NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


March 10, 2009

Nina Olson heads the Taxpayer Advocate Service, an independent division within the IRS that is supposed to help taxpayers resolve complaints with the agency when those problems can't be dealt with satisfactorily through normal channels.  Each year the Advocate must report on problem areas within the IRS that are in need of improvement.  This year's submission is a taxpayer's delight, says Steve Forbes the editor-in-chief of Forbes magazine: "The most serious problem facing taxpayers is the complexity of the Internal Revenue Code.  The only meaningful way to reduce these burdens (of compliance) is to simplify the tax code enormously."

As the report states: "Taxpayers who honestly seek to comply with the law often make inadvertent errors, causing them either to overpay their tax or to become subject to IRS enforcement action for mistaken underpayment of tax.  However, sophisticated taxpayers often find loopholes that enable them to reduce or eliminate their tax liabilities." 

Other findings:

  • Individuals and businesses spend 7.6 billion hours a year filling out tax forms for the IRS; and that figure does not even include the millions of additional hours that taxpayers must spend when they are required to respond to an IRS notice or an audit (those 7.6 billion hours consume the equivalent of 3.8 million full-time workers).
  • The cost of complying with the code comes to $193 billion; other experts think that assessment is too low and have come up with estimates approaching $300 billion.
  • The number of words in the code has grown by 2.3 million since 2001, meanwhile; in 2008 there were more than 500 changes to the tax code (other surveys have found that the code has been amended some 14,000 times since the mid-1980s).
  • Individual taxpayers find the return preparation process so overwhelming that more than 80 percent pay transaction fees to help them file their returns.

There are countless examples of the code's mind-numbing complexity, says Forbes:

  • For instance, there are at least 11 incentives to encourage taxpayers to save for and spend on education, with each having different particulars on definitions, eligibility requirements, income-level thresholds, phase-out range and inflation adjustments.
  • There are at least 16 incentives to encourage saving for retirement, again with different parameters.

Source: Steve Forbes, "Taxpayer Heroine," Forbes, March 16, 2009.

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