Taxing Times

We finished our tax return this evening. As usual, it was a complete pain in the neck. Why does the IRS make this so complicated?

The government already has so much of this data. Each year, we all receive forms from the IRS, providing us with numbers that we then have to put on other forms to send back to the IRS. What is the point of that? Can’t the IRS send us our 1040 forms already filled out with the information it has available? That would save taxpayers time in seeking out all the information and figuring out what is supposed to go where. Then we could go over the partially filled-out forms, make changes if needed, and add all of the other information that’s required.

And why are the instructions so convoluted? The same thing goes by one name on the 1040 form, by a different name on a 1099 form, and by another name altogether in the regular, non-tax-nerd world. And the instructions are so poorly written, and so incomplete. It seems that the IRS goes out of its way to make it difficult to figure out what information you need, to find that information, and to understand what the heck you’re supposed to do with it.

Some of the answers we needed can supposedly be found in our accounts on the IRS webpage. But every time I try to set up a login so I can access this information, I hit a dead end. I get through the first few steps, and then I’m asked to verify my information by providing part of a credit card number and also a cell phone number. Every time I get to this point, the IRS tells me it cannot verify my cell phone number, so I can’t set up the account. That’s it. There is no appeal, no reprieve. I’m given no alternative way of proving my cell phone number is mine, and no option of supplying a landline number or an email address instead. And I’m provided with no other way of signing up (except by mail, but that will take weeks).

After I struck out, I suggested Bob set up a login instead. He tried, and he reached the same point I did — and also hit a dead end. In his case, his credit card number, not his cell phone number, was the thing the IRS couldn’t confirm. But again, there was nothing he could do about it. There is nothing wrong with my cell phone number or Bob’s credit card. But that doesn’t matter. The IRS, for whatever reason, cannot verify them, so we’re frozen out.

One thing that did surprise us was that we printed out our almost complete return and discovered it was a 1040SR form, of which we’d never heard. A quick bit of research revealed that it’s a 1040 SENIOR form, and that we were automatically switched to it because Bob was born before 1956. The senior form was created by 2018 legislation. It has bigger type and a more readable layout for weaker eyes, and includes on the chart of deductions some items that are more common among older taxpayers. We do our taxes online, so we hadn’t noticed the new form until we printed it out. He has dubbed it The Geezer Form.

Bob and I have been doing taxes for a very long time now. We both have masters degrees. If we find this process difficult, how much harder must it be for people with less experience and less education? What about those with low-level English-language skills?

It’s confusing and annoying and downright infuriating. But for another year, at least it’s done.

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