companies, and certainly not that action.



[ Parent ]
And again with the taxes. (none / 0) (#206)
by wnight on Fri Feb 07, 2003 at 11:22:30 PM EST

>I don't know, but rather than getting into a semantical argument, I don't think the IRS is creating any barriers to commerce.

Creating a requirement for a third party, for you to do business with the government, is a barrier to commerce. Ideally, any person with the right info could email in a return, or go to a website.

Their actions essentially require anyone who wants to e-file (the quick easy option for everyone) to pay a company to do it, or jump through insane hoops such as registering, writing code, etc, etc. That's much like saying you can't download a PDF and print out a form, you need to go to a government authorized form dealer and buy your tax forms.

>But they're not just gatekeepers. They take the information and translate it into a format which can be processed by the IRS mainframes.

But they are. The specification for this is long, you said this. They perform an action that while currently required, wouldn't be required if the government hadn't made this bizarre spec and required it to be used.

They probably spent as much writing a multi-hundred page specification as they would have to hire a programming company to write a secure web form. Why is it reasonable for the IRS to spend a metric fuckload of money on writing a bizarre spec and not on writing a web form that would make things easier.

>E-file is an alternative which lets you do all the work for the IRS, and in return you get faster processing.
>To make it simple for the average person to file by himself would defeat the entire purpose of it.

How would letting people do their own calculations (or pay an accountant, or whatever) and punch the number in on a form, defeating the purpose? There's no OCR/Data Entry requirement, there's no paper handling, no paper storage, no anthrax risk, yada yada.


[ Parent ]

more responses (none / 0) (#210)
by dipierro on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 07:17:47 PM EST

Creating a requirement for a third party, for you to do business with the government, is a barrier to commerce. Ideally, any person with the right info could email in a return, or go to a website.

Ideally the government would create a mind reading device to get the IRS data from me with no work whatsoever. But the lack of the ideal is not equivalent to creating a barrier to commerce.

But they are. The specification for this is long, you said this. They perform an action that while currently required, wouldn't be required if the government hadn't made this bizarre spec and required it to be used.

No, if the government hadn't made the bizarre spec, you wouldn't be able to e-file at all.

They probably spent as much writing a multi-hundred page specification as they would have to hire a programming company to write a secure web form.

I highly doubt it. More likely they just used the same spec their mainframe was already using.

Why is it reasonable for the IRS to spend a metric fuckload of money on writing a bizarre spec and not on writing a web form that would make things easier.

That's an accusation you have yet to back up.

How would letting people do their own calculations (or pay an accountant, or whatever) and punch the number in on a form, defeating the purpose? There's no OCR/Data Entry requirement, there's no paper handling, no paper storage, no anthrax risk, yada yada.

No, but there's creating the software, processing the form data, all the things that H&R Block et. al. are forced to do.



[ Parent ]
Taxes (Combined Reply) (none / 0) (#216)
by wnight on Wed Feb 12, 2003 at 12:37:15 PM EST

Sorry I was gone for a while and didn't respond. I'll also consolidate our three threads here as they're all pretty much the same topic.

I highly doubt it. More likely they just used the same spec their mainframe was already using.

I'm sure they used the formats their mainframe already used. But the spec had to be written so that outsiders could implement it.

That [metric fuckload of money] is an accusation you have yet to back up.

I've written specs before, and been on teams to do them. It's one of the most expensive parts of development. Writing a hundred or more page document on how to interface two different systems isn't going to be cheap.

I'd say that using existing documentation and implementing the product is probably easier than writing up the spec. English is harder to write than program code.

No, but there's creating the software, processing the form data, all the things that H&R Block et. al. are forced to do.

I think writing the spec and writing the program are of similar costs. Processing the form data is a red herring. They always process the data in the end, to make sure it adds up. A few client-side javascript functions to put the right percentage of box A into box B don't cost enough to consider.

They'd pay bandwidth, but I think that's going to be roughly equivalent to paying for phone lines.

Ideally the government would create a mind reading device to get the IRS data from me with no work whatsoever. But the lack of the ideal is not equivalent to creating a barrier to commerce.

Creating a better method, then making you pay a third party to use it, despite the customer only wanting access to the method, not to any of the value-added services they're forced to buy to get that access, seems like a bit of a barrier. Perhaps it's not creating a barrier, perhaps it's just failing to really create an ideal method.

Instead of e-file it should be called "pay for lame tax-prep software you don't want or need, and get spammed for eternity to buy the current version, just to e-file". It'd be more accurate.

Because the market to build a building is many many orders of magnitude smaller.

I'm not sure I get this. There are a pool of companies competing for a contract, the contract in either case could run into the millions, only one company gets the contract. One is a monopoly, the other isn't?

Download TaxACT for free, print out the return, and mail it in.

So, they've got software that does what I want, why would putting it online be a problem? The development costs have mostly been paid and web security is pretty easy really, if you've got a clued admin.

They also lose money by being forced to return refunds faster.

Sure, I understand you can fill out a more accurate form for the next year, but it's still a system that encourages the government to drag its feet. I'd rather the IRS didn't keep any interest and they got funded from a budget taken from tax money. Whenever a government agency starts making a profit from part of its duties it tends to get crooked. (For example, drug confiscation laws than encourage police to make unfounded drug busts and auction off the items for funding.)

Not wanting to implement a system that would figure out taxes more quickly, because they profit from being slower, is just plain twisted.

If it really costs $X to run the government I'd rather pay my share of X, not some fraction of it, and have numerous fees that make up the rest (and undoubtedly go over what X would be if collected properly). If I have to pay a lot, I want sticker-shock so I know about it. I want my representatives to have to provide me an accurate bill for public services.

No, I mean when you send in your fingerprints you tell them the number you're going to be calling from.

Okay, so you mean it can check ANI. (Caller-ID essentially) Some system hang up and call you back at the number. A neat touch, but not terribly secure because if you can intercept a call going one way, you can intercept it going the other way.

[ Parent ]

Nope. (5.00 / 1) (#50)
by acceleriter on Mon Feb 03, 2003 at 10:12:03 PM EST

You should probably try and get your CPA at night since I believe you aren't allowed to charge people to do their taxes without one.

The guys that go through H&R Block's tax school learn a great deal, but they don't have to pass the CPA to work.

[ Parent ]

I stand corrected. (none / 0) (#79)
by theNote on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 07:45:57 AM EST



[ Parent ]
its simple (4.00 / 6) (#19)
by turmeric on Mon Feb 03, 2003 at 03:34:09 PM EST

the IRS is incredibyl more complex than it needs to be. so people make money off of giving it a 'front end' that is relatively easy.

this goes on for years. now imagine someone wants to simplify the IRS. the middle men/women will ALL BE OUT OF JOBS. they will FIGHT this tooth and nail, bringing lawsuits and etc onto the government and/or anyone trying to simplify the IRS.

by letting these middle men/women have a piece of the pie, the IRS is basically keeping them from rabidly attacking any attempt at change.

fine by me, because you know what? in 5 years there will be enough people like you crying foul that the IRS will in fact open up to direct reporting. then all the middle men/women will be out of business, but there will be so many citizens against them that they wont have a chance to fight.

Right. (none / 0) (#207)
by bjlhct on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 12:14:14 AM EST

Never happens.

*
[kur0(or)5hin http://www.kuro5hin.org/intelligence] - drowning your sorrows in intellectualism
[ Parent ]
I don't see e-file charges as the real problem (3.50 / 2) (#23)
by lorcha on Mon Feb 03, 2003 at 03:51:53 PM EST

In the scheme of cost of compliance, don't you think that the $4.95 or whatever it costs to efile is kind of small? I mean, most people who don't file 1040EZ need a $50 software package and half a day just to figure out how much friggin tax they owe! And that's before filing anything. And my taxes are incredibly nasty, so I have to actually pay an accountant just to figure my damn taxes.

Why can't we just say "(income - exemption)*taxrate = taxes" and be done with it?

--
צדק--אין ערבים, אין פיגועים

But that's how it is .. (none / 0) (#33)
by sasquatchan on Mon Feb 03, 2003 at 05:09:34 PM EST

Only taxrate is on a sliding scale that depends on income - exemption and exemption is described in a 20 lb (15 kilo-pascal-litres for metrics) tome saying how much of your various expenditures are exempt.

Of course, that's all like saying the atom bomb is just two rocks smashing together. :)
-- The internet is not here for your personal therapy.
[ Parent ]

That's sorta the problem (5.00 / 1) (#83)
by lorcha on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 08:20:40 AM EST

It takes like 9 different forms and worksheets to determine income, then another 9 to determine exemption. And that's if you don't own a business.

Wouldn't it be nice if income was <gasp> your actual income, and exemption was a fixed amount? You could do your taxes in 5 minutes.

I'd like it, anyhow.

--
צדק--אין ערבים, אין פיגועים
[ Parent ]

I do own a business... (5.00 / 1) (#84)
by minusp on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 08:41:59 AM EST

... a professional S-Corp. I'm gathering all of last year's records up, and taking them off to the accountants now. Lot's of fun, let me tell you... quite recursive, in a sort of Bad Lisp Competition kind of way. Personal Income is a function of Business Income is a function of Income and Expenses, some of which feed into/from Personal and vice-versa. Oh, and Personal is joint with the wife, while Business is not. If I'm lucky, I'll have this all sorted out by October, AGAIN, since we have to learn all the tax changes for this year, AGAIN.
Remember, regime change begins at home.
[ Parent ]
it depends on how much you want to save. (5.00 / 1) (#148)
by ethereal on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 05:23:36 PM EST

Almost every single question on the form (excepting maybe the Alternate Minimum Tax) is providing a tax break to one group or another. You don't like the breaks, well then don't fill out those parts. Don't itemize or claim weird exemptions, don't do the Earned Income Credit, and there's almost nothing to it. Even less this year, since Schedule B is no longer required in some cases. You can essentially write down what you made in three or four places, apply a tax table, subtract already-paid taxes, and figure out the final result.

I finished my taxes for the year in about four hours, and this was the first year I ever itemized. I imagine if the tax code was drastically simplified, everyone who's currently getting a break due to various exemptions or itemizations would scream bloody murder.

--

Stand up for your right to not believe: Americans United for Separation of Church and State
[ Parent ]

More complicated than that, actually. (none / 0) (#213)
by vectro on Sun Feb 09, 2003 at 03:56:14 AM EST

There are deductions, which count as exemptions, and then there are credits, which are applied after the tax. And the functions are not independent - whether or not something is a valid deduction, for example, can depend on how much income you have.

And don't even get me started on other things like the alternative minimum tax...

“The problem with that definition is just that it's bullshit.” -- localroger
[ Parent ]

A sucker buys software every minute (none / 0) (#215)
by protogeek on Tue Feb 11, 2003 at 01:46:04 PM EST

most people who don't file 1040EZ need a $50 software package and half a day just to figure out how much friggin tax they owe!

Well, most people may believe that they need $software, but that doesn't mean they do. I can usually get through both fed (not the EZ!) and state taxes in a weekend with the highly sophisticated tools of a pencil and a pocket calculator. That includes time for anal-retentively checking everything twice, and rereading all instructions with an eye to twisting any grey areas to my benefit. My taxes aren't terrifically complex, but I do have a mortgage, various deductions, some investments, etc. -- probably pretty similar to what "most" people have. It's not fun, but it's just not that hard.

Note that this is not intended as a defence of the IRS. I despise them, and would very much like to see "(income - exemption)*taxrate = taxes" become the norm. But that doesn't mean I have to shell out even more of my money so that some software company can tell me how hard basic math is.

[ Parent ]

nonsense (4.28 / 7) (#24)
by tps12 on Mon Feb 03, 2003 at 03:56:34 PM EST

The alternative would be for the IRS to develop its own web interface, the cost of which would be covered either by all taxpayers or by just those who wanted to file electronically. The first option is undesireable for obvious reasons, and the second scenario would have people paying more because there would be no competition driving the price down.

If you're not happy with any of the available e-file services, then you can file through the postal service or start your own. Unless you can't start your own because only a certain list of companies can do so. In that case, you're right, it sucks.

You missed his point (5.00 / 2) (#40)
by cestmoi on Mon Feb 03, 2003 at 09:14:08 PM EST

He's not asking the IRS to develop a web interface.

The IRS has developed a secret handshake to file taxes and only members of a special priesthood are clued into the secret handshake rules. He's saying he wants the IRS publish the filing protocol so that anyone who wants to can build any kind of interface they want.

[ Parent ]

A little more complicated than that (none / 0) (#90)
by DaChesserCat on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 10:01:56 AM EST

I, too, would like to see the IRS publicly disclose the protocol, so that I could file my taxes without needing to go through H&R Block or some other tax company.

One small problem: it's a little more complicated than that. The company which e-files your taxes has to also go through and verify the data. In all cases, they have some software which basically goes through looking for entries which are obviously wrong (mis-entry or obvious attempts at fraud) and stop those BEFORE they are filed.

My wife worked (past tense) for H&R Block. They have sunk a considerable amount of money into developing the software they use for verifying people's tax info, prior to submission. The fact that it's not far from the software they use to prepare people's taxes kinda helps. Anyway, there are substantial fees to be paid if the filing company consistently files wrong or fraudulent data; a certain percentage of the e-file submissions are audited by the IRS' software, to verify they are accurate. All "snail mail" submissions are checked by the IRS; having tax prep companies as "concentration points" for pre-checked tax submissions reduces the number of people the IRS need to input tax info (effectively leveraging private industry to replace people in direct government employ). This extra layer of "checking and verifying" is most likely why they don't let Joe Average User log into their servers to submit their taxes. Well, that, bureaucratic bloat and corporate welfare, but I think that author already covered that. :-)

And yes, I find it quite lame that our tax laws are so blasted complex that we have an entire INDUSTRY which does nothing but prepare peoples' taxes.

Trains stop at train stations Busses stop at bus stations A windows workstation . . .
[ Parent ]
There will probably never be 'free' tax software (5.00 / 1) (#96)
by Wah on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 10:38:07 AM EST

or open source.  As other people have mentioned, it's a bit more work it seems on first glance to have even slightly functional tax software.  So while it might be worthwile to slug through the tax code once to write some decent software.  It becomes prohibitively annoying to have to slug through the changes every year to keep the software up to date.

And then there's the idea of liability and the fact that software you wrote was used by someone to cheat on their taxes.  If you do this with, say, TurboTax, it won't allow the return to be filed through their 'bottleneck'.  I'd assume that many other digital tax preparers use the same safeguards.

Not sure if that fits with your comment, but I figured this was a place to put it.
--
Fail to Obey?
[ Parent ]

Overly Complex Requirements (none / 0) (#193)
by wnight on Thu Feb 06, 2003 at 06:02:46 PM EST

Why should the e-file agencies check for fraud? Why should an e-form be any different than writing numbers on a piece of paper?

These artificial requirements are propping up an industry that's essentially useless for anyone capable of doing their own taxes.

[ Parent ]

Unreasonable Assumption (none / 0) (#192)
by wnight on Thu Feb 06, 2003 at 05:59:38 PM EST

Why does the IRS developing one, easy, interface mean there isn't competition? Can't they put the job up for bids?

Or, do you mean there's no wasted duplication of effort? In that case, I'd agree, but I'd say it's a good thing.

A free market would be if there was a reasonable way to e-file yourself, but H&R Block (and anyone else) were also allowed to write software that went above and beyond simply an electronic version of the paper form. That way people would have the option of paying, for a service they want, but wouldn't have to.

As it is, if you wish to e-file, you *MUST* buy third-party software, even if you know what the numbers are and don't want any of their features.

[ Parent ]

US-centric, boring as hell... (1.00 / 7) (#29)
by gordonjcp on Mon Feb 03, 2003 at 04:13:50 PM EST

But it's generated a lot of high-quality debate about the nature of electronic document submission. +1 section.

Give a man a fish, and he'll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he'll bore you rigid with fishing stories for the rest of your life.


boring (1.00 / 7) (#32)
by Hide The Hamster on Mon Feb 03, 2003 at 05:05:28 PM EST

I hate you and I hate the IRS more.


Free spirits are a liability.

August 8, 2004: "it certainly is" and I had engaged in a homosexual tryst.

Steve Forbes had it right (3.50 / 6) (#35)
by NaCh0 on Mon Feb 03, 2003 at 07:48:32 PM EST

Tax filing forms should be the size of a postcard.

If $income > 30,000:
    $income * 0.15 = $Amountdue

Where 15% would be adjustible by congress depending on how much they're spending that year. (another rant in itself)

--
K5: Your daily dose of socialism.

Better yet... (none / 0) (#65)
by Sloppy on Mon Feb 03, 2003 at 11:57:08 PM EST

Here's a better tax form:
Do you live here?

If you answered Yes, send $n.

A few years ago, I nearly got laid off... but instead of completely losing my job, I just got cut to part time. My gross income dropped 50%. Why did my taxes go down? I wasn't using any less of my government's services.

Later, we got more customers and I went back to full time. My gross income doubled. Why did my taxes go up? I wasn't using any more of government's services.
"RSA, 2048, seeks sexy young entropic lover, for several clock cycles of prime passion..."
[ Parent ]

A pretty stupid idea. (none / 0) (#85)
by claudius on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 08:42:25 AM EST

If you really think that a flat dollar amount is the best way to go, then I suggest you plug in some numbers.  Let's say, for the sake of argument, that the President's 2.23 trillion dollar budget is passed without modification, and that the President and Congress change the tax code as you suggest to collect the revenue without running a defecit.  There are roughly 300 million people living in the United States.  This implies a tax burden of about  $7500 per person.  Not so bad for a single person who lives alone and who works in a middle-class job--chances are, such a person would pay less now than with the current system.  It sucks, though, to be a single mother of two working for minimum wage.  Her family's tax burden is $22500 under your plan, considerably more than her gross pay in a single year.  

Perhaps your taxes went down because your capacity for paying high taxes diminished when your hours were cut.  Progressive tax systems are designed to levy (roughly) the same tax burden upon taxpayers, and not simply net dollars dropped into the government coffers.  The systems may have varying levels of success in accomplishing this goal, but this is their intention.  


[ Parent ]

Flat Taxes (none / 0) (#119)
by Rich0 on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 01:47:33 PM EST

Let me try rewording this but changing the topic to illustrate a point.

If you really think that a flat dollar amount is the best way to go, then I suggest you plug in some numbers.  Let's say, for the sake of argument, that the cost to produce a hamburger is $5.  This implies a sales price of about $6 per person.  Not so bad for a single person who lives alone and who works in a middle-class job--chances are, such a person would pay less now than with the current system.  It sucks, though, to be a single mother of two working for minimum wage.  Her family's cost to eat is $18 under your plan...  

Perhaps your price went down because your capacity for paying high prices diminished when your hours were cut.  Progressive price systems are designed to levy (roughly) the same meal burden upon customers, and not simply net dollars dropped into the restruant coffers.  The systems may have varying levels of success in accomplishing this goal, but this is their intention.  

Should a burger at Wendy's cost $1 for a poor person, and $499 for a rich person?  

Perhaps a more fair system would be to sell government services and abolish most taxes.  A gas tax would pay for road maintenance.  A tax on food/medications could pay for the FDA.  A tax on imports/exports could pay for customs.  Fines could defray the cost of law enforcement.  Property taxes could pay for the fire department.  The army should be used for self-defense, and if they end up fighting a war plunder could be used to help pay for it (hey, if you invade us its your own darn fault...).

Obviously not all government programs could be completely covered in this manner.  But isn't the general principle in real life that you should pay for what you use?  If I ride a bike to work, why should I have to pay to keep traffic lights working?  

Obviously there will be those who cannot afford to pay some of the taxes.  They should receive reduced access to the benefits of government-provided services as an incentive to pay their bills.  Why should somebody who doesn't pay into the treasury have a say in how it is spent?  If my neighbor gave me $10k a month I'd say he had a right to ask me how I'm spending it.  He doesn't so if he were to ask I'd tell him to buzz off...

[ Parent ]

Paying for what you use (5.00 / 2) (#129)
by wurp on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 02:27:23 PM EST

Would your parents have paid for your schooling (say, at about $700/month) if they hadn't been subsidized by taxes?  Would their parent, and theirs, back 200 years?

If someone along the chain had indeed chosen not to pay for their children's education, would that not have likely broken the chain for everyone after them?

We need taxes, and the burden needs to be on the people who can pay it, as opposed to the people who need it.  Without that, the infrastructure that has led to the civilized world we have today falls apart, and we're all living in the third world.  Take a moment to think about it: how many third world nations have public education and roads?  How many first world nations don't?

Now tell me we should charge single mothers $22,500 per year for society to educate their children.  Remember that some one of your ancestors was probably a single mother.

---
Buy my stuff
[ Parent ]

Edjumacation (5.00 / 2) (#153)
by TheOnlyCoolTim on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 05:57:13 PM EST

Taxes that make schools and roads are, for the most part, at the local level. Local governments can usually spend money rather efficiently and in response to the demands of their population.

The Federal government, however, usually does a horrible job whenever it touches money. The entrenched beaurocrats and accountants, the disconnection of the federal government from local needs, and the huge amount of regulations lead to disgustingly inefficient stupidity. So we get the phrase "good enough for government work."

Can you imagine if Washington was responsible for the sewers of every part of the country? We'd be ankle deep in shit.

I'd be happy if in the future I could count on paying more taxes to my city and state than to the federal government, and if the federal government would fuck off and leave us all alone like the Constitution says to.

Tim
"We are trapped in the belly of this horrible machine, and the machine is bleeding to death."
[ Parent ]

Externalities; the government is not a McDonalds. (5.00 / 1) (#137)
by claudius on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 03:25:38 PM EST

Nice strawman.  You seem to be deluded in thinking that somehow the federal government is a fast food restaurant.  One does not simply walk in, plop down some coinage, and walk out of the joint with goods and services.  The government deals, first and foremost, in public policy and externalities, both of which are counter to unregulated capitalism, so it should come as no surprise that a different revenue scheme should be used to fund these activities.  (The very nature of capitalism ensures that if a company can profit by dumping shit into the streams, then we all have to live with sewage in our waterways.  Anything else would belie the Invisible Hand).  Public policy entails making policies that involve sacrifice on the part of individuals (e.g., paying taxes) in return for benefits whose costs cannot easily be passed on to private enterprise or private citizens and yet which benefit society in general (e.g., a federally funded study on, say, the public health effects of dumping industrial waste into wetlands).  

Your hypothetical $6 hamburger doesn't cover the cost of the meat inspectors, the cost of the road and railway systems that transported the beef, grain, dairy, and vegetables, the environmental costs associated with clear-cutting forests to make the paper wrappers, the eventual economic and environmental cost of the CO2 emissions at the power plant that supplied juice to run the heat lamps, the scientific research and development that allows crops and animals to be raised so cheaply, the public health cost of all the antibiotics fed to the cattle and chickens and the herbacides/insectacides sprayed onto the crops (and accumulated in the waterways).  Nor did it pay for the public airwaves, on which the mass-marketing is pitched, or the military, who ensure a safe heartland and stable economy in which to raise the agricultural products.  McDonalds does not pay for any of this--last I checked, McDonalds corporation does not even pay federal taxes.

All that stuff is subsidized by our taxes.  Though arguments can be made for passing on some of the costs of these services to consumers and corporations, most such services are difficult, if not impossible, to assign a meaningful dollar value to.  Some public entity such as the federal government needs to intervene.  If you own stock in McDonalds (or any other U.S. corporation for that matter), then, like it or not, you receive benefits from the government.  Pretending that somehow you shouldn't be obligated to contribute to these services, that you are a "self-made man who never took a dime from nobody" while you live in your tract house in the 'burbs, drive on public roadways, burn gasoline we've fought wars over, and take full advantage of an education subsidized by public funding, doesn't make it true.

When you can find a fair, voluntary, non-governmental manner in which to fold all externalities into the price of the goods and services rendered, thus ensuring that true capitalism can work, then great.  Your "flat tax" system should work just fine.  Such a system would not be the unfettered capitalism that so bated Rand's breath, but then again she never had to drink the slop that her beloved companies pour into the public aquifers or pay taxes to cover the subsequent SuperFund costs.

[ Parent ]

Close (5.00 / 1) (#135)
by dipierro on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 03:02:26 PM EST

How much is your property worth?
Multiply that by X%.

The main purpose of the government is to protect your property (from foreign invasion or domestic criminal activity).  The more property you have, the more you should pay for that protection.

Just my silly opinion though.

[ Parent ]

Well (none / 0) (#167)
by SilentNeo on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 10:32:26 PM EST

Theoretically, a LOT of government services you may not necessarily see are required when you are making more money.  For instance, if you're a computer programmer :

1.  The government has to maintain the roads you use to get to work.  More important, it provides the high speed roads the trucks that bring everything you consume use.
2.  The gov keeps lots of armed troops around, both to stop domestic riots and keep away foreign invaders so you can sit in your nice cozy chair and code, safe in your office building.  That's what Waco was all about : the government perceived the cult to be essentially armed rebels, and put a stop to it.  In Mexico and Columbia the government is still fighting guerilla insurgents.  While the fate of the cult members may have been cruel, the government performed its main function : isolating and removing the pathogens (the armed cult members) from society.  
3.  The government has to enforce a looong list of rules.  Some of these rules hinder you, even costing some of that income, but some help cut back on all sorts of abuses.  Theoretically, this forces your employer to be, say, responsible for your personal safety and not make you code in a rat infested basement.  
4.  The government provides a lot of services you may not be using currently, but might need someday.  This includes federal courts, the FBI to investigate those stealing from you, ect.  
5.  This is a big one : the government is promising to provide some level of financial and medical support when you become too old to work.  This alone is mostly what the "federal debt" actually is.  The "debt" is mostly money promised to entitlement program recepients who haven't retired yet.
6.  And what you don't see : for your software to be any use to anyone, the government also has to provide all manner of services to the industry and infrastructure that both depends on your software and provides you goods and services in exchange for the money you are paid.  Every dollar you spend is only worth something because other industries have the protection to produce their products.

Basically, for you to sit in that office and produce something intangible and receive money for it the government has to provide a lot of stability.  To draw a biological analogy : none of the various RNA parsing tools can work without a stable cellular environment provided by the membrane and active support systems.

Of course, there's waste...the government messes its resource allocation up sometimes.  The machine isn't anywhere close to perfect, and has very high overheads.  But it DOES work, just it may consume more resources than it really needs.

[ Parent ]

Horror! (none / 0) (#71)
by DarkZero on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 02:00:25 AM EST

If we went to this sick and disgusting system, what would happen to the covert government welfare checks jobs of everyone that works in the personal accounting industry? Without a complicated tax system, those people would have to do something useful find other jobs! Entire useless industries would fall apart simply for the purpose of making life easier for every single person in the country!

In my state, we have tolls every few miles on the parkway. The turnpike is much faster and easier because it uses a ticket system based on where you get on and where you get off, necessitating only two bottlenecks for each driver each way, regardless of how far they're going. This system could easily be used on the parkway instead of the tolls, but by my estimate, the tolls employ roughly thirty to forty people per toll. They are performing an entirely useless function in our society, but they are employed, and that is apparently all that matters.

That is why I will always have tolls and all of us will always have complicated tax forms. To some degree, it's also the basis of the entire situation that this article covers.

[ Parent ]

Isn't it simpler (none / 0) (#116)
by trane on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 01:33:38 PM EST

and more convenient for everyone concerned, to implement the ticket system and just give money to the unemployed toll-workers?

[ Parent ]
you missed a function (4.00 / 1) (#94)
by Wah on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 10:23:59 AM EST

Let $income = ???? !There should be a calculation here.

What kind of income, from where, with what interest, in what country, county, state, city, Donations?  Business loss?  etc, etc, etc.

Even if we went to a flat tax now, it would slowly morph back into something like we have now.
--
Fail to Obey?
[ Parent ]

Slowly morph back (none / 0) (#120)
by TheOnlyCoolTim on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 01:56:52 PM EST

Even if we cleared out the whole tax code and it immediately began filling with cruft again, at least we would have gotten rid of all the cruft added since the 16th amendment.

Tim
"We are trapped in the belly of this horrible machine, and the machine is bleeding to death."
[ Parent ]

True (none / 0) (#169)
by Wah on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 11:32:02 PM EST

I'm not saying the tax code is great, but what I've seen and had to deal with is fairly straightforword, if a bit convoluted.  Some areas suck, and it certainly is a process of figuring out how to do it correctly and as someone else said, you can create enough value with a good effort in this area that an entire industry has sprung up around it.  However, going back to what I was saying earlier, a dead simple tax system is a pipe dream.  Money just takes too many forms in this day and age.  

With that being said, doesn't it make a certian sense to stay with a wacky system that works, rather than start a new system, which eventually goes wacky again?  I guess the question would have to be how long it takes to get 'wacky' versus how much, I guess the equation here is about economic efficiency, it costs for a (temporary) fix.  And don't forget that Congresspeople in general are rather highly paid when their salary is calculated on a per hour basis.
--
Fail to Obey?
[ Parent ]

Even if flat taxes are the way to go (5.00 / 2) (#103)
by jreilly on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 11:58:44 AM EST

you've got a serious mistake in there. Lets try:

if $income > 30000
$amountdue = .15 * ($income - 30000);
See how it works?

[ Parent ]
No, I like his way better (5.00 / 1) (#151)
by roystgnr on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 05:42:10 PM EST

I can just imagine a sadistic employer, keeping his $29,900/year employees under his thumb by threatening to give them a $101 Christmas bonus!

[ Parent ]
What is income? (none / 0) (#176)
by Ruidh on Wed Feb 05, 2003 at 11:48:16 AM EST

Is it any money you receive from your employer? Then employer reimbursements would be taxable. Procedes from Group Health Insurance might also be "income". What about Life Insurance prodeces? Or propery insurance? What is the corresponding "income" for a public company? Revenue? What is revenue?

This is the huge fallacy that tax simplification enthusiasts don't want to have to address. The IRS has a huge bundlke of rules just to decide what is income.
 
"Laissez-faire is a French term commonly interpreted by Conservatives to mean 'lazy fairy,' which is the belief that if governments are lazy enough, the Good Fairy will come down from heaven and do all their work for them."
[ Parent ]

You want to see a scam? (2.25 / 4) (#36)
by TheOnlyCoolTim on Mon Feb 03, 2003 at 07:55:27 PM EST

Look at the major forms for US college financial aid. (FAFSA and CSS Profile) The worst of both worlds - taxes to the point that you really need the government help and have to deal with all those bullshit forms (one of the best questions - how much money will I make during my first year of college, although I don't even know what college I'm going to, nevermind what job I will have), but not socialized enough so you still end up paying out of your ass anyway, and then there's the absurdity of the government loaning money with interest to the people.

Tim
"We are trapped in the belly of this horrible machine, and the machine is bleeding to death."

Fucking FASFA (none / 0) (#39)
by coryking on Mon Feb 03, 2003 at 09:00:50 PM EST

Ahmen to that! I love how they "guess" what your income is based on your past. Like I made a lot last tax year, so they figure I'll make a ton next year. Little does there crappy application know that I plan to really, really cut back on my hours once I work on my major. Like, why would I be applying for financial aid if I didn't think I'd need it in the future?

Stupid damn government.

[ Parent ]

Your school . . . (none / 0) (#46)
by acceleriter on Mon Feb 03, 2003 at 10:06:04 PM EST

. . . via something called "professional judgement" has the discretion to make adjustments to the income used to calculate how much you/your family is exepected to contribute to your cost of education.

However, the application of professional judgement, by definition, is not mandatory for your institution and whether it will happen depends on its policies and those of your financial aid officer.

It's still worth checking out if you haven't already.

[ Parent ]

Wow... (none / 0) (#53)
by TheOnlyCoolTim on Mon Feb 03, 2003 at 10:14:58 PM EST

I feel less guilty about the gross estimation I had to do to fill those out with the knowledge that the school can just completely change numbers on a whim.

Tim
"We are trapped in the belly of this horrible machine, and the machine is bleeding to death."
[ Parent ]

If you estimated . . . (none / 0) (#54)
by acceleriter on Mon Feb 03, 2003 at 10:17:07 PM EST

. . . I hope you lucked out and didn't get selected for verification, in which case you'll have to provide tax return copies, and possibly W-2's and other documentation.

And professional judgement isn't usually done on a whim. Done correctly, it requires documentation of the circumstances that justified the changes.

[ Parent ]

Tax Returns and W-2s (none / 0) (#57)
by TheOnlyCoolTim on Mon Feb 03, 2003 at 10:24:51 PM EST

All the 2002 tax stuff was estimated on account of my family is just getting our W-2s and such NOW and all this stuff was due Saturday or earlier.

Anything we had hard documentation for, that number went in exactly, but there were questions like the one where they basically ask you to pull the value of your house out of your ass (rules: don't use property tax assessments, real estate appraisals, amount paid, or any other sensible way of figuring how much the house cost).

Tim
"We are trapped in the belly of this horrible machine, and the machine is bleeding to death."
[ Parent ]

Again -damn fasfas (none / 0) (#60)
by coryking on Mon Feb 03, 2003 at 10:45:25 PM EST

I mean really - WFT!? They ask for all this income stuff off your w2 - and most normal people haven't even gotten their w2's yet!!. Almost every number they asked was "pull an number out of your ass" unless you are 0.00001 of the population who does their tax return by whenever the FASFA due. If they wan't proof of most of those numbers, they can kiss my ass. Sadly, the income I reported on the FASFA was higher then what wound up on my 1040.

God damn government. I just might tell them to fuck off and die and just get a loan /w my bank, which is probably all I can get seeing as how they think I'm going to be rich next school year. At least that might be easy /w-out the hassle of that privacy violating socialist crap that is the fasfa appication.

[ Parent ]

Going through a bank (none / 0) (#194)
by King Salamander on Thu Feb 06, 2003 at 07:55:37 PM EST

I went to wells fargo to get a student loan(no FAFSA needed). I applied in june. It turned out that they had to go through the school still. They forgot about my application. I ended up getting the loan in late October after badgering the financial aid desk at my school. They said it would've been faster had I gone the FAFSA route. I say it would've been faster had they(university financial aid dept.) not forgotten that I applied.

In a very real sense, *anyone* who makes a public issue out of the fact that they are involved with Linux in any way is seen as an advocate. (Derek Glidden)
[ Parent ]
I will have to do this (none / 0) (#62)
by coryking on Mon Feb 03, 2003 at 10:46:56 PM EST

Getting financial aid for school via the government route is looking like a big pain in the ass. I'm still not sure how the whole thing works or exactly what a FASFA application does beside I appearntly need to fill it out.

[ Parent ]
The FAFSA, you can blame the government for . . . (none / 0) (#48)
by acceleriter on Mon Feb 03, 2003 at 10:08:41 PM EST

. . . but the Profile is the responsibility of the College Board, and is generally only used by private institutions that use their own methodology to calculate "need." As you likely know, its questions are much more intrusive than those on the FAFSA, since they're trying more to gain an insight into ability to pay than to crunch numbers through a government formula.

At the end of the day, though, both the federal and institutional (Profile) methodologies end up as crunching numbers through a formula, for the most part.

[ Parent ]

College Board (5.00 / 2) (#55)
by TheOnlyCoolTim on Mon Feb 03, 2003 at 10:19:10 PM EST

The College Board is about as bad as the government, what with the blatant lies about being a non-profit and such.

Tim
"We are trapped in the belly of this horrible machine, and the machine is bleeding to death."
[ Parent ]

FAFSA sucks (none / 0) (#158)
by robott17 on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 06:44:58 PM EST

I couldn't agree with you more! FAFSA is one of the worst forms ever created by our wonderful government. Not only does it ask all of these insane questions you don't know, the site is pathetically slow. I wasted three hours of my Sunday night on that dumb thing when I could've been doing something less productive. Then again, I need money and if they give it to me, it will all be worth it. Maybe.

[ Parent ]
Tax scam? (2.33 / 3) (#37)
by jabber on Mon Feb 03, 2003 at 08:06:22 PM EST

Let's see. Your income is taxed. Then when you buy, say, a car, the sale is taxed. Then, since you own the car, your property is taxed. The whole tax system is a scam.

The word you're looking for here is "racketeering".

For example, and to belabor the car angle, since you are required to have insurance, the State should provide it, but it does not. Since the State demands your car pass inspection, it should provide the needed service, but it does not.

[TINK5C] |"Is K5 my kapusta intellectual teddy bear?"| "Yes"

Damn straight (3.00 / 2) (#38)
by CaptainSuperBoy on Mon Feb 03, 2003 at 08:47:56 PM EST

I agree with you. As a libertarian it pisses me off that the government is forcing us to e-file through specific providers. If I were some kind of idealist I would probably protest this by mailing in my tax forms. Come to think of it, I'm against the income tax so I'd probably just not pay it.

HOWEVER, you and me have to live in this world even if it's not perfect. If I did my tax return with a pencil and a calculator it would take up a Saturday afternoon... that I could spend drinking! WTF! The day we get rid of these fucking tax laws is the day I fill out my tax forms the same way Abe Lincoln did. But you know what Abe, now we have TaxCut and for $25 I get software that does my taxes for me, and it includes free e-filing and does my state taxes too. My 4 hours on Saturday are worth much more than the $25. So fuck it. We have to live here, let's not punish ourselves by being all idealistic and self-important. I'm serious, I agree with you in principle but there is no reason to waste a bunch of your time just to prove a point to the IRS. Fuck it.

--
jimmysquid.com - I take pictures.

As a libertarian... (2.50 / 2) (#47)
by flarg on Mon Feb 03, 2003 at 10:06:35 PM EST

As a libertarian it pisses me off that the government is forcing us to e-file through specific providers.

But as a libertarian, aren't you happy about private business doing work which would otherwise be done by a government agency?


[ Parent ]

Nah (4.50 / 2) (#52)
by TheOnlyCoolTim on Mon Feb 03, 2003 at 10:13:53 PM EST

Libertarian values are more towards laissez faire than government contracting work out to the private sector.

Tim
"We are trapped in the belly of this horrible machine, and the machine is bleeding to death."
[ Parent ]

Hm (4.75 / 4) (#58)
by CaptainSuperBoy on Mon Feb 03, 2003 at 10:25:49 PM EST

I'd rather not see them pick and choose which vendors are worthy of the priviledge of e-filing. The IRS actually sat down with their favorite vendors and came up with the free file alliance, deciding which taxpayers would be allowed the honor of not paying to file their taxes.. and which ones would have to pay for the convenience. I wonder what the response would be if you said some people had to pay to vote in a way that was convenient.

--
jimmysquid.com - I take pictures.
[ Parent ]
They don't (4.00 / 1) (#134)
by dipierro on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 02:52:27 PM EST

I'd rather not see them pick and choose which vendors are worthy of the priviledge of e-filing.

they don't



[ Parent ]
3. Pass a Suitability Background Check -NT (2.00 / 1) (#154)
by CaptainSuperBoy on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 05:57:39 PM EST



--
jimmysquid.com - I take pictures.
[ Parent ]
Are you a felon? (5.00 / 1) (#156)
by dipierro on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 06:18:58 PM EST

C'mon, they accepted me, I'd hardly call it "pick[ing] and choos[ing] which vendors are worthy of the priviledge of e-filing." I think it's perfectly reasonable for them to not allow criminals to use their systems. Point to someone who was declined for a less than excellent reason and then you've got a point. There's no bonding requirement or anything like that.

[ Parent ]
Its a classic tradeoff (2.50 / 2) (#41)
by mstefan on Mon Feb 03, 2003 at 09:25:19 PM EST

Like many of the folks here, I'd prefer a simplified flat tax system. But, since that's not going to happen in my lifetime, it's worth it to me to pay a small sum of money so that I don't have to deal with the hassle of preparing my returns by hand and snail mailing them. The time I do not spend scribbling on a bunch of paper and looking up tables in the hundred-page "2002 1040 Forms and Instructions" book is easily worth the $19.95 to pay a company to file electronically for me. I guess it depends on a combination of how much you value your own time, and how mow much time you're willing to sacrifice on principal.

When it comes to taxes, we're all being bent over and screwed hard. I have no qualms with paying to reduce the amount of time I spend over the barrel.



Simplified vs. Flat (5.00 / 2) (#97)
by cameldrv on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 11:13:03 AM EST

Why is simplified equated with flat? If you can make a simple tax code with no brackets, it's hardly more complicated to make it progressive with multiple brackets, just like we have today. The only added complexity is looking up a number on a table or performing a very simple calculation. Flat=simple is just a red herring by Steve Forbes et al to eliminate progressivity in the name of simplicity.

[ Parent ]
Preparing v. Filing (none / 0) (#113)
by matthead on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 01:14:18 PM EST

There's a difference between paying someone to prepare your taxes and paying someone to file your taxes.  The author is complaining that the IRS does not provide a free method of filing your taxes.  As for me, I'll be paying a little extra to file electronically, and hoping the facility I use respects my privacy to a reasonable extent.
--
- Matt
I'm at (-3.1, -5.0). Where are you?
[ Parent ]
ha ha (3.50 / 2) (#43)
by VoxLobster on Mon Feb 03, 2003 at 09:53:24 PM EST

you have to pay to e-file in your country. My country (Canada) has been internet filing for years and at not cost (except in taxes i guess, but you have to pay for that too probably).

VoxLobster
I was raised by a cup of coffee! -- Homsar

ha ha? (4.00 / 1) (#66)
by Stavr0 on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 12:09:25 AM EST

you have to pay to e-file in your country. My country (Canada) has been internet filing for years and at not cost (except in taxes i guess, but you have to pay for that too probably).

True, but CCRA requires that the transaction be submitted by approved software. That gives you two choices:

  • Use a file-by-web service which charges you like the american services
  • Use tax prep software: QuickTax or Taxamatic, around $30 each.
You could also use Efile by touch-tone, where you spend half an hour typing in your receipt amounts on your telephone keypad... "You entered seventy three thousand eight hundred and sixty two. To confirm the amount, press the # key."
- - -
All your posse are belong to Andre the Giant
[ Parent ]
Tax software in Canada - (4.00 / 2) (#67)
by gbroiles on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 12:43:31 AM EST

does it connect directly to the taxing authority (apparently CCRA), or do electronically filed returns go through a service provider?

US taxpayers face similar choices, except that in either case the return is processed by an approved commercial provider before it hits the IRS' computers.



[ Parent ]

It makes a file (4.50 / 2) (#76)
by chrisbolt on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 05:11:04 AM EST

QuickTax creates a file which you upload through a standard file upload form directly to CCRA.

---
<panner> When making backups, take a lesson from rusty: it doesn't matter if you make them, only that you _think_ you made them.
[ Parent ]
i get the software for free! (3.50 / 2) (#101)
by VoxLobster on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 11:34:41 AM EST

I used to work there and they still send me a copy.

VoxLobster
I was raised by a cup of coffee! -- Homsar
[ Parent ]

Actually, there was free software (4.00 / 1) (#127)
by Rizzen on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 02:24:59 PM EST

Until last year, there were a couple of different free Tax Software Packages available that could be used to do NetFile (which is different from E-File).

Unfortunately, those companies decided that giving their software away for free wasn't a good idea.  Now one has to buy the software (from $6.95 to $199, depending on the package, the type of tax form, and the number of returns you want to file).  Ah well, it still beats paying a tax preparer up to $75 per return.

.
----- The years of peak mental activity are undoubtedly those between the ages of 4 and 18. At age four, we know all the questions; at eighteen, we have all
[ Parent ]

ha ha indeed (4.00 / 1) (#161)
by C0vardeAn0nim0 on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 08:37:51 PM EST

in brasil we have a free software suplied by the govt itself that can be downloaded from Receita Federal's site.

it's simple to use, gives you the option to either send the tax form through internet or save in a floppy that can be taken to a receiving booth in shopping malls.

we have electronic tax declaration since 1990... yes, 13 years now. the proccess required handing Receita Federal a floppy with the tax declaration untill 1999 (or 1998, gotta check when it was exactly) when they started accepting it via Internet.

as you can see, our electronic elections were not the first time we beaten US in government technology.

http://www.comofazer.net
[ Parent ]

Floppy (4.00 / 1) (#162)
by TheOnlyCoolTim on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 08:52:56 PM EST

So you people entrusted your taxes to a 3.5" floppy disk? You are a brave country indeed.

Tim
"We are trapped in the belly of this horrible machine, and the machine is bleeding to death."
[ Parent ]

Speaking of which... (4.00 / 2) (#44)
by fluffy grue on Mon Feb 03, 2003 at 09:58:46 PM EST

Whatever happened to 1040PC? That was a cute little middle ground between full 1040 and e-file, the idea being that your "tax preparation software" (which could easily just be Notepad or vi) would put out the 1040 form's output formatted in an OCR-friendly way, so you still had to mail it in but it was all computer-processed (except for the poor schmuck who had to open the envelopes and feed the pages into the scanner). Actually, I bet that the e-file data format is just the 1040PC...
--
"Ain't proper English" ain't proper English.
"Is not a quine" is not a quine.

[ Hug Your Trikuare ]

Seems to me a point missed. (4.00 / 1) (#51)
by seebs on Mon Feb 03, 2003 at 10:13:01 PM EST

The thing about "sale of ..." means, if some other company buys them, they don't erase the disks.  Nothing sinister to it; it's boilerplate for a good reason.

Basically, that one doesn't mean "we can sell your information and keep a copy", it means "if this part of this business is sold, the information goes with it" - which, if you think about it, makes sense.


personal information == assets (none / 0) (#59)
by waxmop on Mon Feb 03, 2003 at 10:34:22 PM EST

I think the Privacy Agreement is written in order to encourage a false sense of security. The first and the last sentence are in direct contradiction: they say "we're not in the business to sell data", then they say, "we plan to sell your aggregated data".

As for the collected personal data, I think they're saying that the personal information they collect is an asset, and they maintain the right to sell their assets, either as a transfer of ownership, or as a service.

They certainly don't rule out selling my personal information.

I might be speculating here, but it's not impossible to imagine that esmarttax.com is set up by a larger demographer firm, in order to gather up as much information as possible. And then, on May 16, we find that esmarttax.com has been bought by that same marketing firm. Now, I'll admit that sounds unlikely, but it would make sense for a marketing firm to do something like that.

I'm taking off the tinfoil hat now.
--
We are a monoculture of horsecock. Liar
[ Parent ]

The Rub (5.00 / 3) (#61)
by DarkZero on Mon Feb 03, 2003 at 10:46:06 PM EST

That's what I thought at first, but then I looked over it again.

(4) the disclosure is done as part of a purchase, sale or transfer of services or assets (for example, if substantially all of our assets are acquired by another party, your information may be one of the transferred assets)

It doesn't say purchase/sale/transfer of ALL services, or ALL assets, or a significant portion of the company's assets, such as a subsidiary or division of the company. It just says "as part of a purchase, sale or transfer of services or assets" and then follows it up with the rosiest, least threatening example of such a transaction. It doesn't actually say that the information will only be sold if the company or a large part of the company is sold. It just gives that as an example of the sale of their assets to another company. A less rosy and definitely more threatening example of the same exact language would be the data itself being sold as an asset or service to another company that does not have any privacy agreement with the customer at all.

[ Parent ]

Why this is... (5.00 / 7) (#63)
by cysgod on Mon Feb 03, 2003 at 10:49:50 PM EST

The IRS would *LOVE* to directly handle eFile. Unfortunately Congress passed law that specifically prohibits the federal government from competing against these eFile providers. Giving the service away for free certainly presents competition. Hence you get to pay for it. The most upsetting part is that this isn't even worth moaning about. How about the billions that are wasted every year in refund anticipation loans? It's easy to blame the IRS, but all they do is interpret what Congress tells them to do. And FWIW, IRS employees have been prohibited from referring taxpayers to their Congressperson about disagreements with the way the tax code is written.

Forgot about this. (4.50 / 4) (#80)
by theNote on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 07:48:51 AM EST

So true.

I work in the defense industry.
Everytime one of our customers (government agencies) want to develop a software service, we have to do a search and see if anyone is charging for the same thing.

If a private company is charging for the same product, most of the time we have to scrap the project.


[ Parent ]

gee, that's why i wrote the article! (1.00 / 1) (#86)
by waxmop on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 09:33:13 AM EST

well, well, well. the guy that calls me moronic now has a change of heart.
--
We are a monoculture of horsecock. Liar
[ Parent ]

Hmm (3.00 / 1) (#92)
by theNote on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 10:08:33 AM EST

I didn't call you more moronic, just the concept that its a disgrace that it costs $20 to file your taxes electronically.


[ Parent ]
Update (4.00 / 1) (#141)
by theNote on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 04:35:37 PM EST

I checked with the legal department.

In this case it wold not be illegal for the IRS to offer free eFiling software.
It would be a different story if they offered to do the preperation ala H&R Block.


[ Parent ]

Paying taxes (4.50 / 2) (#78)
by agrino on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 07:15:27 AM EST

How I fill and pay my taxes:
1) Conect to http://www.sii.cl (That's our IRS).
2) Enter my user/password.
3) Accept the form already filled by SII. (They have an exact acount of all my incomes.)
4) Enter my bank account por charges/refund.
5) Press Enter. No fees charges.
That's the way the things are do here in Chile.

OT: Your homepage is 404 (none / 0) (#88)
by Vs on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 09:53:59 AM EST

menelaos [15:44:23]> curl --head http://buceo.porsiempre.cl/
HTTP/1.1 404 Not Found
--
Where are the immoderate submissions?
[ Parent ]
Where is my home page? (none / 0) (#106)
by agrino on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 12:36:06 PM EST

Shit! So many sites, so many servers. I must scan my backups. Meanwhile, you still can look at the pictures at http://galeria.porsiempre.cl/agrino.

[ Parent ]
Somebody please remind me. . . (2.66 / 3) (#89)
by Fantastic Lad on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 09:59:29 AM EST

Why do we pay income tax. . ?

Now I haven't actually done any reading on the subject; perhaps somebody can enlighten me, but I have been told that income tax was brought in up here in the Great White Northern wastes of Canada, during the Second World War, as an emergency funds raising act, and was promised to be a temporary measure. The continued collection of income tax is supposedly insupportable by law, but people are so short lived and the dissemination of this kind of information so scanty, that the regular collection of Income Tax has managed to cement itself into a de facto and unquestioned reality. "Death & Taxes," doncha know!

Further, I know how the democratic system is supposed to work, but for goodness sake! I didn't vote for the jerks currently in power, and I don't agree with any of their systems or decisions. In fact, I strongly suspect that, much like our American cousins to the south, (though never with such over-the-top drama), that the whole show is rigged to the gills.

So somebody tell me again why I am giving a percentage of my income to a bunch of assholes I didn't vote for and who may not even be legally entitled to my earnings at all?

Oh, right. The guns. They have 'em, and I don't. I keep forgetting that.

Oh, right. And the ability to freeze my bank account, which in this near-cashless society, is tantamount to starving my ass into oblivion.

Right. Right. I keep forgetting.

But our American cousins to the south, you guys have balls, don't you? (You have guns, anyway.) I keep hearing that you do, at least. Why don't you impeach your president? --You know? Like on a board with a nail sticking out of it?

Just wondering.

-Fantastic Lad

History of Income Tax (4.00 / 2) (#99)
by isobars on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 11:24:45 AM EST

Not really relevant to your post, but this is how Income Tax was developed in the UK

Income Tax was making frequent appearances before and during the 19th century in war time, due to a stretched government budget and obvious reasons. The majority of the money came from the landed aristocracy, who were also the only voters/MPs.

During Robert Peel's ministry in 1842 he reintroduced income tax in peace time at 7d in the pound. His plan was to use this for two reasons, firstly to reduce the country's large budget deficit. Secondly it allowed him to follow free trade policies to promote trade abroad by reducing tariff payments on goods such as corn.

Income tax was a great success and although frequent attempts by Gladstone later on were made to reduce and abolish income tax, it has remained in use in the UK ever since.

Why were they unable to abolish income tax? Well mainly because the various governments increased government involvement and expenditure, and the electorate expanded. As a result more people had the say on who should pay what, and income tax was a seemingly reasonable way of doing it.

I imagine the a similar story is true in other countries, Governments turn more and more to Income tax as expenditure rises, and other sources of income dry up.

Don't know how this is important, but i wanted to show off my historical knowledge ;)



He who laughs last... Hasnt Seen the Cattle Prod
[ Parent ]
President? (none / 0) (#102)
by smithmc on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 11:53:05 AM EST

Why don't you impeach your president?

What does the President have to do with income taxes? He can't make them go away, or even change the level of taxation - the most he can do is ask Congress to do that.

[ Parent ]

Okay. . . (none / 0) (#133)
by Fantastic Lad on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 02:51:35 PM EST

What does the President have to do with income taxes? He can't make them go away, or even change the level of taxation - the most he can do is ask Congress to do that.

Ah, a clever scheme! So what you're proposing is that instead of hauling the heads of government out onto the Whitehouse lawn to tar, feather and run them out of town on a rail, you should instead leave your man-with-the-plan in power. It's not like you have anything bigger than the IRS to worry about down there, after all! Ah! A crafty plot, indeed!

-Fantastic Lad

[ Parent ]

Wrong guy. (none / 0) (#173)
by smithmc on Wed Feb 05, 2003 at 10:10:14 AM EST

If tarring-and-feathering the President makes you feel better, then be my guest. The original commenter was upset about income taxes, and I pointed out that the President has no power over income taxes. If you're unhappy about it, tar-and-feather your Congressmen - or better yet, write to them and let them know what you think.

Just wondering - how many k5ers have ever written to or otherwise communicated with their elected representatives?

[ Parent ]

I don't have a congressman. (none / 0) (#182)
by Fantastic Lad on Thu Feb 06, 2003 at 09:23:30 AM EST

I live in the Great White North.

And just to be petty and hairsplitting, I did say, "Heads of State," when describing who out to be tarred and feathered, etc. Not just 'president'. I wanted to be sure that the entire criminal element was covered adequately. (The Wellstones of the world, notwithstanding who, I figure, most angry mobs would be wise enough to not beat into bloody pulps when they finally get their game plans in order.)

As for writing one's congressmen in order to prevent the steam engine of destruction and general evil which the U.S. has become over the last 100 years. . , well Jeez. If I had known it was that easy, I'd have changed my nationality and moved south just to put a stick in the bicycle wheels of the American Factory-O-Evil long ago!

It's too late to play politely. The stakes are too high and the insanity is well under way. You have criminals and power-mad lunatics in the seats of government. --I think my favorite jab of the year came from Arafat, when he called for Democratic Elections in the U.S. God, that was cute!

But yeah. You're right. This was a thread about getting shafted by the IRS, so I was being a bad boy for skipping over the line into a directly related subject which, reagardless, was clearly deliniated as a separate entity by a thin chalk line. (Or was it a a felt rope?) Whatever. In our Directory/File/Document approach to society, it's simply shameful to step back from the cubicles of informatioin and think in broad terms. Such behavior shuts people down and prevents them from thinking in the most basic, rational terms.

--Which, I tend to think include at this late stage in the game, (sad as it may seem), boards with nails sticking out of them.

-Fantastic --"Rival Doom!? Ignorant peon! NONE RIVAL DOOM!"

[ Parent ]

Re: Somebody please remind me. . . (none / 0) (#104)
by jazman_777 on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 12:03:39 PM EST

Why do we pay income tax. . ?

So the gang in D.C. has a nice pool of money to run their protection racket.

[ Parent ]

Who cares? (5.00 / 1) (#98)
by cameldrv on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 11:23:58 AM EST

E-file is barely better for the actual taxpayer. The real winner is the IRS, because it doesn't have to open envelopes and do data entry. Yes, you get your refund a bit faster, but that's about it. The downside is that you don't have a normal paper tax return. If I get audited, I want to have the usual 1040 form. I also want this if someone needs a copy of my return for a loan, or a background check, or whatever. I've used turbotax in the past, and I always print out the normal 1040, not the 1040PC. Yes, the IRS doesn't like it as much, but that's not my problem. I don't want to give someone a copy of my return and have them say "WTF is this?" There's just no real reason to pay for something that's of very little value.

You do. (none / 0) (#139)
by theNote on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 04:26:48 PM EST

I have yet to see tax prep (client or web based) that does not let you print out your forms EXACTLY as they appear on the forms you pick up the post office.

[ Parent ]
I posted my taxes (3.50 / 2) (#100)
by shenanigans on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 11:28:32 AM EST

online last night with HRBlock. I had 3 W2s to use this year and the whole process took about 25 mins, it was great.

When I fucked up, I hit backspace, no whiteout involved.

Not once did I look around for field 25 so I could add it to field G.

When I finished, I hit submit, I didn't look for an envelope or a stamp.

For a supremely lazy person like me, dropping $20 on online tax filing was like using a squeezable ketchup bottle for the first time.

The point is (none / 0) (#122)
by trane on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 02:08:15 PM EST

if you could file it for free because some enterprising free software enthusiast made it possible, you would then have a choice whether you wanted to pay $20 or not...

[ Parent ]
No, it's not (none / 0) (#136)
by dipierro on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 03:12:03 PM EST

If someone made the software, I'd gladly offer efiling for $0.35/return. The software isn't made, and that's why it costs $20 (actually less than $5 if you're going to go with the cheapest solution).

[ Parent ]
I Fill 'em out By Hand (3.00 / 1) (#105)
by jazman_777 on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 12:09:49 PM EST

So I have lots of time to work myself up into a boil. We're being plundered by the tax-eaters, no doubt about it.

I think the system isn't half bad. (4.75 / 4) (#110)
by Chakotay on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 01:07:31 PM EST

I've already posted this somewhere up there as reply to another reply, but I think it merits a top level reply. (If not, it'll automatically be downmodded for being redundant)

Last year, I've done technical support for the online tax declaration system in France. In France, there's the archaic system that taxes are not deducted at the source. Everybody (and that does mean EVERYbody) has to do a tax declaration before some semi-random date in april.

I had the shift 12h-24h on the very last day that tax declaration was possible, so I had a first rank seat when the Titanic went down...

All day, the system was very slow, and we had lots of calls from people who randomly couldn't get their declarations through - symptoms of a system that simply couldn't handle the load. Obviously, as the afternoon progressed, problems started getting worse.

The calls really started peaking after 17:00. Before that time, the meatspace tax offices were all still open, so in general people who had trouble getting their declarations through online decided to go do it in person anyway. But after that, doing it online was their only remaining option. The system got totally slammed into the ground by about 20:00.

When that happened, thousands upon thousands of frantic taxpayers started calling the hotline - which crashed under the load. The day ended in complete silence, thousands of taxpayers trying in vain to push their tax declarations or their hotline calls through the hopelessly stranded systems.

Luckily though, the system didn't go down all the way. It was still able to register the taxpayers' attempts, and so the government was able to grant 4 extra days for those taxpayers who had tried to get their online declaration through before the deadline. In the end it all turned out okay, but thousands of people were completely stressed out because of it, and official complaints rained down from everywhere. The system had failed. Miserably.

The system as it is now set up by the US IRS would very effectively prevent such disasters by putting the actual system behind an opaque smoke screen. Firstly, there will probably not be such a rush towards the end of the declaration period, because the declarations will have to be filed with meatspace companies anyway, imposing opening hours. Secondly, if the system does go down, those official partners of the IRS have already registered the declarations, so the IRS can simply keep their systems open for a few more days to allow their partners to get backed up declarations through.

It is a very nice buffer between the system and the taxpayer. This way, the taxpayer basically doesn't have to worry about the (in)stability of the IRS system. Those private companies, partners of the IRS, will do that for them.

Ofcourse, no system is perfect, and there will always be people who bitch and whine. If you don't want to pay a few bucks to do an easy online declaration, then you can always get off your arse and put yours in the mailbox.

Maybe once, when the IRS is sure their systems can survive being slashdotted by the flood of late declarers, they will put their system online for everybody to use. But it is at this point simply too much of a liability to do that, as the failure of the French system last year quite aptly shows...

--
Linux like wigwam. No windows, no gates, Apache inside.

Imagine.... (1.00 / 4) (#111)
by joemorse on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 01:08:42 PM EST

...a BEOWULF cluster of e-file servers! Oh, wait, wrong site. Darn.

Now let's you just drop them pants!
       -Don Job, from Deliverance
Some perspective (3.66 / 3) (#121)
by dipierro on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 02:07:39 PM EST

Disclaimer: I am an authorized IRS e-file provider (an ERO). I can't transmit directly to the IRS, but I can submit returns electronically through other transmitters for myself and others. I have applied to become a transmitter, but the software I am writing is not yet completed.

Well, the big deal is that their service is really nothing but an unneccessary non-technical artificial bottleneck that allows third parties to extract revenue from my tax return.

There is nothing unnecessary about it. I'll explain below.

These third parties, like Jackson Hewitt, or $4.95 1040EZ, are all logging in somehow to some server at the IRS and then updloading tax filings. So why can't I log in to that server?

They're dialing up by modem to a non-toll-free number. They then use the protocol which is freely available on the IRS website to upload the taxes. You can log in to that server as soon as you've passed the tests proving that the software you've written to implement the protocol works correctly. You also have to submit your fingerprints so that an FBI background check can be completed. I did this last year, in order to be able to submit returns through a third party transmission service. Obviously the government doesn't want to tie up its phone lines with people who think they know how to code. You have to prove that you can implement the protocol first, then you get access.

H & R Block could still make a buck by making a pretty glossy interface to that IRS protocol, and people like me could write a GPL client.

Something like Qing Tax? (sorry, it's QingPLed, utterly unfinished, and I haven't updated it in over a year, it's easier for me to just use taxact preparer's edition). Feel free to put your money where your mouth is, and write a GPLed client. I'd certainly be willing to help you.

You too can become an authorized IRS e-file provier.



but wait -- you did not address the point! (none / 0) (#170)
by jmd2121 on Wed Feb 05, 2003 at 01:55:19 AM EST

the point is: "why can't I log into that server?"

Why do they need software checks?  Why do they need fingerprints?  What on earth are they using asynch ZMODEM [hello, mcfly?]!!

Defending the IRS in this is INSANE

what they should have done:

  1. request for comments
  2. write a dtd that encompasses required data
  3. provide a test suite of tax data for submission to an automated test evaluator
  4. publish lists of software clients that successfully complete the test suite
  5. allow anyone to upload their XML formatted tax data from any client they choose, and print a report of the data they get
what am I missing?  
this is NOT ROCKET SCIENCE PEOPLE  

my kids could have designed this to work better.









[ Parent ]

Why (4.00 / 2) (#175)
by dipierro on Wed Feb 05, 2003 at 10:28:57 AM EST

Why do they need software checks?

So that their server isn't burdened with crap.

Why do they need fingerprints?

Because you are accessing a server containing highly sensitive data.

What on earth are they using asynch ZMODEM [hello, mcfly?]!!

What's wrong with ZMODEM? You can use XMODEM (CRC I assume) if that's all you have.

what they should have done:

1. request for comments

They did that.

2. write a dtd that encompasses required data

I'm pretty sure dtds didn't exist at the time. They certainly weren't very popular.

3. provide a test suite of tax data for submission to an automated test evaluator

They did that.

4. publish lists of software clients that successfully complete the test suite

They've done that as well.

5. allow anyone to upload their XML formatted tax data from any client they choose, and print a report of the data they get

It's not XML. SFW? XML sucks anyway.



[ Parent ]
Silly excuses (none / 0) (#188)
by wnight on Thu Feb 06, 2003 at 01:51:48 PM EST

>>Why do they need software checks?
>So that their server isn't burdened with crap.

They're obviously capable of coping with paper forms full of crap. An easily testable e-form would be much less likely to contain errors because you wouldn't be doing the calculations (Enter 30% of box 13, into box 15, if box 14 is empty...)

>>Why do they need fingerprints?
>Because you are accessing a server containing highly sensitive data.

I can access many sensitive servers without having my fingerprints on file. In fact, I could access the IRS's service without this, by faking the authentication of someone who does have their prints on file. They should actually use a secure process instead of trying to limit who can connect and trusting them.

>What's wrong with ZMODEM? You can use XMODEM (CRC I assume) if that's all you have.

What's wrong with ZModem is that it requires a modem, and a phone line. Why not encrypt that data with the IRS's public key and send it over the net. Nothing is specifically wrong with ZModem as a file transfer protocol to use over modems. The problem is data transfer over a modem. How much more obsolete can you get? Modems are reliably up to 42kbps or so, a T1 is 1.54mbps and is cheaper, per byte. Not to mention, more reliable. That's what's wrong with ZModem. Faster, Better, Cheaper vs Slower, Less Reliable, and More Expensive.

All they need to do is publish a trivial (that's what XML has going for it) protocol where people can submit a given form with numbers in the appropriate fields. Perhaps there's software attached which helps you figure out what numbers, or perhaps it's just an electronic version of the paper form and you do all the work. They can then treat this like any other form you submit.

It isn't exactly rocket science.

As to why they should go through the work, they're funded by the taxes they collect. They're a government agency, serving (theoretically) the people. Selling exclusive access to this is contrary to the public's best interests.



[ Parent ]
response (none / 0) (#195)
by dipierro on Thu Feb 06, 2003 at 09:00:24 PM EST

They're obviously capable of coping with paper forms full of crap. An easily testable e-form would be much less likely to contain errors because you wouldn't be doing the calculations (Enter 30% of box 13, into box 15, if box 14 is empty...)

It's much more expensive to have someone tie up your phone lines than your trash bin.

I can access many sensitive servers without having my fingerprints on file.

Two wrongs don't make a right. Just because other sensitive data isn't properly protected doesn't mean we shouldn't protect IRS data.

In fact, I could access the IRS's service without this, by faking the authentication of someone who does have their prints on file.

Yes, you could do that, but it's a lot harder. The best security is layered security.

What's wrong with ZModem is that it requires a modem, and a phone line.

Well, no, it doesn't. But using phone lines is a key part of the accountability.

Why not encrypt that data with the IRS's public key and send it over the net.

Phone lines are easier to trace than TCP connections. Also, more people have modems than have internet access.

The problem is data transfer over a modem. How much more obsolete can you get?

Modems are obsolete? I'm using one right now!

Modems are reliably up to 42kbps or so, a T1 is 1.54mbps and is cheaper, per byte. Not to mention, more reliable. That's what's wrong with ZModem. Faster, Better, Cheaper vs Slower, Less Reliable, and More Expensive.

It's certainly cheaper to allow a few hundred people to connect by modem than to allow millions to connect over the internet, as you suggest.

All they need to do is publish a trivial (that's what XML has going for it) protocol where people can submit a given form with numbers in the appropriate fields.

They already have done that.

As to why they should go through the work, they're funded by the taxes they collect. They're a government agency, serving (theoretically) the people.

I don't see why that means they should go through the work. E-filing is harder for the average Joe, not easier. The only justification for it is that it's easier (and therefore cheaper) for the IRS. But it seems you want to throw out those very reasons that the government has set up e-file in the first place!

Selling exclusive access to this is contrary to the public's best interests.

Agreed. But they're not selling access, and it's not exclusive.

It seems your only quibble is that they are using Z-MODEM over modems instead of something (HTTPS?) over the internet. Well even if you don't buy the security reasons, this is much more efficient for the government to process. Let third parties aggregate returns up into large chunks and then transfer them all at once.



[ Parent ]
Security (none / 0) (#200)
by wnight on Fri Feb 07, 2003 at 01:22:58 PM EST

>It's much more expensive to have someone tie up your phone lines than your trash bin.

Well, I didn't mean intentional garbage. I meant, it'll catch errors that now require a human to look at the form and figure out what was meant.

Stopping intentional DoS attacks would have to be done by mailing you a PIN and requiring your return to quote that number. If a SSN and PIN don't match, ditch the return. You could DoS the website, but not the processing behind it. And phone lines can be DoSed just as easily. Those people who use modems to connect to the internet can get a worm which commands them to wardial certain phone numbers.

>>I can access many sensitive servers without having my fingerprints on file.
>Two wrongs don't make a right. Just because other sensitive data isn't properly protected doesn't mean we shouldn't protect IRS data.
>>[...]
>Yes, you could do that, but it's a lot harder. The best security is layered security.

Fingerprints are accountability, not security. If you write a tax package that reports my info to the mafia we can find and sue you. But my return has still be sent off to the mafia. And my return (via your company) is just as snoopable as it would be, had you not been fingerprinted. Accountability is good but it's not front-line security.

Security may not be programs. You can't wave the PGP chicken at something and have it secure, but you also can't have something be secure if anyone can look at it (however unlikely it might be) and read plaintext data. That PGP chicken is required, but it's not the sole requirement.

I could probably reroute the IRS incoming lines to another number (I've worked in the telecom industry and I know what linemen say when they call the plant and asked for routing to be changed), where my own bank of modems waited, then pass the data off to the IRS and nobody would know I snooped. Phone lines are assumed to be point-to-point so you don't implement secure protocols. If you were doing this on the net you'd be thinking about man-in-the-middle attacks and you'd have encrypted the data. Sometimes sending encrypted data over a hostile channel is safer than sending unencrypted data over a presumed friendly channel.

>Modems are obsolete? I'm using one right now!

Hate to break it to you... :) Seriously though, modems as a method of either mass data transit, or as an access point are getting a little long in the tooth. And maintaining a rack of modems isn't something the IRS should do. They should let the public sector do this, ISPs can handle the modems, the IRS can just buy a single T1, or webhosting more likely.

>It's certainly cheaper to allow a few hundred people to connect by modem than to allow millions to connect over the internet, as you suggest.

Not really. The system of batching the data to modem lines only works because e-filing hasn't taken off. With an all or nothing protocol (like modems, where a line can only be used by one company at a time) you've got scheduling and logistics concerns. With a protocol that allows control packets even when saturated by data (FTP or HTTP, with decent packet priority settings) you can maintain queues (etc) and maximize your bandwidth. Phone lines have to be polled which is a slow process, and you get rewarded by abusing it, dialing more frequently. The current system doesn't seem workable in the long run, even if data kept being agregated by these companies.

>>... publish a trivial ...
>They already have done that.

Trivial? As in, I could implement a 1040 form in less than a day, as an average commercial programmer? It sounded from earlier discussion like I'd still be reading the spec a month later. I mean trivial as in you submit a file with this sort of layout "Form=1040 field=13 value=1249.73". I don't want to write a tax-calculation package, I want to write a tax-submitting package. Could this be done trivially?



[ Parent ]
example (none / 0) (#203)
by dipierro on Fri Feb 07, 2003 at 06:15:23 PM EST

It's much more expensive to have someone tie up your phone lines than your trash bin.

Well, I didn't mean intentional garbage. I meant, it'll catch errors that now require a human to look at the form and figure out what was meant.

I meant formatting errors. Poorly written transmission software could easily tie up a phone line, even if it's written to do so unintentionally.

Stopping intentional DoS attacks would have to be done by mailing you a PIN and requiring your return to quote that number.

Now you've just added a nice $.50/return or so cost to the government.

And phone lines can be DoSed just as easily. Those people who use modems to connect to the internet can get a worm which commands them to wardial certain phone numbers.

That could be easily solved in the current system by having the transmitter submit the phone number from which he will be calling. Also, it wouldn't be too difficult to change the numbers and contact all the transmitters to let them know of the change.

Fingerprints are accountability, not security.

Hmm, maybe. I guess I'll buy that.

I could probably reroute the IRS incoming lines to another number (I've worked in the telecom industry and I know what linemen say when they call the plant and asked for routing to be changed), where my own bank of modems waited, then pass the data off to the IRS and nobody would know I snooped.

You seem to keep harping on the fact that the system is not perfect. But I don't argue that it's perfect, I merely argue that dialup is more secure than the internet. Maybe you disagree, but I'm not going to argue that with you, because I really think it's quite obvious.

Phone lines are assumed to be point-to-point so you don't implement secure protocols.

C'mon, that's not fair. You can implement secure protocols, it's just not necessary because the risk of MITM attacks is small. Maybe they should use secure protocols anyway. I don't know, but that's way off the topic.

Modems are obsolete? I'm using one right now!

Hate to break it to you... :) Seriously though, modems as a method of either mass data transit, or as an access point are getting a little long in the tooth.

I disagree. For this type of application modems are still used all the time, by credit card processing companies and ATM machines.

And maintaining a rack of modems isn't something the IRS should do. They should let the public sector do this, ISPs can handle the modems, the IRS can just buy a single T1, or webhosting more likely.

Well, I'm glad you at least admit that the IRS should outsource something. Why should they do this, though? And why should they be a webmaster, but not an ISP?

It's certainly cheaper to allow a few hundred people to connect by modem than to allow millions to connect over the internet, as you suggest.

Trivial? As in, I could implement a 1040 form in less than a day, as an average commercial programmer? It sounded from earlier discussion like I'd still be reading the spec a month later. I mean trivial as in you submit a file with this sort of layout "Form=1040 field=13 value=1249.73". I don't want to write a tax-calculation package, I want to write a tax-submitting package. Could this be done trivially?

Your layout is quite similar to what they have. Here's a 1040:

0444****RET 1040 PG01 111001111 200012 [007]509280136201
0001[008]00510070001003[010]111001111[030]111002222[050]DIV
E[060]DEEPE C<DIVER[080]3333 QUACK BLVD[083]SEAPORT[087]CA[
095]90012[110]X[130]3[140]CORAL DIVER[160]X[167]1[360]01[37
5]20302[600]20302[750]20302#0176****RET 1040 PG02 111001
111 200012 [770]20302[789]2500[800]17802[810]1950[820]15852
[1030]2511[1130]2511[1160]4401[1250]4401[1260]1890[1270]129
0[1280]600[1323]SWIMMER#

If you can write it in a day, please, let me know where I can get the source code.



[ Parent ]
Taxes, death and taxes... (none / 0) (#204)
by wnight on Fri Feb 07, 2003 at 10:53:24 PM EST

>Your layout is quite similar to what they have. Here's a 1040:
>[...]
>If you can write it in a day, please, let me know where I can get the source code.

Well, it looks ugly, but I assume those are just the values of all the fields, with spaces between them. That does look like either of us could implement it (that little bit) in a day, or less.

>Well, I'm glad you at least admit that the IRS should outsource something

I've never said the IRS shouldn't outsource anything. I don't think the IRS should do anything that essentially requires a third-party business though. I'd rather they determine what's needed, take bids, and have it done. There's no need for the IRS to make a nice webform, but they should pay someone to do it rather than letting all the taxpayers pay inflated fees to it.

>Now you've just added a nice $.50/return or so cost to the government.

The government never mails you any tax related forms? I was thinking you'd do it like phone bills. On top of the bill they print a PIN number which you use if you call in.

>C'mon, that's not fair. You can implement secure protocols, it's just not necessary because the risk of MITM attacks
>is small. Maybe they should use secure protocols anyway. I don't know, but that's way off the topic.

But that's the problem. Everyone assume that phone lines are secure because they're point-to-point. But if security is an issue I could probably snoop these calls more easily than I could if they were coming from random locations on the net.

If security isn't being implemented here, then it's probably not much of an issue on the net because I know a better job could be done.

>That could be easily solved in the current system by having the transmitter submit the phone number from which he will be calling.

You mean, you call up and tell the system who you are, then it tries to call you back at your number to initiate the data transfer? That would be even easier for me. You'd be a lot less likely to notice your line being bugged than the IRS would.

>For this type of application modems are still used all the time, by credit card processing companies and ATM machines.

Only for stores who can't afford an ISDN connection, with no dialup time. Takes a second or so to verify the transaction instead of 15+.


[ Parent ]

a few responses (none / 0) (#209)
by dipierro on Sat Feb 08, 2003 at 07:11:07 PM EST

The government never mails you any tax related forms?

The federal government? No, they don't.

I was thinking you'd do it like phone bills. On top of the bill they print a PIN number which you use if you call in.

What bill?

You mean, you call up and tell the system who you are, then it tries to call you back at your number to initiate the data transfer?

No, I mean when you send in your fingerprints you tell them the number you're going to be calling from.



[ Parent ]
He did address the point (none / 0) (#187)
by babywetrat on Thu Feb 06, 2003 at 01:26:43 PM EST

The point of the original article was why the user has to go through a third party service in order to e-file. Apparently (if the reply to which you refer to is accurate) this is not the case...you can go through the required steps and e-file yourself. Now if if the original article indicated that the required steps really suck (which apparently they do) and should be changed, then perhaps he would have missed the point.
If at first you don't succeed, skydiving is not for you.
[ Parent ]
efile is not bad. (2.33 / 3) (#124)
by chunkwhite84 on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 02:15:04 PM EST

What is so bad about this system? No one is forcing you to use it. You could still send it snail mail and pay only postage.

If you take your taxes to a "normal" tax preparer, he charges you a fee ($80 or whatever) so why should you not have to pay a fee for an electronic preparer? True, you have to enter all the info manually yourself, so e-file isn't a "full service" tax preparer, but it puts it into a format acceptable by the IRS so we'll call it a "partial service". This is why you only pay a small fee to use it ($4.95 or $9.95 or whatever).

And again, no one is forcing you to use it! This is one MORE option you have for tax filing, your options are being increased, not decreased.

C'mon man. Think a little before ranting.

Canada's NetFile (none / 0) (#178)
by Paul Hodson on Wed Feb 05, 2003 at 12:46:08 PM EST

Most Canadian tax software packages can output to our NetFile format. The file created can be uploaded directly to the CCRA (Canadian Customs and Revenue Agency--our version of the IRS) by any Canadian with Internet access. Bing, taxes submitted.

The service is free.

Why should it be so? Because it saves enormous amounts of money for the government. No longer must data entry clerks read and type in data from paper submitted by snail-mail. The possibility of them making a mistake is nil since they are cut out of the picture. Also, mailing costs are significantly reduced for both the government and for the individual.

It would be silly to charge for a service that benefits the government as much as it does.

[ Parent ]

E-file cheaper for IRS than paper (5.00 / 1) (#138)
by Eric Green on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 04:01:51 PM EST

My complaint about e-file is that e-file is cheaper for the IRS than paper-file, yet we pay for e-file, and don't pay for paper-file. That doesn't make sense.

Remember, each and every paper tax return mailed to the IRS must be read by an actual human being and its numbers keypunched into a computer by actual human fingers. The exception is the 1040-EZ, which is (at least partially) computer-readable. So it's very expensive to handle paper returns... much more expensive than handling electronic bits. So you'd think the IRS would be trying to move people to E-file. But charging more for E-file than for paper returns guarantees that most people will stick with paper. I know that I am.

-E
--
You are feeling sleepy... you are feeling verrry sleepy...

I agree (none / 0) (#142)
by dipierro on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 04:45:17 PM EST

The IRS should offer a non-refundable credit to anyone who e-files. Of course, since the IRS only saves a few pennies per return, the credit probably wouldn't be very big.

[ Parent ]
I wouldn't worry about esmarttax - it's unusable. (5.00 / 2) (#140)
by ethereal on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 04:30:44 PM EST

You would have to work long and hard to actually leave any data on their systems at all. I admit that the privacy angle worried me at first, but no longer. I tried esmarttax (the only service that was available for my income level, location, and OS of choice) over the weekend, which was the first day it was live but you'd think they would have prepared. Nope.

Try #1 - create an account, make it almost to entering W2 forms, get called away from the computer for a couple minutes, come back to find everything gone.

Try #2 - create a new 1040, enter W2s and some other forms, server becomes unreachable. When I reconnect, find that all the info already entered is gone. W2 forms implemented as a shockwave app, IIRC, not sure why...?

Try #3 - ('cause I'm a glutton for punishment, that's why) - Create a new 1040, enter W2s and some other forms, receive "Microsoft Error - out of storage space" or words to that effect.

Give up in disgust, complete 1040 on Sunday morning, and mail the damn thing. If the state of Illinois can present a simple and secure online filing experience [*], there's no reason the IRS can't. I refuse to save them the costs of processing my paper return, until they're willing to pony up for a real, working online tax filing solution.

[*] IL online forms even include the infamous "check the box in the [drawing of a] barn if more than 2/3 of your income comes from farming". Apparently farmers are smart enough to get their computers online, but not smart enough to check a box unless it has a little barn-pictogram associated? Every time I see it I'm both amused and saddened at the whole thing...

--

Stand up for your right to not believe: Americans United for Separation of Church and State

They are smart enough... (none / 0) (#212)
by vectro on Sun Feb 09, 2003 at 03:37:56 AM EST

... but they spend their time on lobbying for special tax benefits, rather than worrying about stupid things like icons.

“The problem with that definition is just that it's bullshit.” -- localroger
[ Parent ]
NPR talked about this recently. (4.00 / 1) (#157)
by bored on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 06:37:34 PM EST

I cannot find the right program on their website. The bottom line though is that the IRS was considering making a web application for people to file their taxes. They were going to do this because it was costing them money to handle all that paper and the #1 reason why so few people were e-filing was the extra cost involved in letting one of the 3rd party tax groups do it. Only problem was that all the tax software people lobbied to make them stop. Basically the idea went something like: It costs the IRS money to not make a web application, because the savings over paper filing added up quickly enough that all they needed was a couple % increase in e-file to make back the cost of developing it. Except they can't make one now because that counts as the goverment competing with private enterprise.. go figure...

I don't buy it (none / 0) (#160)
by dipierro on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 06:59:43 PM EST

It costs the IRS money to not make a web application, because the savings over paper filing added up quickly enough that all they needed was a couple % increase in e-file to make back the cost of developing it.

The average tax refund is $1,668. The government pays about 1% a year on its short term treasury bills. E-file refunds are processed approximately 2 weeks earlier. $1,668*0.01*2/52=$0.64. Surely the average return can be inputed into a computer for less than that, can't it?



[ Parent ]
"Scam" is the IRS's handling of e-file (5.00 / 5) (#159)
by GoddardBolt on Tue Feb 04, 2003 at 06:52:16 PM EST

I am presently working on an IRS and state level e-file implementation for my client, a tax software company.

The reality of e-file is that the guv'mint has imposed a boneheaded, mainframesque, stupid, extraordinarily poorly documented system upon vendors. My client is a smaller company and in my opinion it's questionable whether the amount of work that is required will result in any economic payback for them. I honestly believe that we're doing this because e-file has become a least common denominator among tax SW providers, not because it's more convenient or more robust, etc.

For one (big!!!) thing - implementation is quite tedious and expensive because these mush brained IRS tax bureaucrats who direct the documentation don't provide *ANY* frigging machine readable version of the metadata that describes the e-file transmission formats. I went to a local presentation on e-file (for tax preparers) and the lady said that the IRS "was looking at" future publication of the data formats in XML. Instead, the only 'automated' way possible to obtain the metadata is to parse the PDF documents that list every data field and its attributes. It's truly 1970's type s**t. Based on this, the management and the techs at the IRS must be a collection of unemployable retrograde lusers (that felt so GOOD to say!!!)

As already stated, the interface to the IRS submission process is via dial up lines and ZMODEM and other async protocols. So the submission of tax returns to the IRS is a multi stage procedure:

- Customer submits tax return to us over the public internet.
- Our server collects the submitted returns periodically.
- We transform the returns from our data format to the IRS e-file format.
- We batch the returns up and transmit them via dial up to the IRS.
- The next day, we look for an acknowledgement packet from the IRS on the same dial up account.
- We download, unzip, and parse the ack packet.
- We place a response text file containing the results of the job submission in a space for the user.
- The user logs back in and downloads the response.

As you may surmise, there are *many* problems that can arise at each point of this process.

Anyway, accusations that vendors are "ripping off" consumers on e-file is simply moronic and are classically uninformed juvenile bile. It's more the case that the IRS has shoved a *huge* technical implementation task down the throats of vendors and provides few tools to do the job expeditiously, even though if the IRS did not !!!EMPLOY TOTAL FRIGGING LUSERS!!!!  in its midst, they could have FTP servers for tax submission and disclose their metadata in machine readable form.

Oh, well, it's a living.

Amen! (none / 0) (#179)
by John Hurliman on Wed Feb 05, 2003 at 02:21:07 PM EST

I can relate to this. The last software company I worked at was writing software to interface with credit card processing companies, EXACT same situation. Dial-up to an archane mainframe with zmodem, use an obscure log-in process, download huge piles of raw human-formatted text, SOMEHOW parse this into variables, make decisions, upload strange proprietary commands and more human readable text, rinse repeat. Run into problems at every step of the process :). The reason the IRS isn't allowing open access to these servers is they are a piece of sh*t, and they don't feel like paying anyone to upgrade them.
----------------- As a general rule, don't solve puzzles that open portals to hell.
[ Parent ]
Filing for free...? (3.33 / 3) (#172)
by geesquared on Wed Feb 05, 2003 at 10:05:23 AM EST

Yup. I'll snail mail my return to the IRS too, for free. Oh wait, I still have to pay postage. Those bastards!

Heh (none / 0) (#185)
by dipierro on Thu Feb 06, 2003 at 12:36:06 PM EST

You could always hand deliver it. See, the intermediate third party isn't required for paper returns! :)

[ Parent ]
there is hope... (none / 0) (#177)
by mbloore on Wed Feb 05, 2003 at 12:21:08 PM EST

In Canada, it used to be the same way; you could only efile through an approved provider. A couple of years ago they started approving individual software packages, so now I just fill in the forms in my tax program as usual, it checks them over, connects to the government site (not by dialup and zmodem!), sends the data, and gets an acknowledgement all in one go.

Various companies provide Web-based tax preparation and efiling for about $10.

We should charge THEM (none / 0) (#184)
by Alhazred on Thu Feb 06, 2003 at 09:35:22 AM EST

I'd be OK with this if the tax filer would pay ME 10 bucks for the rights to my demographic information.

Hmmmm, I sense an opportunity here. What if 10 million consumers banded together and licensed their information to people for a royalty. It could work just like ASCAP or something. Every time someone uses your info you get 2 cents credit or something.

What do you guys think? How would we organize such an association?
That is not dead which may eternal lie And with strange aeons death itself may die.

IRS e-file is a Scam, or, Why I'm Going to Snail-mail My Tax Returns | 217 comments (203 topical, 14 editorial, 0 hidden)
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