NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Tax Law Tinkering Means More Time Devoted To Compliance

April 20, 1999

Every time Congress or the Executive Branch embarks on tax law changes, American filers must spend more frustrating minutes and hours trying to figure out how they apply to their particular situations.

  • For example, cuts in the maximum rate on capital gains -- welcome as they were to many taxpayers -- added 34 lines and a complex set of new calculations to the process.
  • The Internal Revenue Service estimates that form alone takes six hours and 41 minutes to complete.
  • The new tax cut for college tuition requires taxpayers to spend an average of 91 minutes to claim the credit.
  • As a result of years of tinkering, the IRS code has grown to 2.8 million words -- compared to 660,000 words in Tolstoy's "War and Peace."

Small wonder, then, that 51 percent of filers pay a professional to calculate their taxes.

Political observers say Congress has more or less lost interest in tax simplification, even though tax cuts are still a subject of debate.

Source: William M. Welch, "Congress Debates Cutting Taxes, Not Simplifying Laws," USA Today, April 20, 1999.


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